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Using Layer Styles in After Effects


Get a fundamental understanding of layer styles in After Effects with these insightful tutorials.

With all of the extremely complex and interesting effects built into After Effects, it can be easy to overlook layer styles and never use them. However, Layer styles can be a quick way to add basic stylization to your layers… and because they render after your transformations, they can be a much more natural way to stylize your layers.

What is a Layer Style?

A layer style is essentially a mini-effect that will alter the way in which After Effects outputs a layer. Common layer styles are drop shadows, color overlays, gradients, and glows. Because layer styles tend to be pretty basic, most designers use them for text or stationary 2D layers. For more complex stylizations, you will probably want to use actual effects instead of layer styles.

Using Layer Styles in After Effects: Layer Styles Screenshot

Layer styles can be applied to individual layers by simply navigating to Layer>Layer Styles. However, one thing you may not realize is that you can apply layer styles to nest compositions and the layer style will affect the entire composition as if it was a layer by itself.

In Adobe’s own words, here’s a breakdown of what each layer style does:

  • Drop Shadow: Adds a shadow that falls behind the layer.
  • Inner Shadow: Adds a shadow that falls inside the contents of the layer, giving the layer a recessed appearance.
  • Outer Glow: Adds a glow that emanates outward from the contents of the layer.
  • Inner Glow: Adds a glow that emanates inward from the contents of the layer.
  • Bevel And Emboss: Adds various combinations of highlights and shadows. Use the Bevel And Emboss layer style rather than the Bevel Alpha effect if, for example, you want to apply different blending modes to the highlights and shadows of a bevel.
  • Satin: Applies interior shading that creates a satiny finish.
  • Color Overlay: Fills the contents of the layer with a color.
  • Gradient Overlay: Fills the contents of the layer with a gradient.
  • Stroke: Outlines the contents of the layer.

If you want more info about what each layer style does individually, check out the video tutorials below.

Layer Style Tutorials

1. Basic Layer Styles in After Effects

Tutorial By: Evan Abrams

In this overview video from Evan Abrams, we take a look at how to use the basic layer styles in After Effects. While the end result may seem rather basic, it’s a great crash course if you’re not familiar with using layer styles already.

2. Layer Styles with Reflections

Tutorial By: Ukramedia

While this tutorial may focus on creating reflections, it’s actually a very useful tutorial for learning how to create interesting looking text using a combination of layer styles and effects. One layer style that I find particularly helpful is the inner glow effect. I find it more useful than simply using the compound blur in After Effects.

3. Creating a Layer Style Logo

Tutorial By: CG Swot

In this video tutorial we will take a look at how to create a layer style based logo in After Effects. The tutorial is fairly basic, but it does bring up a few good points about how to use layer styles to simulate metal-like reflections. It’s also a good example of how to use inner shadow to create a reverse bevel effect in After Effects.