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Editing and Combining Shapes and Paths

  • Sample Chapter is provided courtesy of Adobe Press.
  • Date: Mar 25, 2017.

Chapter Description

Explore how to both edit and combine shapes and paths in Adobe Illustrator CC (2017).

Editing paths and shapes

In Illustrator, you can edit and combine paths and shapes in a variety of ways to achieve the artwork you want. Sometimes, to get the artwork you desire, you start simpler and utilize different methods for achieving more complex paths. This includes working with the Scissors tool (scissors_tool.jpg), the Knife tool (knife_tool.jpg), the Width tool (width_tool.jpg), the Shape Builder tool (builder_tool.jpg), Pathfinder effects, and the Eraser tool (erasertool.jpg); outlining strokes; joining paths; and more.

Cutting with the Scissors tool

There are several tools that allow you to cut and divide shapes. You’ll start with the Scissors tool (scissors_tool.jpg), which splits a path at an anchor point or on a line segment and makes an open path. Next, you’ll cut a shape with the Scissors tool to reshape it.

  1. Choose View > Fit All In Window.

  2. Choose View > Smart Guides, and ensure that they are on.

  3. Choose 2 Bird 1 from the Artboard Navigation menu in the lower-left corner of the Document window. Choose View > Fit Artboard In Window.

  4. Select the Zoom tool (zoom.jpg) in the Tools panel, and click twice on the red shape in the upper-right corner of the artboard to zoom in.

  5. Select the Selection tool (selection_tool.jpg) in the Tools panel, and click the red shape to select it.

  6. With the shape selected, in the Tools panel, click and hold down the Eraser tool (erasertool.jpg), and select the Scissors tool (scissors_tool.jpg). Position the pointer over the blue anchor point on the path on the left side (see the figure), and when you see the word “anchor,” click to cut the path at that point.


    If you don’t click directly on a point or path, you will see a warning dialog box. You can simply click OK and try again. Cuts made with the Scissors tool must be on a line or a curve rather than on an end point of an open path. When you click with the Scissors tool, a new anchor point is created and is selected.

  7. Choose View > Smart Guides to turn them off.

  8. Select the Direct Selection tool (direct_selection.jpg), and drag the anchor point you just clicked to the left.

  9. Drag the other anchor point, from where you originally cut the path with the scissors, up and to the left (see the figure).


    Notice how the stroke (the black border) doesn’t go all the way around the red shape. That’s because cutting with the Scissors tool makes an open path. Circles and rectangles are examples of closed paths, and lines and “S” shapes are examples of open paths (the end points are not connected). If you only want to fill the shape with a color, it doesn’t have to be a closed path. Like I’ve said previously, an open path can have a color fill. It is, however, necessary for a path to be closed if you want a stroke to appear around the entire fill area.

Joining paths

Suppose you draw a “U” shape and later decide you want to close the shape, essentially joining the ends of the “U” with a straight path. If you select the path, you can use the Join command to create a line segment between the end points, closing the path. When more than one open path is selected, you can join them to create a closed path. You can also join the end points of two separate paths. Next, you will join the ends of the red path to create a single closed shape.

  1. Select the Selection tool (selection_tool.jpg) in the Tools panel. Click away from the red path to deselect it, and then click in the red fill to reselect it.

    This step is important because only one anchor point was left selected from the previous section. If you were to choose the Join command with only one anchor point selected, an error message would appear. By selecting the whole path, when you apply the Join command, Illustrator simply finds the two ends of the path and connects them with a straight line.

  2. Choose Object > Path > Join.

  3. Choose Select > Deselect to see the closed path.


    When you apply the Join command to two or more open paths, Illustrator first looks for and joins the paths that have end points stationed closest to each other. This process is repeated every time you apply the Join command until all paths are joined.

  4. Click the red path to select it again.

  5. Select the Eyedropper tool (eye_drapper.jpg) in the Tools panel, and click the blue circle in the center of the artboard.


    The Eyedropper tool samples the appearance attributes like stroke and fill from what you click and applies those same appearance attributes to the selected artwork.

  6. Select the Selection tool, and drag the formerly red shape into position like you see in the figure.

  7. Choose Select > Deselect.

Cutting with the Knife tool

Another way to cut a shape is by using the Knife tool (knife_tool.jpg). To cut with the Knife tool, you drag across a shape, and the result is two closed paths.

  1. Choose 3 Bird 2 from the Artboard Navigation menu in the lower-left corner of the Document window.

  2. Click and hold down the mouse on the Scissors tool (scissors_tool.jpg), and select the Knife tool (knife_tool.jpg).

  3. Position the Knife pointer (knife_po.jpg) above the green shape toward the top of the artboard. Starting above the shape (see the red X in the figure), drag down all the way across the shape to cut the shape into two.


    Dragging across a shape with the Knife tool makes a very free-form cut that is not straight at all.

  4. Position the pointer above the green shape, to the right of where you just cut. Press and hold Option+Shift (Mac OS) or Alt+Shift (Windows), and drag down all the way across the shape to cut it into two, in a completely straight line. Release the mouse button and then the keys.


    Pressing the Option key (Mac OS) or Alt key (Windows) allows you to cut in a straight line. Pressing the Shift key as well constrains the cut to 45 degrees.

  5. While pressing the keys in the previous step, try making two more cuts to the right of the cut you just made.

    Don’t worry about making the resulting shapes exactly the same width. See the figure for roughly where to cut.

  6. Choose Select > Deselect.

  7. Select the Selection tool (selection_tool.jpg), and click the first green shape from the left to select it. Choose the CMYK Cyan color from the fill color in the Control panel.

    When you hover the pointer over a color in the panel that appears, you can see a yellow tooltip with the color name appear.

  8. Click the green shape farthest to the right to select it. Choose a red color from the fill color in the Control panel. I chose a color with the name “C=15 M=100 Y=90 K=10.” See the shape in the following figure.

  9. With three green shapes left, click the middle green shape to select it. Click Fill color in the Control panel, and choose an orange color with the name “C=0 M=80 Y=95 K=0.”

  10. Drag across all of the shapes you cut to select them. Change the stroke weight to 0 in the Control panel.

  11. Choose Select > All On Active Artboard, and then choose Object > Group.

  12. Choose Select > Deselect, and then choose File > Save.


Using the Eraser tool

The Eraser tool (erasertool.jpg) lets you erase any area of your vector artwork, regardless of the structure. You can use the Eraser tool on paths, compound paths, paths inside Live Paint groups, and clipping content. Next, you’ll use the Eraser tool to modify several shapes.

  1. Choose 2 Bird 1 from the Artboard Navigation menu in the lower-left corner of the Document window.

  2. With the Selection tool (selection_tool.jpg), select the smaller white circle toward the upper-left corner of the artboard.


    By selecting the white shape, you’ll erase only that shape and nothing else. If you leave all objects deselected, you can erase any object that the tool touches, across all layers.

  3. Click and hold down the mouse on the Knife tool (knife_tool.jpg), and select the Eraser tool (erasertool.jpg) in the Tools panel.

  4. Double-click the Eraser tool (erasertool.jpg) to edit the tool properties. In the Eraser Tool Options dialog box, change Size to 20 pt. Click OK.

  5. Position the pointer off the upper-left corner of the white circle (where you see the red X in the figure). Click and drag across the circle in a “U” shape to erase the top half of the circle.


    When you release the mouse button, the top half of the circle is erased, and the circle is still a closed path.

  6. Change the stroke weight to 0 in the Control panel, and choose a blue color from the fill color. I chose a blue with the color name of “C=85 M=50 Y=0 K=0” that appears in the tooltip when you hover over each color swatch.


    You can also erase in a straight line, which is what you’ll do next.

  7. Select the Selection tool (selection_tool.jpg), and click the white circle in the lower-right corner of the artboard.

  8. Select the Eraser tool (erasertool.jpg) in the Tools panel. Press the Shift key, and starting off the left side of the white circle, drag across the top half of the circle. Release the mouse button and then the Shift key.


    The white circle is now two separate shapes, both closed paths.

  9. Drag across the remaining shape at the top to erase it completely. You may need to drag across it a few times to erase it all.

    It may look like you erased part of the blue shape, but since it isn’t selected, it isn’t erased.

  10. With the last part of the circle still selected, select the Eyedropper tool (eye_drapper.jpg) in the Tools panel, and click the small blue circle you erased part of earlier (in the upper-left corner of the artboard).

    This copies the appearance attributes like fill and stroke from the small shape to the larger shape.

  11. With the larger blue shape selected, choose Object > Transform > Rotate. In the Rotate dialog box, change Angle to -20, and select Preview to see the change. Click OK.

  12. Select the Selection tool in the Tools panel. Drag each shape from its center onto the large blue circle in the center to create a bird (see the figure for guidance).

  13. Choose Select > All On Active Artboard, and then choose Object > Group.

  14. Choose File > Save.

3. Combining shapes | Next Section Previous Section

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