Shapes layers some of the key features you can’t miss from After Effects it allows you to modified and animate vector art form. In this tutorial I will show how useful After Effects Shapes can be, and what you can do with them. Below the different subjects I will go over.

What are After Effects shapes?

Brief overview for the newbies shape layers are 2D vector graphic layer that can be tweaked directly in After Effects. Shapes are made out of vector path, points, lines. Shapes in After Effects allows you to modified and animate vector art forms.

For in depth information on shape layer you can also check the adobe after effects shape layer documentation page.

Basic standard After Effects shape example below

Since shapes are basically vector art graphics they can also be very detailed and beautiful such as below

Multiple ways to create a shape layer in After Effects?

Here a couple of method how you can create shape layer in After Effects:

Create Shapes from the Ellipse Tool

You can create simple shape directly in After Effects with the Ellipse Tool located on the top tool bar.
Hold Click on the Ellipse tool select the shape you need (Rectangle tool, Round Rectangle Tool,Polygon Tool, Star Tool)

Ellipse Tool After Effects

Shape Tips

Shape Layer Shortcut: To switch between Shape tools press Q multiple times.
after effects shape switch shortcut

Create Shape Instantly
Double click on the shape icon to create a shape layer.
Create After Effects Shape

Change your shape Fill and Stroke color quickly
To switch between opaque color, gradient, or no background
Hold Alt + Click on the “Fill” icon or “Stroke” icon. 
change fill stroke color shape shortcut

Draw Shape Layer

Although Adobe Illustrator is much better to create custom and draw shapes you can still create shapes with the Pen tool Pen Tool After Effects Icon located on the top tool bar.

draw shape layer with pen tool

Make Shape from Illustrator

When it come to After Effects shapes, Adobe Illustrator is your best friend as you can import your AI or EPS file into After Effects and convert to a shape layer.
Simply import an Illustrator file in After Effects, drop it to your timeline and “Create Shape from Vector Layer”
Convert shape from illustrator

Now if feel the method above are boring you can try a higher level and technically create your 3D object in a 3d software such as Cinema4D or Maya and export them as vector file then convert them into shape layer in After Effects.

After Effects Shapes Properties

Once your shape layer is created, you can see and edit the properties such as path, stroke, fill, transform…
After Effects shape default properties

Add Shape Options

Now let get to the cool options that you can use on any vector shapes in After Effects
On the right side of Contents you will see Add: with a right arrow

Click on it you will see the options below:

  • Rectangle
  • Ellipse
  • Polystar
  • Path
  • Fill
  • Stroke
  • Gradient Fill
  • Gradient Stroke
  • Merge path
  • Offset Path
  • Pucker& Bloat
  • Repeater
  • Round Corner
  • Trim Paths
  • Twist
  • Wiggle Paths
  • Wiggle Transform
  • Zig Zag

Here is a brief animated preview of the add shape options based on basic squares, feel free to click on any of the links below to download the After Effects shape project.

shape default state Fill Stroke
Default State Fill Stroke
Gradient Fill Gradient Stroke merge paths after effects
Gradient Fill Gradient Stroke Merge path
Offset path Pucker & Bloat After Effects repeater shape after effects
Offset Path Pucker & Bloat Repeater
Round Corners Shape Trim Path
Round Corners Trim Paths Twist
Wiggle transform
Wiggle Paths Wiggle Transform Zig Zag

After Effects Shapes Presets Animation Preview

In the Effects & Presets window there are a bunch of animated shapes presets you might not be aware of. To use them check out the steps below.

Open the Effects & Presets window.
Expand *Animaton Presets
Expand the Shapes folder
Click on any of them
Drag and Drop to your composition.

Below a preview of all the After effects shapes presets, just click on + to expand and preview.

Box-Swarm
Box Swarm Kaleidoscopic Nerve Net – Circular
Nerve Net – Penta
60s-text Chasing Line Dots
60s Text Bar Chasing Line – Boxes Chasing Line – Dots
Mod Boxes
Marquee Chasers Mod Boxes Ring Chart
Wireframe Worm
Wireframe Worm
Alien Face animated Circular cellular division Dancing Knot
Alien Face – animated Circular – cellular division Dancing Knot
Mandala Animated Phase Scope Spiro Mandala
Mandala – animated Phase Scope Spiro Mandala
Twinkle Star
Alien Calligraphy Alien Face Box dashed lines
Alien Calligraphy Alien Face Box – dashed lines
Bullseye Circular – half round
Bullseye Circular – half round Circular – tri dash
Crosshair brackets Crosshair – round Crosshair Square
Crosshair – brackets Crosshair – round Crosshair – square
Fan Blades Flower Power
Fan Blades Flower Power Gear 1
Gear 2 Holy Light Indian Sun
Mandala RayStar-4
Mandala RayStar-4 RayStar-8
Rounded Bracket beveled Rounded Bracket double Seaside Daisy
Rounded Bracket – beveled Rounded Bracket – double Seaside Daisy
Tri Cog
Tri Cog

Shape Layer Shortcuts

Result Windows Mac OS
Group selected shapes Ctrl+G Command+G
Ungroup selected shapes Ctrl+Shift+G Command+Shift+G
Enter free-transform path editing mode Select Path property in Timeline panel and press Ctrl+T Select Path property in Timeline panel and press Command+T
Increase star inner roundness Page Up when dragging to create shape Page Up when dragging to create shape
Decrease star inner roundness Page Down when dragging to create shape Page Down when dragging to create shape
Increase number of points for star or polygon; increase roundness for rounded rectangle Up Arrow when dragging to create shape Up Arrow when dragging to create shape
Decrease number of points for star or polygon; decrease roundness for rounded rectangle Down Arrow when dragging to create shape Down Arrow when dragging to create shape
Reposition shape during creation Hold spacebar when dragging to create shape Hold spacebar when dragging to create shape
Set rounded rectangle roundness to 0 (sharp corners); decrease polygon and star outer roundness Left Arrow when dragging to create shape Left Arrow when dragging to create shape
Set rounded rectangle roundness to maximum; increase polygon and star outer roundness Right Arrow when dragging to create shape Right Arrow when dragging to create shape
Constrain rectangles to squares; constrain ellipses to circles; constrain polygons and stars to zero rotation Shift when dragging to create shape Shift when dragging to create shape
Change outer radius of star Ctrl when dragging to create shape Command when dragging to create shape

Shapes path and Expressions

I found a couple of really good tutorial on expression that are applied to After Effects shape. Just expand below the tabs.

Shape Animation Templates

Now you might not have all the time in the world to make creative shape animation so  an alternative to that is finding good template, below a couple of After Effects shape templates that might help you gain some production time.

100 After Effects text and title template Cartoon Shape After Effects Template
Cartoon Shape After Effects Template

Haven’t found the information you need on After Effects shape layer? Please let me know what you are looking for in the comments area below. Thanks!!