How to Make Shapes in After Effects

Updated on: September 16, 2022

Shapes are graphical objects that can be useful, especially if, besides being an After Effects user, you work with other Adobe vector software such as Illustrator. You can scale them to any size, apply effects and layer styles to them, and for that, Shapes are incredibly handy when creating animations.

There are two ways to make shapes in After Effects. The first one allows you to create them with five preset options, while the second one lets you draw them freely. 

Where to find preset Shapes in After Effects

After Effects offers five default figure options when creating shapes. These are the rectangle, the rounded rectangle, the ellipse, the polygon, and the star. Follow these steps to start using any of them:

  1. Locate the Toolbar and select the Rectangle tool you will find next to the Anchor Point feature, or simply hit Q for quicker access. Did you notice how your cursor turned into a star? That means that you can now draw any regular shape in your project.
  2. Tap Q several times in order to activate the five Shape preset options in After Effects. You can also hold down the Rectangle button to see the full list.
  3. Adjust the fill color and border of your shape by modifying the values of the Fill and Stroke options. You will find them just above your workspace's center screen.
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Once you have drawn a shape, you will notice a new layer on your Timeline. Meet the Shape Layers: you will recognize them because they have a star icon on them.

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The star feature can also be found on the Toolbar just before the Fill and Stroke buttons. If you click on it, it will also serve as a kind of shortcut to creating shapes.

How to draw a custom Shape with the Pen Tool

The Pen tool is one of the handiest tools in After Effects since it allows you to create the most elaborate shapes and masks. It works by outlining, so the software will automatically join the points a user generates on the canvas. Follow three simple steps to use this feature:

  • In the Toolbar, click on the Pen icon or tap G. You will find this button right after the Rectangle tool.
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  • With the pen tool activated, start outlining or placing points on your Canvas randomly until you return to the first one and the new shape is closed.
  • Use the Fill and Stroke options to adjust the color and thickness of the border of your object.

Tip: Remember you can create both Masks and Shapes with the same Rectangle and Pen Tool functions. This means that you must be focused when drawing objects.

To make a Shape correctly in After Effects, instead of ending up creating a mask, make sure you use these tools without selecting any layers on your Timeline.

Andrea Mercado is a tech-focused journalist and copywriter with over 5 years of experience covering innovation, edtech, AI, and internet trends across media outlets. She is passionate about how technology can democratize access to education and is an avid learner when it comes to emerging tech like AI. Her articles and webinars help readers stay informed on the latest tech developments.
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