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One of the secrets to building complex artwork inside of Illustrator is to think about the concept of building shapes instead of drawing shapes. In other words, if you wanted to create something like this flower right here, instead of thinking about using a Pen tool or even a Pencil tool to try and draw the shape as it appears right here, you might think about creating several oval shapes, rotating them in a certain direction, and then combining them together to arrive at this final shape.
Doing so not only allows you to create these objects more quickly. It also allows you to create objects that are very precise. Now you already know how to draw primitive objects. But how do we combine those objects together to create the final shapes that we want? We've already seen one thing. Something called using compound paths to combine multiple shapes to create a final shape that maybe has some holes cut out of it. But in this case here, we are going to learn how to take multiple shapes and either combine them together or subtract them from each other to arrive at the final shape that we need.
We can do that by using something in Illustrator called compound shapes. So before we were dealing with compound paths, let's take a look now at something called compound shapes, and we are going to use a separate panel here called the Pathfinder panel to help us build these shapes. I am going to choose Window > Pathfinder. And we will see that the Pathfinder panel has several buttons here across the top called shape modes. Now I am going to zoom in just a little bit over here on this piece of artwork so we can see how these shape modes work and how they help us build artwork.
The gray background here is locked, so I don't have to worry about selecting it. I am going to start by clicking and dragging to select all these elements. Now I want to combine all these ovals together into one overall flower. But I don't want to actually combine this circle that has this thicker stroke applied to it. I am going to use that to cut a hole out of my flower later. So I am going to hold down the Shift key and I am going to now click on that one shapes so that I deselect it. So now I have all these oval selected, except for that circle here in the middle.
I am going to come to the Pathfinder panel and where it says shape modes, I am going to click on this first object here called Unite. This now combines all those shapes together. It has basically united many different shapes into one new shape. Next, I want to cut a hole out of the center of this flower and I want to use this circle to do that. Now we know that we could use a compound path for that purpose, but it's easier to actually do this directly inside of the Pathfinder panel.
So with this object right now selected, I am going to hold down my Shift key and also now select the circle. Now, I am going to come to the shape modes here and I will choose the second option, which is called Minus Front. Minus Front means it is going to take the object in front, which is this circle, and it is going to subtract it from the object beneath it. When I do so now, I have a single object that has a hole cut out of the middle. Just to show you, I am going to change the fill of this object to yellow. You could see now that only this part is filled. This part is hollow.
In fact, if I now take this object I drag it over the photograph, we can see the photo through the center of this flower. Now I am going to go back to the File menu and I am going to choose Revert, because I want to go back to the original state of this document. I want to show you some hidden functionality that exists inside of the Pathfinder panel which may be useful to you. But before we do that, I am just going to quickly create a brand new document. Command+N or Ctrl+N. I am going to click OK to take the default settings and I want to quickly give you an overview of what each of these four shape modes do.
As I said before, the secret to creating perfect art inside of Illustrator in a very efficient and easy manner is to think about building artwork instead of drawing artwork. For example, if I wanted to create some shape for example, like a crescent, I could take a circle and I can create a perfect circle, use my Selection tool, and Option-drag to create a copy of that. So now I have two circles. But you can see that I've basically created this part of the crescent shape here.
I can some of the shape modes to help me end up with just the shape that I need. So I am going to select both of these right now. Maybe I will increase the stroke weight a little bit to make it easy to understand what's happening here. I'll go through each of these shape modes. If I click on the first one, the Unite option, that takes both circles and adds them to each other as if they were one shape. So my result is this. I'm going to press Undo. If I do the Minus Front option, I get the crescent that I'm looking for. I took basically the second circle and had that second circle be subtracted from the original one, leaving me with just the part that I want.
There are two other options, however, so I am going to press Undo and show you that this option here called Intersect will only leave you with the option where the two objects overlap each other. If I press Undo and I apply the last option, which is Exclude, it will basically remove the middle part, leaving me only with this part over here of the object and this part of the object as well. But you will notice that there is also an Expand button, which is currently grayed out right now. Hmmm, what's that for? Well, let's go back to our original document here, the building_shapes.ai file, and once again I am going to zoom in on just this area right here, and we'll see where these things come into play.
I am going to start doing what I did before by clicking and dragging to select all these elements, but I am going to Shift+click on the thick black circle here so that it is not selected. Now all these ovals are selected except for that circle and instead of just clicking on the Unite button, I'm going to hold down the Option key on a Mac or the Alt key on Windows. Now I am going to click on that button with that key held down. This creates something inside of Illustrator called a compound shape that is live, meaning that I still see all of my original oval shapes right here.
But if I deselect the artwork, they appear as if they've all been fused together. Again, if I press Command+Y or Ctrl+Y to go into Outline mode, I see that my original paths still exist. However, the appearance of those paths gives me this look as if they have all been fused into one. The benefit of this is that I can now take my Direct Selection tool and click on each of these shapes individually, and even move them around. I can adjust them if I wanted to control exactly how that shape looks, even after I fuse them together.
Of course, you can nest or have multiple compound functions all applied to a single piece of artwork. So right now, I've taken a whole bunch of all those and combined them together. I now want to select all these, meaning that overall shape that I've added together, plus now this new circle, and then again instead of clicking on this button I'm going to Option+ click or Alt+click on that button. Now basically I have a single shape that has some elements that are added and some elements that are subtracted.
If I click on it to select it, I then bring my fill to focus and I change my swatch color here to yellow, I can't apply a fill if it is a single object, yet it is made up inside of this as many different objects that are still editable. At any point in time if I decide that I don't want to edit this object anymore, and I just want to kind of flatten it so it is just one object, that's when I can now click on the Expand button to now combine it all to just one flat shape. So we see now when working with artwork inside of Illustrator, I can use these shape modes to combine multiple objects into the final objects that I need in a far more efficient manner, than if I had tried to draw these from scratch using the Pen tool.
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