Tutorial: Illustrator CC Basics – Complex Shapes

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COMPUND PATHS

In this tutorial I will be teaching you how to make Complex Shapes in Illustrator.

Compound paths allow you to use an object to cut a hole in another object. For example, you will notice that this polygon on the left has a polygon-shaped hole cut out of the middle.

Let’s see how this is done. Using the Selection tool drag a box over both polygons to select them. Then all you need to do is go to Object > Compound Path > Make. Now you have punched a hole in the larger polygon.

This new object acts as a grouped object. If you want to manipulate either polygon by itself you just need to use the Direct Selection Tool. As you can see, if I click on the smaller polygon with the Direct Selection Tool only that polygon is selected. It I click on the larger polygon with the Direct Selection Tool only that polygon is selected.

COMPOUND SHAPES AND THE PATHFINDER PANEL

Now that we know how to make compound paths let’s learn how to use the Pathfinder Panel to make Compound Shapes.

Compound Shapes are editable art made up of two or more objects that are each assigned a shape mode. Compound Shapes provide four kinds of interactions: add, subtract, intersect, and exclude. Compound Shapes, like Compound Paths, act as a grouped object which means each individual shape can be manipulated independently using the Direct Selection tool or Isolation Mode.

Open up the Pathfinder Panel. (If you do not see the Pathfinder Panel, go to Window and click on Pathfinder.)  You will notice that the Pathfinder Panel is broken into two sections – Shape Modes and Pathfinders. We are going to explore the Pathfinder Panel using these stars and ellipses on the Artboard.

The Shape Mode Unite allows you to combine all the selected objects and merge them into a single object.

Using the Selection tool select the first set of shapes then go to the Pathfinder Panel and click on “Unite.” Since the star was the top-most layer the united object takes on the red color and black stroke. You see a red square with just a hint of the star shape around the edges.

Minus Front uses the top object to subtract its shape from the bottom object.

Using the Selection tool select the second set of shapes than go to the Pathfinder Panel and click on “Minus Front.” Since the star was the top-most layer and the ellipse was the second-top-most layer the square now has a star- and ellipse-shaped hole cut out of it.

Intersect deletes everything that does not overlap and combines the remaining shapes into a single shape.

Using the Selection tool select the third set of shapes than go to the Pathfinder Panel and click on “Intersect.” Since the star was the top-most layer the ellipse and square that did not overlap the star disappears and we are left with part of a star.

Exclude works the opposite of Intersect since it remove anything that overlaps between the objects and results in a compound path shape.

Using the Selection tool select the fourth set of shapes than go to the Pathfinder Panel and click on “Exclude.” Since the star was the top-most the new shape takes on the green color and we are left with parts of each of the shapes removed.

Divide cuts the artwork into separate pieces wherever the shapes overlap.

Using the Selection tool select the fifth set of shapes than go to the Pathfinder Panel and click on “Divide.” You will notice that the strokes are now overlapping each other. You can use the Direct Selection tool to move and manipulate each shape independently.

Trim removes the parts of the objects that are overlapping and removes the strokes.

Using the Selection tool select the sixth set of shapes than go to the Pathfinder Panel and click on “Trim.” You will notice that the strokes have now disappeared and any of the overlapping objects have been trimmed. If you use the Direct Selection tool you will also notice that the ellipse and square are both now divided into separate objects.

Merge will give you the same shape as trim but if you have objects of the same color then Merge will merge those overlapping objects filled with the same color.

Using the Selection tool select the seventh set of shapes than go to the Pathfinder Panel and click on “Merge.” You will notice that the strokes have now disappeared and any of the overlapping objects have been trimmed. If you use the Direct Selection tool you will also notice that the gray ellipse is now divided into separate objects.

Crop uses the top-most object to crop everything underneath it and it removes strokes from the objects.

Using the Selection tool select the eighth set of shapes than go to the Pathfinder Panel and click on “Crop.” You will notice that the strokes have now disappeared and any of the overlapping objects have disappeared. Since the star was the top-most object it remains intact while taking on the colors of the other (now hidden) objects.

Outline cuts the artwork into separate line segments.

Using the Selection tool select the ninth set of shapes than go to the Pathfinder Panel and click on “Outline.” You will notice that the strokes are now overlapping each other. You can use the Direct Selection tool to move and manipulate each stroke independently.

Minus Back uses the objects behind the top-most object to subtract its shape from the top object.

Using the Selection tool select the tenth set of shapes than go to the Pathfinder Panel and click on “Minus Back.” You will notice that the ellipse and the square both subtracted from the star and we are left with only a few pieces of the star.

SHAPE BUILDER TOOL

Now that we know how use the Pathfinder Panel let’s learn how to use the Shape Builder Tool to make Complex Shapes.

The Shape Builder tool allows you to combine shapes by simply clicking and dragging.

You will notice that the rectangle and triangle on the Artboard are separate objects. If I wanted to combine them quickly and easily I can use the Shape Builder tool.

In order to use the Shape Builder tool you must first have the object that you want to combine selected. Using the Selection tool, click on the rectangle and then shift-click on the triangle to select both objects.

With both objects selected, click on the Shape Builder tool. When you hover over the rectangle you will notice that a pattern is being displayed and your cursor has a plus sign next to it. Now all you need to do is hold down your left-mouse-button and drag across the rectangle and the triangle.

Now, if you use your Selection tool and select the object you will notice that instead of two separate objects you now have one object.

You can also use the Shape Builder tool to erase parts of an object.

Using the Selection tool select the three squares on the Artboard. Use the Shape Builder tool to combine the top square and the overlapping portion of the second square. When you now hold down the ALT key on a PC or the OPT key on a Mac you will notice that your cursor has a minus sign next to it. Click on the lower-right portion of the top square and click. Now you will see that the second square has a cut-out portion in the upper-left.

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