Adding attributes to shape layers

After a shape layer has been created, you can add attributes—paths, paint operations, and path operations—by using the Add menu in the Tools panel or in the Timeline panel.

By default, the new attributes are inserted into the selected shape group or groups according to the following rules:

  • New paths are added below existing paths and groups.

  • New path operations—such as Zig Zag and Wiggle Paths—are added below existing path operations. If no path operations are present, new path operations are added below existing paths.

  • New paint operations—strokes and fills—are added below existing paths and above existing strokes and fills.

To override these rules and place a new attribute at the end of the group, below all attributes, hold the Alt (Windows) or Option (Mac OS) key as you click to choose an item from the Add menu.

The Repeater operation is always added at the end of the group.

Strokes and fills for shapes

Andrew Devis shows how to modify gradient fills and strokes for shape layers, plus other options, in a video on the Creative COW website.

Strokes and fills for shapes are paint operations that add colored pixels to a path or to the area defined by a path. A stroke or a fill can consist of a solid color, or it can use a gradient of colors. Strokes can be continuous, or they can consist of a periodic series of dashes and gaps. Each stroke and fill has its own blending mode, which determines how it interacts with other paint operations in the same group.

By default, paint operations within a group are performed from the bottom to the top in the Timeline panel stacking order. This means, for example, that a stroke is rendered on top of (in front of) a stroke that appears after it in the Timeline panel. To override this default behavior for a specific fill or stroke, choose Above Previous In Same Group for the Composite property for the fill or stroke in the Timeline panel.

Note:

When you add a stroke or fill using the Add menu in the Tools panel or Timeline panel, the paint operation is added below existing paths and above existing strokes and fills. To place a new stroke at the end of the group, hold the Alt (Windows) or Option (Mac OS) key as you click to choose an item from the Add menu.

New shapes are created with fill and stroke properties depicted by the swatch buttons next to the underlined Fill and Stroke text controls in the Tools panel. You can also modify the fill colors, stroke colors, fill type, and stroke type for selected shapes using these controls. The Fill and Stroke controls are only visible in the Tools panel when a shape layer is selected or a drawing tool is active.

If multiple shapes are selected, with different fill or stroke properties, then the swatch button next to the Fill or Stroke control contains a question mark. You can still modify the fill and stroke properties using these controls, and the corresponding properties for all selected shapes are set to the same value.

Fills and strokes can be any of four types:

None

No paint operation is performed.

Solid color

The entire fill or stroke consists of one color.

Linear gradient

The fill or stroke consists of colors and opacity values defined by a linear gradient and then mapped onto the composition along a single axis from the Start Point to the End Point.

Radial gradient

The fill or stroke consists of colors and opacity values defined by a linear gradient, which are mapped onto the composition along a radius extending outward from the Start Point at the center to the End Point at the circumference of a circle. You can offset the starting point by modifying the Highlight Length and Highlight Angle values.

Note:

You can animate and interpolate gradients by adding keyframes to the Colors property and using the Color Picker in Gradient Editor mode to add, modify, and remove color stops and opacity stops. You can also save gradients as animation presets. (See Save an animation preset.)

The colors of strokes and fills for shape layers are not rendered as high-dynamic range colors. Color values under 0.0 or over 1.0 are clipped to fall within the range of 0.0 to 1.0.

Choose stroke or fill type and blending options

  • To choose a fill type or stroke type for new shapes, or set the blending mode or opacity for a fill or stroke for new shapes, click the underlined Fill or Stroke text control in the Tools panel. To cycle through fill types or stroke types for existing shapes, select the shapes before using these controls.
  • To cycle through fill types or stroke types for new shapes, Alt-click (Windows) or Option-click (Mac OS) the swatch button next to the underlined Fill or Stroke text control in the Tools panel. To choose a fill type or stroke type for existing shapes, select the shapes before using these controls.

Choose a solid color or edit a gradient for a stroke or fill

  • To choose a solid color or gradient for fills or strokes for new shapes, click the swatch button next to the underlined Fill or Stroke text control in the Tools panel. To choose a solid color or gradient for fills or strokes for existing shapes, select the shapes before using the controls.

Modify the color mapping for a gradient

A gradient is a range of color and opacity values that you can customize in the Gradient Editor dialog box. You can also customize how those colors are applied to a stroke or fill by modifying the Start Point and End Point, which determine the direction and scale of the gradient. For example, you can modify these points to stretch the colors of a gradient over a larger area, or orient a linear gradient so that colors fade from top to bottom instead of from left to right. For a radial gradient, you define the center of gradient, its radius, and the offset of a highlight.

By default, when you create a shape path by drawing with the Pen tool, the control points for the gradient are placed in the center of the layer. You can adjust these points after you finish drawing.

You can modify the Start Point, End Point, Highlight Angle, and Highlight Length properties in the Timeline panel. You can also modify these properties directly in the Composition panel.

Controls for mapping gradient controls
Controls for mapping gradient colors in Composition panel

A. Highlight control point B. Start Point C. End Point 
  1. Select the group in which the gradient is contained.
  2. With the Selection tool active, drag the Start Point, End Point, or Highlight controls in the Composition panel.

    The Selection tool turns to a gradient control pointer or when placed over a gradient control.

Set stroke width

  • To set stroke width for new shapes in pixels (px), drag the underlined Stroke Width control (which is located to the right of the Stroke controls in the Tools panel), or click the control and enter a value in the box. To set the stroke width for existing shapes, select them before using the Stroke Width control.

Create a dashed stroke

You create a dashed stroke by adding any number of dashes and gaps to the Dashes property group for the stroke. The dashes and gaps in this property group are repeated as many times as necessary to cover the entire path. The Offset property determines at what point on the path the stroke begins.

Note:

Animate the Offset property to create a moving trail of dashes, like the lights on a marquee.

  1. Expand the property group for a stroke in the Timeline panel.
  2. Click the Add A Dash Or Gap button to add a dash and gap to one cycle of the dashed-line pattern. You can add up to three dashes for each stroke pattern.
  3. Modify the Dash and Gap properties to make the dashes and gaps the lengths that you want.

Line Cap options for strokes

The Line Cap property for a dashed stroke determines the appearance of the ends of the stroke segments (dashes).

Butt Cap

The stroke ends at the end of the path.

Round Cap

The stroke extends beyond the end of the path for a number of pixels equal to the stroke width in pixels. The cap is a semicircle.

Projecting Cap

The stroke extends beyond the end of the path for a number of pixels equal to the stroke width in pixels. The end is squared off.

Line Join options for strokes

The Line Join property for a stroke determines the appearance of the stroke where the path suddenly changes direction (turns a corner).

Miter Join

A pointed connection. The Miter Limit value determines the conditions under which a beveled join is used instead of a miter join. If the miter limit is 4, then when the length of the point reaches four times the stroke weight, a bevel join is used instead. A miter limit of 1 causes a bevel join.

Round Join

A rounded connection.

Bevel Join

A squared-off connection.

Fill rules for shapes

A fill operation works by painting color in the area defined as inside a path. Determining what is considered inside a path is easy when the path is something simple, like a circle. However, when a path intersects itself, or when a compound path consists of paths enclosed by other paths, determining what is considered inside is not as easy.

After Effects uses one of two rules to determine what is considered inside a path for the purpose of creating fills. Both rules count the number of times that a straight line drawn from a point crosses the path on its way out of the area surrounded by a path. The nonzero winding fill rule considers path direction; the even-odd fill rule does not.

After Effects and Illustrator use the nonzero winding fill rule as the default.

Non‑Zero Winding Fill Rule (left) compared with Even‑Odd Fill Rule (right)
Self-intersecting path with Fill Rule set to Non‑Zero Winding Fill Rule (left) compared with Even‑Odd Fill Rule (right)

Even-odd fill rule

If a line drawn from a point in any direction crosses the path an odd number of times, then the point is inside; otherwise, the point is outside.

Nonzero winding fill rule

The crossing count for a line is the total number of times that the line crosses a left-to-right portion of the path minus the total number of times that the line crosses a right-to-left portion of the path. If a line drawn in any direction from the point has a crossing count of zero, then the point is outside; otherwise, the point is inside.

Note:

A more intuitive way to think of the nonzero winding rule is to think of a path as a loop of string. A point is considered outside the path if you can put your finger at that point and then pull the string away without it being caught, wrapped around your finger.

Because the nonzero winding fill rule takes path direction into account, using this fill rule and reversing the direction of one or more paths in a compound path is useful for creating holes in compound paths.

Note:

To reverse the direction of a path, click the Reverse Path Direction On button for the path in the Timeline panel.

Alter shapes with path operations

Path operations are similar to effects. These live operations act nondestructively on a shape’s path to create a modified path that other shape operations (such as fills and strokes) can apply to. The original path is not modified. Because path operations are live, you can modify or remove them at any time. Path operations apply to all paths above them in the same group; as with all shape attributes, you can reorder path operations by dragging, cutting, copying, and pasting in the Timeline panel.

  1. In the Composition panel or Timeline panel, select the shape group into which to add the path operation.
  2. Choose a path operation from the Add menu in the Tools panel or the Timeline panel:

    Merge Paths

    Combines paths into a compound path. (See Merge Paths options.)

    Offset Paths

    Expands or contracts a shape by offsetting the path from the original path. For a closed path, a positive Amount value expands the shape; a negative Amount value contracts it. The Line Join property specifies the appearance of the path where offset path segments come together. A bevel join is a squared-off connection. A miter join is a pointed connection. The miter limit determines the conditions under which a beveled join is used instead of a miter join. If the miter limit is 4, then when the length of the point reaches four times the stroke weight, a bevel join is used instead. A miter limit of 1 causes a bevel join.

    Pucker & Bloat

    Pulls the vertices of a path outward while curving the segments inward (Pucker), or pulls the vertices inward while curving the segments outward (Bloat).

    Repeater

    Creates multiple copies of a shape, applying a specified transformation to each copy. (See Using the Repeater to replicate shapes.)

    Round Corners

    Rounds corners of paths. Higher Radius values cause greater roundness.

    Trim Paths

    Animate the Start, End, and Offset properties to trim a path to create results similar to results achieved with the Write-on effect and the Write On setting for paint strokes. If the Trim Paths path operation is below multiple paths in a group, then you can choose to have the paths trimmed simultaneously or treated as a compound path and trimmed individually.

    Aharon Rabinowitz provides a video tutorial on the Creative COW website that shows how to use the Trim Paths operation to animate a dashed line following a path on a map.

    Twist

    Rotates a path more sharply in the center than at the edges. Entering a positive value twists clockwise; entering a negative value twists counterclockwise.

    Wiggle Paths

    Randomizes (wiggles) a path by converting it into a series of jagged peaks and valleys of various sizes. The distortion is auto-animated, meaning that it changes over time without the need to set any keyframes or add expressions.

    Several properties for this path operation behave the same as properties of the same name for the Wiggly selector for text animation. (See Wiggly selector properties.) The Correlation property specifies the amount of similarity between the movement of a vertex and that of its neighbors; smaller values create more jagged results, as the position of a vertex depends less on the position of its neighbors. The Correlation property is similar to Correlation for the Wiggly selector, except that the Wiggle Paths version specifies the correlation between neighboring vertices instead of neighboring characters. Set the maximum length for segment paths using an absolute or relative size. Set the density of jagged edges (Detail) and choose between soft edges (Smooth) or sharp edges (Corner).

    Note:

    Animate the Size property to fade the wiggling up or down. To smoothly accelerate or decelerate the wiggling, set Wiggles/Second to a constant value of 0, and animate the Temporal Phase property.

    Wiggle Transform

    Randomizes (wiggles) any combination of the position, anchor point, scale, and rotation transformations for a path. Indicate the desired magnitude of the wiggle for each of these transformations by setting a value in the Transform property group that is contained in the Wiggle Transform property group. The wiggled transformations are auto-animated, meaning that they change over time without the need to set any keyframes or add expressions. The Wiggle Transform operation is especially useful following a Repeater operation, because it allows you to randomize the transformations of each repeated shape separately. (See Using the Repeater to replicate shapes.)

    Several properties for this path operation behave the same as properties of the same name for the Wiggly selector for text animation. (See Wiggly selector properties.) The Correlation property specifies the amount of similarity between the wiggled transformations of a repeated shape and its neighbor within a set of repeated shapes. Correlation is only relevant if a Repeater operation precedes the Wiggle Transform operation. When Correlation is 100%, all repeated items are transformed in the same way; when Correlation is 0%, all repeated items are transformed independently.

    Note:

    When randomizing repeated shapes keep the following in mind: If the Wiggle Transform path operation precedes (is above) the Repeater path operation, then all of the repeated shapes will be wiggled (randomized) in the same way. If the Repeater path operation precedes (is above) the Wiggle Transform path operation, then each of the repeated shapes will be wiggled (randomized) independently.

    Chris Meyer provides a video tutorial on the ProVideo Coalition website that shows how to use the Wiggle Transform path operation. This tutorial explains why you must use multiple instances of the Wiggle Transform path operation if you want to wiggle multiple properties independently.

    Andrew Devis shows how to use the Wiggle Transform path operation in a video on the Creative COW website.

    Zig Zag

    Converts a path into a series of jagged peaks and valleys of uniform size. Set the length between peaks and valleys using an absolute or relative size. Set the number of ridges per path segment, and choose between wavy edges (Smooth) or jagged edges (Corner).

Merge Paths options

The Merge Paths path operation takes all of the paths above it in the same group as input. The output is a single path that combines the input paths. The input paths are still visible in the Timeline panel, but they are essentially removed from the rendering of the shape layer, so they don’t appear in the Composition panel. A fill and stroke are added after the Merge Paths property group in the Timeline panel if a fill and stroke are not already present; otherwise, the output path wouldn’t be visible.

Merge Paths options
Merge Paths options

A. Add for all shapes B. Subtract for squares C. Intersect for squares D. Exclude Intersections for squares 

The Merge Paths path operation has the following options, each of which performs different calculations to determine the output path:

Merge

Merges all input paths into a single compound path. This option is the default used for shapes created from text characters made up of multiple paths, like the letter e, when using the Create Shapes From Text command.

Add

Creates a path that encompasses the union of the areas of the input paths.

Subtract

Creates a path that encompasses only the areas defined by the topmost path, subtracting the area defined by underlying paths.

Intersect

Creates a path that encompasses only the areas defined by intersections between all input paths.

Exclude Intersections

Creates a path that is the union of the areas defined by all input paths, minus the areas defined by intersections between all input paths.

Using the Repeater to replicate shapes

The Repeater path operation creates virtual copies of all paths, strokes, and fills above it in the same group. The virtual copies are not represented by separate entries in the Timeline panel, but they are rendered in the Composition panel. Each copy is transformed according to its order in the set of copies and the values of the properties in the Transform property group for that instance of the Repeater.

Replicating shapes with the Repeater operation
Original shape (upper-left), one instance of the Repeater operation applied (upper-right), and two instances of the Repeater operation applied (lower-right)

If the original shape is numbered 0, the next copy is numbered 1, and so on, then the result of the Repeater is to apply each transformation in the Transform property group n times to copy number n.

Consider the example of the Repeater applied to a shape with the Copies value set to 10 and the Position property in the Transform property group for the Repeater set to (0.0, 8.0). The original shape remains in its original position, (0.0, 0.0). The first copy appears at (0.0, 8.0), the second copy appears at (0.0, 16.0), the third copy appears at (0.0, 24.0), and so on, until the ninth copy at (0.0, 72.0), for a total of ten shapes.

You can apply multiple instances of the Repeater within the same group. In other words, you can repeat the Repeater. Using multiple instances of the Repeater is an easy way to create a grid of virtual copies of a single shape: just set the Position property for one instance of the Repeater to modify the horizontal values, and another instance to modify vertical values.

The Offset property value is used to offset the transformations by a specific number of copies. For example, if the Copies value is 10 and the Offset value is 3, then the original shape is transformed by 3 times the amount specified in the Transform property group, and the last copy is transformed by 12 times the amount specified in the Transform property group.

Note:

Animating the Offset property is a good way to easily create interesting results.

The Composite option determines whether copies are rendered above (in front of) or below (behind) the copies that precede them.

Use the Start Opacity value to set the opacity of the original shape, and the End Opacity value to set the opacity for the last copy. Opacity values for copies in between are interpolated.

If you place the Repeater after a path, above the fill and stroke property groups for a shape, then the set of virtual copies is filled or stroked as a compound path. If you leave the Repeater below the fill and stroke, then each copy is filled and stroked individually. The difference is most apparent with gradient fills and strokes.

Note:

Add a Wiggle Transform path operation after a Repeater operation to randomize (wiggle) the position, scale, anchor point, or rotation of the repeated copies within an instance of the Repeater. If the Wiggle Transform path operation precedes (is above) the Repeater path operation, then all of the repeated shapes will be wiggled (randomized) in the same way. If the Repeater path operation precedes (is above) the Wiggle Transform path operation, then each of the repeated shapes will be wiggled (randomized) independently.

Eran Stern provides a video tutorial on the Creative COW website that shows how to use the Repeater operation.

Chris Zwar provides an example project on his website that uses the Card Dance effect and a shape layer with the Repeater operation to simulate a halftone color separation for any image or video.

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