Lloyd Bosworth : archaeologist | human | beard

Adobe Illustrator Quick Tip: Adding Outlines to Strokes

Roads are only mustard coloured when I'm hungry.I’d always thought that only polygonal shapes could have a fill colour and a stroke path in Adobe Illustrator, but recently I’ve discovered that strokes can also have stroke paths applied to them too. I’m finding this really useful when drawing things like roads and tracks that need their edges defining with a darker border.

My workflow up until now would be:

  1. Draw a stroke path
  2. Give it a thickness, say 5px
  3. Duplicate and paste it in place above (Ctrl+C and Shift+Ctrl+V)
  4. Reduce the thickness of the duplicate to 3px
  5. Change the duplicate’s colour

This would produce a 5px wide stroke with a 1mm border either side of a 3px centre line. This works great, but on the downside, it doubles the number of layers and it is difficult to select the lower stroke without having to delve into the layer tree hunting for the correct one.

The Outline Stroke Tool

The new way I’ve found is to use the Object > Path > Outline Stroke tool. As before, I draw the stroke and set its width. I select the stroke and go to Object > Path > Outline Stroke from the menu. The stroke is now a fill that can have a stroke thickness and colour applied to it from the Appearance panel.

The net result is the same but it is simpler to implement and creates fewer layers1. But it’s not without its drawbacks, though; for example, the stroke now has a border around the whole path and not just the sides, meaning there’ll be some cleaning up to do later in Photoshop, but then there usually is anyway. I find that using other tools, like Simplify, after applying the stroke has some strange and unwanted effects. Also, once the Outline Stroke tool has been used, only the stroke thickness can be edited and not the original line.


I think the original method takes longer to create a bordered stroke path and, while all the parts of the object remain fully editable, it can be fiddly trying to locate the correct layer in the stack. The new method speeds things up a little, but at the cost of limited fine tuning after the effect has been applied. I’m still using both methods, but leaning more towards the new way. The key to choosing which one I’ll use comes down to planning and knowing in advance what the final result will be. If there is a possibility that future edits may be necessary, I’ll go with the original method; otherwise it’s the new way, all the way.

I’m probably the last to the party with this tip but hopefully this can save someone else a lot of time, just like it did for me.


  1. Technically there are still two layers produced. However, one layer seems to have no purpose and deleting it has no effect. Well, no effect that I’ve noticed!

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