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In Illustrator CS5 Essential Training, author Mordy Golding explains the core concepts and techniques that apply to any workflow in Illustrator, whether designing for print, the web, or assets for other applications. This course includes a detailed explanation of the elements that make up vector graphics—paths, strokes, and fills—and shows how to use each of the Illustrator drawing tools. Also demonstrated are techniques for combining and cleaning up paths, organizing paths into groups and layers, text editing, working with color, effects, and much more. Exercise files accompany the course.
You know that you can create shapes inside of Illustrator, things like ellipses, circles, rectangles, squares, so on and so forth, and these are all objects that are made up of single path. However, there is a concept in Illustrator, something called a compound path, which is a single path, but that single path is made up of multiple paths inside of it. The main use for creating a compound path is for when you want to chop out or punch out a hole inside of your shape. Let's take a look at an example of this and how to work with these compound paths.
So in this file right here, I am just going to zoom in closer to this photograph here, and I am going to take my Ellipse tool here and hold down the Shift key while drawing to create a nice perfect circle here. I hit the D key for the default settings. Now just a single one point black stroke with a white fill, very simple here, and I want to now create a second circle and I want to be able to basically see through a part of this bigger circle. So what I am going to do is I am going to hold down the Shift key once again and create another circle, just about right over here. I want this area right here should actually appear hollow, so I could see through to the photograph that appears beneath.
So to do that, I am first going to switch to my Selection tool. I already have now this circle selected. I am going to hold down the Shift key. I am going to click on this circle, so now both of the circles are selected. I have two paths currently selected, and I am now going to choose to turn this into a compound path, meaning take two paths and turn them into one path. So I am going to go to the Object menu here. I am going to choose Compound Path > Make. The keyboard shortcut for this is Command+8 on Mac or Ctrl+8 on Windows.
Now you can see that I've effectively taken that second smaller circle and I've punched it out of the original larger circle so I can now see directly through the shape to the objects or the artwork that appears beneath it. So again, my result here is now one path. Just to show you right now, I'm going to take my stroke value, which is now 1 point. I am going to change that to something like 5 points and you will see that that applies now to both of the circles, because right now this acts as one shape.
It's one object that I have selected, something called the compound path. But that compound path is made up of multiple paths inside of it and those multiple paths determine which parts of the objects are visible and which parts are invisible. Now it's important to realize that compound paths can be made up of more than just two shapes. I'm going to press Undo two times. Now I'm back to just having two paths here. I am going to draw a few more circles So I will draw let's say smaller one here, maybe a medium-size one here.
Something like that. Now I am going to basically switch to my regular Selection tool. I am going to hold down the Shift key and select all these five different circles. So I now have five circles selected. Now once again I am going to choose Object, I am going to choose Compound Path > Make, and now I have been able to basically cut holes out through many parts of that one overall circle. Now, how do compound paths actually work? Well, the reality is that Illustrator looks at all these paths and determines the direction that those paths travel in.
We don't really think about it, but normally whenever I create any kind of a path inside Illustrator that path travels in a certain direction. So just to give you a basic idea, if I draw a circle right here and for example let's say this is my starting point of my circle, my path basically starts here and then travels in this direction all the way across the path back to here. So you can see that right now my path is traveling in a clockwise direction. Now let's say I draw another circle right here and just for purposes of illustration here, I am going to draw a line right through the middle here.
This line doesn't really exist, but I want you in your imagination to imagine as if there were some kind of a line there. Now if I were to start over here with this part of my path and start traveling in one direction, I am now traveling in a clockwise direction. So I come all the way around here, but then at this point of the path I cut towards the inside of this path, and now I am going to start going in a counterclockwise direction. I come here, I go back into line, and you can see I am returning back to a clockwise direction. So what happens when Illustrator creates a compound path is that it looks at the direction that those paths are traveling in.
Anything that travels in a clockwise direction remains visible, but any part of my object or any part of the path that travels in a counterclockwise direction becomes invisible on the object. You can actually control this very easily inside of Illustrator. I am just going to delete these objects right here and let's return back to this example. I am going to use my Direct Selection tool to now click on just this circle right here. This part of the path. I am now going to go to the Window menu. I am going to open up a panel called the Attributes panel.
Inside of the Attributes panel, if I completely expand it so that I can see all of it right here, there is a setting here whenever I have a compound path selected that allows me to reverse the path direction. So right now, it says Reverse Path Direction is on. That makes this part of this object invisible. But if I wanted to turn the Reverse Path Direction off, notice now that circle is now visible, because both the outer path and this path are now traveling in the same direction.
So you can see how compound paths work inside of Illustrator and in reality compound paths are used mainly inside of fonts. For example, the uppercase A has a hole that is kind of cut out from the middle of it. Same thing for lowercased E or the letter O, for example. All those are created using compound paths.
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