Beginners guide to Adobe After Effects ‘Shape Layer Add Effects’ menu

Software Home After Effects 28/09/2023 5 min read

Layer Add Effects Menu

You may have used the Adobe After Effects Shape Layer Add menu in some Effects you’ve created through Motion Array Tutorials, but this hidden little menu is full of fantastic tools that have a variety of uses. As the Add Menu doesn’t appear in the Effects Panel, it can be easily missed, so today, we will take you through what the Add menu is and how you can use it with your Shape Layer animations.

  • Understand the Shape Layer Add Menu and where to find it in Adobe After Effects.
  • Discover the tools available in the Add Menu to design and animate your Shape Layers.
  • Follow our Step-by-step guide to creating exciting and unique Shape animations in After Effects.

What is the Add Menu?

The Add Menu is a set of design and effect tools specific to shape layers in Adobe After Effects. Shape Layers have particular properties that differ from your media and text layers. Text layers have a similarly hidden Animate Menu that you can use only for titles.

The Add Menu allows you to add Keyframable properties to the Shape Layers so that you can animate elements beyond, or in addition to, the original Shape settings. There are many ways to use the Add Menu effects, and you’ll need some creative thinking to find ways to apply them to your projects.

Using the Add Menu to Create Shapes

When you add a Shape directly to the Media Viewer, a layer is created in your Timeline with your Shape properties contained within it. The Add Menu allows you to create shapes from the Layer rather than the toolbar.

You may wonder why you’d want to do this, but as you’ll see with the other effects available, adding multiple shapes to the same Layer can help you achieve many designs you can’t with multiple shape layers. 

  1. In a new composition, go to Layer > New > Shape Layer.
  2. In the Layer Panel, toggle down the Shape Layer settings and find the Add menu with a play button icon.
  3. Click the Add button and choose an available Shape in the menu.
  4. From the Shape Transform options in the Layer menu, adjust the Size, Position, Rotations, and any other settings you like until you’re happy with your Shape.
  5. Go back to the Add menu and choose another Shape – you will see it is added to the same Layer but has its own properties, such as Scale, Roundness, Position, and Rotation.
  6. If you click off the Layer, you will no longer see the Shapes you have created – this is because using the Add Menu only makes the Path shapes. You’ll need to add Fills, Strokes, and Gradients to the Shapes next.

Using the Add Menu to Design Your Shapes

The Add Menu also has several Shape design elements, such as Stroke, Fill, and Gradient Fill. Again, these options are available to you when creating Shapes from the top toolbar, but from the Add Menu, you can have as many properties as you like.

Fill and Gradient Fills

Fills and Gradient Fills are self-explanatory–allowing you to add a block or gradient color to your shapes. One important thing to note about Fills for your Shape Layers is that once added, they will fill every Shape above it in the Layer Menu, so you need to be careful about how many Shapes you add to a Layer and how they are stacked in the Panel.

Strokes and Gradient Strokes

Strokes are super handy and can allow you to produce a variety of effects. For example, If you wanted to build a Circle with Multiple Stoke LInes, you might create duplicate Shape layers to stack them up. With the Add Menu, you can have as many Stokes as you want on one Shape and animate each individually. 

The Stoke settings also have a variety of design options, including Dashes, Tapering, and Wave, giving you complete control over the look and texture of your Stoke. As each Stoke effect is added separately, they can each have their own design, which is helpful when creating complex Shape compositions such as HUDs.


Using the Add Menu Paths Effects

The Add Menu also includes Path Effects, which allow you to Merge and Offset the various Shapes in the Layer. While a similar effect can be created on separate Shape Layers using Track Mattes, the simplicity of having everything in one place can drastically reduce your project sizes and rendering time.

Similarly to the Fill Effects, how your Shape Paths are Merged will depend on the order in which they are stacked in the Layer Panel. The Merge Paths effect also has 5 different options through the Mode dropdown, including Add, Subtract, Intersect, and Exclude Intersections, each giving you a different look and result.


Using the Add Menu to Animate Your Shapes

The best thing about the Add Menu is the animation options available. While you can animate the other Add Menu properties, such as Stroke and Path Offsets, these effects can animate your Shapes in surprising ways, saving you hours of Keyframing and Layer building.

Pucker and Bloat

The Pucker and Bloat effect has one setting that allows you to move between positive numbers for Bloating and negative numbers for Puckering. The effect can help your shape balloon outwards in small increments or look sucked and pinched inwards. However, there is no limit to how much Pucker or Bloating you can add to a shape, allowing you to create cool kaleidoscope animations with just a few keyframes.


The Repeater is a fun effect with many options, making it one of the most valuable tools for Flourish Animations available in After Effects. The Repeater allows you to repeat your Shape from a centralized Anchor Point literally, but the Repeater Transform Options will enable you to control every element within the repetitions.

You can choose how many copies of the Shape appear and adjust their Offset, Angle, Rotation, Position, Scale, and Opacity. What’s more, each of the Repeater Transform properties is Key Frameable separately from the original Shape.

Trim Paths

Trim Paths is another incredible tool we talk about in effects like Flourish Animations. Trim Paths does work on Fill Layers, but it is best used with Stokes to create a moving line to your Shape.

When added to your Shape, the Trim Paths effect will give you 3 Keyframable options: End (100%), Start (0%) and Offset. By adjusting the Start and End settings, you can choose how much of the Stroke Path is drawn on the screen, and by changing the Offset, you can decide where the Start/End of the line is within your Shape.


The Twist effect allows you to distort your Shape from a chosen Anchor Point, twisting from a small wiggle motion to a full spiralization of your Shape element. The Twist effect is handy for adding movement to any background Shape – try adding an Expression to your Twist effect by holding Alt and clicking on the Angle Stopwatch, then type Wiggle(1,50) into the Expression Box in the Timeline.

Wiggle Paths

The Wiggle Paths effect is a lot of fun and is animated from the moment you add it to your Shape. Using the Path of your Shape as a guide, After Effects adds a Wiggle, which can take on massively different looks depending on your chosen settings.

While the Wiggle Paths effect has a number of settings, the two main properties are the Size and Detail of your Wiggle. By playing with these settings, you can produce a hard, spiky-looking edge, a soft, bubbly edge, or animate between the two.


Zig Zag is similar to the Wiggle Paths effect, only it doesn’t add movement to your Shape layer. Instead, the Zig Zag effect allows you to design the Number of Ridges along the edge of your Shape Layer and the Size of those Ridges protruding from the original Path. As with all the other design properties added to your Shapes, you can Keyframe the Size and Number of Ridges to create cool and exciting effects.

If you’re new to After Effects, the Shape Layer Add Menu is a vital tool easily missed in the AE interface. Now that you’ve discovered this handy menu play around with the various settings to see what you can create. As with most After Effects properties, animation is much easier with Expressions. If you want to learn more, check out these 6 powerful Expressions After Effects animators need to know.