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Multi strokes, fills and thrills

Tucked inside the handy Appearance Panel in Affinity Designer lies the ability to do a whole lot more than just change your current settings. Here you can apply multiple strokes, transparencies, gradients and fills to any vector object, all from the same settings box!

What are multi strokes?

In their basic form multi strokes give you the ability to apply numerous stroke applications to any vector curve or shape by selecting the object you are working on, then adjusting its settings in the Appearance Studio. To get started, ensure your Appearance Panel is visible by going to View > Studio > Appearance. By default, it should be located to the right-hand side of your document, next to the Brushes Panel.

In this initial example, I’ve applied the same multi-coloured stroke settings to each of the shapes. In order to apply the settings shown above, firstly, make sure your shape is selected with the Selection Tool or by highlighting it on the Layers Panel.

Alternatively, by creating a new shape with one of the many Shape Tools in Affinity Designer we can then go over to the Appearance Panel where we can see that by default, we have a grey fill and a black outline stroke (currently set to 0 points). To make our multi-coloured shapes we want to convert the fill to white, then click the + Add Stroke button. Now you may notice the little white dot to the left of the coloured circle in our Appearance Panel is indicating that our new stroke is now the ‘Active Stroke’. When multiple strokes have been applied to your design you can switch between your active strokes in order to adjust their individual characteristics.

To achieve the same multi-coloured results as above we simply need to increase each stroke weight as each colour is changed. To change the order and appearance of the strokes we just need to click and drag them to rearrange how they will be displayed next to each other. Bear in mind that different shapes may require you to have different settings based on their size and dimensions, so individual tweaks may be needed to keep all of your shapes unified.

Pasting and creating Styles

To save time when creating the next range of shapes in the lineup, we can recreate the same colourful design by copying the shape (easily done by right-clicking on the object and selecting copy). Then once we’ve made our new shapes we can simply select them all together and go to Edit > Paste Style. This copies over all of the Appearance Panel information without simply copying the shape itself!

Alternatively, we could click ‘Create Style’ instead of Copy in the previously mentioned steps and now we have all of the same information ready to apply to our design, this time stored in the Styles Panel of our document.

Both techniques have their advantages and can save a lot of time when dealing with multiple shapes and objects simultaneously.

Applying multi strokes to lettering

The technique of applying a previously created Style is also especially effective when making bold lettering designs that need to have a unified style. In this example, the initial letters were created using a thin outline and then the multi stroked Style was applied to each shape.

I was then able to adjust the positioning of the letters to make sure they overlapped and interacted in exactly the right places. Adding each individual stroke to each letter would have taken quite a bit more time and with this technique, we can be sure that each letter is totally unified.

This paintbrush design is a great example of when ‘Scale with Object’ has been particularly useful. Resizing a design and moving it around your artboard is much easier too when you know that everything is in the correct proportions as you intended.

Creating retro text effects

By focussing on just one character we can also create some really bold and retro-inspired lettering effects. I’m a big fan of recreating this ‘Sign Writing’ style of lettering and with the Appearance Panel its very quick and easy to incorporate it into your design work.

Firstly we need to create our letter of choice—for my example, I’ve gone with a nice bold letter A—because it’s the best of all the letters :).

Now we need to convert our character to vector curves so we can apply numerous strokes and fills to its structure. We can do this by simply selecting our letter and going over to Layer > Convert To Curves.

We can now start to build up our design by alternating the colours and increasing the stroke widths. For this type of design, it’s important to make sure we keep an eye on the individual stroke settings for each colour we’re adding.

With this particular design the majority of our strokes will need to be aligned to the inside of the shape, whereas some of the extras will need to be switched to the outside to give a full range of additional colours and really fill out the space.

Combining Bitmap fills with a multi fill

Another way we can make the most of the Appearance Panel is by applying a Bitmap fill and then overlaying that with a colour (or even another Bitmap fill if we wanted to!). This again is another great way to build up your design and add more depth to your work, while still staying within the parameters of the Appearance Panel. One example of this is the below illustration. Here I created a separated vector shape to be able to add my Halftone Bitmap fill.

You can do this, firstly, by selecting the shapes you want to fill, tthen by clicking on the Fill Tool we now have the ability to change our fill type to a Bitmap image of our choosing. I made a simple repeating line pattern and exported it as a clear png file to be used for this retro printing effect.

Once we’ve put our pattern in place and adjusted it accordingly, we can then (from our Appearance Panel) add another fill element to our design. For this, I wanted to add a different colour to each of the non-white areas to give it some more depth, so I simply selected each of these areas and repeated the same process.

Combining these techniques together

We can also create a vintage retro text effect by combining all of the techniques we’ve looked at previously. For this movie poster lettering design, I’ve used multi strokes aligned both inside and outside of the main lettering. I’ve also applied a Bitmap fill of a bold texture to fill the space (instead of using a repeating pattern). I added a slight gradient to give the main text a little more depth and then finally gave it a classic red fill to finish it off.

The basic white blocky drop shadow is easily achieved by duplicating the whole layer and giving it a bold while fill, then by dragging this new layer underneath our previous one and nudging the design a little to the left, it gives us the simple 3D effect we were looking for.

Creating stickers

There are other applications you can use multi strokes for too. For example, creating stickers intended for print often requires you to add an additional white area around your work to enable the manufacturer to cut around your sticker, without interfering with your design. This can be very easily done with the help of multi strokes and saves you having to redraw your design yourself.

My preferred technique is to duplicate the final sticker design. Then with your duplicated layer dragged below the main image on your Layers Panel you can expand your design to create one flat shape (simply select your object, go to Layer > Expand Stroke to expand your design). We can then use the Appearance Panel to create a new stroke outline to our preferred stroke weight, which we can use as the basis for our die-cut sticker artwork!

Creating patterns using multi strokes

Another fun way to experiment with multi strokes is by creating patterns using different shapes. One great way to utilise the various settings available in the Appearance Panel is by adjusting the blend modes of your different strokes. For example, this circular design was created by changing the alternating circles (which appear to be white in the design) from a normal to an ‘Erase’ blend setting instead.

This is easily achieved by clicking on the individual stroke you want to change (ensuring that it is now the active stroke) and then clicking on the underlined ‘Normal’ text option. Here we can use the drop-down box to select ‘Erase’ or another transparency setting of our choice. This is also another great element to experiment with, as scrolling through the various options can drastically transform your design in a matter of seconds.

The star design shown here is another example of how you can transform an otherwise very simple vector shape into something completely different and interesting. By simply adding more and more multi strokes you can see how the outer lines begin to morph into a totally new shape. This would be quite difficult to create manually and really shows how you can make the most of the Appearance Panel to save time and make something really unique.

You can create some fun geometric patterns using multi strokes too. This diagonal line pattern was made by applying multi strokes to a larger selection of vector lines I’d made previously and there are endless possibilities when creating this sort of uniform design. Combining the strokes with the Erase transparency option mentioned earlier also works really well in this case, as you can allow the background elements to show through or even blend the colours together really effectively for another retro-inspired option.

It’s also important to remember that when creating designs involving typographic elements, the lettering needs to be converted into vector curves in order to make the most of the multi fill and stroke options in Affinity Designer.

Doing so means that you won’t be able to edit your text at a later date without recreating it, so it’s always a good idea to create a duplicate layer of your editable text design to leave hidden underneath your current work. This enables you to quickly redo another version of your lettering without having to try and match the character and other settings you made earlier in the design process.

I hope you have fun experimenting with these settings and applying them to your own designs or lettering—the possibilities really are endless! Especially when combined with some of the other techniques we’ve walked through earlier in the article too.

Don’t forget to share your multi stroke and fill creations with us on Instagram using the hashtag #madeinaffinity!