Make a Reusable Neon Glow Effect in Adobe Illustrator

Learn to create an easily reusable, color-changing NEON Graphic Style in Adobe Illustrator. In this tutorial, I show you how to use the Appearance Panel and a Global Swatch to build this eye-catching neon effect in Illustrator. Download the Starter File to follow along!

Free Starter File Download Link

Grab the starter file here:

Original Brick Background Photo by Andres Siimon on Unsplash:

Video Tutorial Chapters & Time Stamps

00:00 – Intro
00:31 – Preview of Layers to Create the Neon Effect
00:44 – Using the Starter File
01:01 – Using and Creating Global Color Swatches
01:29 – Creating the Neon Tube Effect with the Appearance Panel
03:41 – Creating the Shadow Layer and Effects
04:40 – Creating the Pink Neon Glow Effect Layers
06:30 – Troubleshooting Hard Edges on the Glow Effect
07:03 – Changing the Color of the Neon Glow Effect
07:34 – Saving Graphic Styles for Re-Use

Video Tutorial Transcript

Today, I’ll show you how to create this neon style in illustrator, a quick trick for changing the color easily, how to save it as a graphic style to reuse on other shapes and how to draw with your pencil tool. If you want free-hand neon lines, if you’d like to follow along, I’ve linked a free starter file and a project guide in the description down below.

Let’s get started. To create this neon effect, we’ll be working with the appearance panel. You can open that here in your workspace, and I’m going to drag mine out and make it a little larger so that we can see the stack of strokes that I’ve applied to this lip shape. This might look complicated, but we’ll go through it step-by-step.

With the first set of strokes, we’ll create the neon tubing. Look, then we’ll add the shadow. And last we’ll add the glow. Since we’re building this effect, using a global color swatch, you’ll be able to change the color to anything you want at the end, by just editing one swatch. If you’re following along using the free starter file, you’ll see, there’s two layers in this file.

One is the wall background, which is locked. The original image is linked down below in the description for that. And the layer we’re working on here is the path, which is just the lip shape that I’ve drawn out using the curvature tool. The starter file also includes a single global swatch that I’ve created called neon pink.

You can tell us the global swatch by looking at this tiny white rectangle in the bottom right corner, or if you double click on it, you’ll see that the global box is checked. The global swatch is important because it’s what allows us to easily change the color. After we’re done creating the neon effect to any hue that we want by just editing a single swatch, you can easily create your own global swatches by clicking the plus sign in the swatches panel, creating any color you like, and just making sure that this global box is checked before you click okay.
The first thing we’ll do is select our lip shape here. You can see that it has one basic stroke. We’ll start by just selecting this first stroke and we’re going to round the corners and the end caps so that we have more of a neon tubing effect. As we build up our strokes next click on the color swatch in the stroke layer and choose the global swatch that we built.

We’ll want a much lighter version of this pink for the first few layers to build the brightest part of our neon effect. So I’m going to open my color palette here and drop the percentage of the global swatch down to about 10%. And hit enter. If I de-select for a moment here, you can see that our outline is the proper light pink color now.

One thing to note, when you’re building styles with the appearance panel, you can make changes to the appearance when the shape is not selected and nothing will apply. So make sure that you do have your shape selected between every edit you make to the appearance. The last thing we’ll change on this first stroke is the weight of the stroke.

And I’m going to set this one at three points. Next. We’re going to duplicate the stroke twice by selecting it, going to this menu here and just clicking duplicate item, and once more. Duplicating the strokes is a nice shortcut because it retains our rounded caps in corners and the global swatch that we’ve already set for the stroke color.

On the second stroke, I’ll set the stroke weight to six points and on the third stroke, I’ll set it to nine points. Next I’ll set the opacity of the second stroke to 80%. And I’ll set the opacity of the third stroke to 60%. If I de-select and zoom in here for a moment, you can see what that’s already starting to do, and we’re building up the glass tube shape.

That’ll be the middle of our neon effect. I’ll double click my hand tool here to zoom back out and make sure that we’ve resected our shape to continue working on the strokes. The last thing we’ll do with the second and third strokes is to adjust the intensity of the color. By going back to our color swatch, bringing open our color menu, and I’m going to bump the second layer up to 20% and hit enter.

And on the third layer, select the swatch again, go to your color menu. And I’m going to bump this one up to 30% and hit enter again. No I’ll add the final layer to the neon tube part of our effect by selecting the third stroke here and clicking duplicate item. We’ll change the width of the stroke to 12 points for this layer.

And then under the opacity menu, you’ll set the opacity back up to 100% and change the blend mode to screen. The next layer will be the shadow that gives the effect a bit of a 3d look again, we’ll start by clicking the last stroke that you made going to the menu and hitting duplicate item for the shadow will change the stroke color by clicking here and opening our color palette and clicking the black swatch.
And also we’ll change the opacity to multiply, which darkens everything behind it, which is a much better effect for a shadow, where as screen lightens. We’ll add two effects to our shadow to make it look more realistic with the shadow stroke selected click the effects menu at the bottom. Choose distort and transform and click transform.

We’ll be moving the shadow 18 pixels horizontally and 32 pixels vertically and click okay. Next we’ll add blur to the shadow by going back to the effects menu, choosing blur, and then gaussian blur. I’m going to set this at 16 pixels and hit. Okay. The last thing we’ll do with our shadow layer is just set the line weight to 18 points.

Now we’re done with our shadow and we’re halfway done with our effect. I’m going to collapse these stroke layers that we have more room to work with when we start adding the glow layers. Now we’ll start creating our pink glow. The first thing I’m going to do is go back to the fourth layer here, and I’m going to adjust the color up to 60% so that we get more intense pink.

And this is the layer that we’ll use to begin building our pink layers by going ahead and duplicating item, I’ll just collapse the shadow layer here, and then I’m going to grab one of these stroke layers that’s at the 12 point level and drag it right underneath the shadow. The only thing we’ll be changing on this layer is the intensity of the color.

We’ll adjust this up to 100% and hit enter there and we’ll change this to 18 points as well. Let’s duplicate this item once. We’re going to set the stroke weight here to 36 points, and now we’ll add an effect. Go back to your blur menu here. Choose gaussian blur. And we’re going to set this at 10 pixels this time and hit okay.

The last thing we’ll do on this layer is change the opacity back to normal mode. Now, once again, we’ll duplicate this item. We’re going to change the stroke weight here to 48 points and we’ll adjust the gaussian blur up to 20 pixels and hit okay here. Okay, just two more layers to go. You’ll notice. As we get lower in the stack, the stroke weight gets higher.

The color gets more intense and the blurs will get larger. Let’s go ahead and duplicate this item. For this layer, we’re going to bump this all the way up to 80 points and we’ll adjust the gaussian blur up to 60 pixels. And finally, we’ll put the opacity to screen mode instead of the default.

For the final glow layer we’ll duplicate our lowest item in the stack. We’ll set the stroke weight to 120, and then we’re going to change the opacity here to color dodge, and drop this down to 33%. So it’s not quite so intense. Your glow effect should have a smooth edge all the way around if it doesn’t and you’re seeing a harsh cutoff line, instead, we can adjust that setting easily.

Just go up here to your effect, menu, click on document roster settings. And down here, you can add padding around your objects. I like to add 160 pixels for something of this size. It won’t refresh right away. If you move your shape, you’ll see that it has refreshed and you should now see the smooth edge all the way around your glow effect.

Now that we have the style built, I’ll show you how to change the color, how to apply it to other shapes and even how to draw new paths with a style already applied. I’ll just go ahead and reset my workspace here. And now we’ll open the swatches panel. Double-click on your global swatch and this is where we can start changing the color.

You’ll want to make sure this preview box is checked so that you can see the changes live as you make them. Using the hue slider, you can see a new color every time you click and let go. As you drag this along the bar, some of these colors will need adjustments in the saturation and darkness as well to work properly, but you can create pretty much any color here that you want.

I’ll go ahead and stick with this purple for the demonstration of graphic styles. If you want to reuse the style with other shapes, you definitely don’t want to walk through all the steps to rebuild it. So you would save it as a graphic style. To do that, just select your shape, open your graphic style palette, and click the plus button here at the bottom.

Now you have a style that you can reuse on any line shape. I’ll show you a demonstration of this really quickly with this graphic style still selected I’ll just close my panel. I’m going to delete the lip shape here and just go to my shape tools and grab the circle. And if we start dragging out a circle, you’ll see that the new effect is applied to that.

You can also use this with your pencil tool. If you want to drag out some free-hand lines or maybe write your name, and if you want a little more control as you’re drawing, you can use your pen tool or your curvature tool to create whole new shapes. You can save out your graphic styles to use in other files or even share by just going to this menu here and clicking save graphic style library, and you can name it, whatever you like, save it on your computer and you have it for use anywhere.

There are so many more awesome things you can do with the appearance panel. And I do plan on doing more tutorials on this in the future. So don’t forget to subscribe and ring the bell so you don’t miss those! Thanks for watching and happy illustrating.

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