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Understanding how compound shapes work

From: Illustrator Insider Training: Drawing without the Pen Tool

Video: Understanding how compound shapes work

Okay so up till this point, we've explored what the Shape Modes are inside of Illustrator and also the Pathfinders. However, I have spoken before about some additional functionality that exists within these Shape Modes that are right over here at the top of the panel. On top of that you may have noticed that there is a button here called Expand which is grayed out and as you go ahead and you select things, you click on buttons, that continues to be grayed out. So let's explore why that Expand button is there and more importantly understand what this whole concept of Shape Modes actually are because, what we've done here is you have actually so far applied pathfinders.

Understanding how compound shapes work

Okay so up till this point, we've explored what the Shape Modes are inside of Illustrator and also the Pathfinders. However, I have spoken before about some additional functionality that exists within these Shape Modes that are right over here at the top of the panel. On top of that you may have noticed that there is a button here called Expand which is grayed out and as you go ahead and you select things, you click on buttons, that continues to be grayed out. So let's explore why that Expand button is there and more importantly understand what this whole concept of Shape Modes actually are because, what we've done here is you have actually so far applied pathfinders.

These are listed as pathfinders, but these four options that we have over here, the Unite, the Minus Front, the Intersect and Exclude are also really pathfinders. The thing that you will notice that's different about the Shape Modes themselves that I mouse over them, in parentheses after it says Unite, it says I can Option+Click to create something called the compound shape. So let's understand exactly what a compound shape is inside of Illustrator and then we will begin to have a different appreciation for what shape modes actually are.

Alright, so you will notice that right now in this file called stripes3, I have the same two circles here that we've been dealing with before, I have a yellow circle in the back, I have a red circle on the front, they both have a black stroke on them and right now they are both selected which would allow me to apply any of these Pathfinder functions, but I am going to do something here a little bit different. I am actually going to come here to the Unite button or the Add button and rather than just simply click on it, I am going to hold down the Option key on my keyboard, I am on a Mac so that would be Option, but if you are no a PC or Windows machine that would be the Alt key.

And now with that button still pressed out on your keyboard, now go ahead and click on that same button here. When I click on that, two things you will notice that will happen, first of all right now you'll see that the actual pass themselves have become united together. So now I have this one red object that has this kind of black stroke that appears around the perimeter of it, when I have the object selected, you'll see that this Expand button is now is lit up. More importantly, if you take a closer look at the actual art itself, you'll see that the individual circle paths still do exist.

I didn't lose these internal areas here, whereas before those were kind of merged and fused together into one shape, it still looks like when I select this that I have two individual circles. And in reality, I still do have two circles, if I hit Command+Y in my keyboard or Ctrl+Y on PC, you'll see now that I have two circles that haven't lost the paths on the inside. Let me hit Command+Y to back to this regular artwork mode. I am actually going to switch now to my white arrow, my Direct Selection tool. I am going to deselect the art, but now I am just going to click on one circle right here and you will see that I can actually move that circle around and as I move it, Illustrator just updates the outline, so Illustrator is treating them, as if they're one single fused object from an appearance perspective, but underlying the vector aspect of this still treats this as two circles, that I can continue to modify.

So if I want to take this circle and kind of nudge a little bit closer, I can actually change what this shape looks like, just by moving the shapes around. When I was working with Pathfinder before, and I used the Unite function. The Unite function physically changed the vectors of the path. However, when I use this Add Shape Mode by holding down the Option of the Alt key, when I choose that same option, it turns to some kind of live editable state. In fact, what I've just created now is something called a Compound shape. In fact when I go ahead now and I my regular selection tool to select this object, you can see over here that Illustrator identifies this as a compound shape likewise in the Appearance panel as well.

Now in this live state, I have the ability to still treat the two circles individually, but visually they fuse into one shape. If I ever want to kind of make this permanent and no longer edit it as the some kind of a live shape or what we call a compound shape. I can now click on the Expand button and you can see now that I no longer have the ability to edit these shapes anymore, it now has made this a permanent option and now if I go into Outline mode, I can see that those paths have now been combined into one. So let's actually back up a few steps, I am going to press Command+Z to go back to one of my shapes were two individual circles.

And let's see how this might apply to some of the other Shape Modes. I adjusted that with the Add Shape mode, but again, if I come here, I hold down the Option or Alt key in my keyboard and I now click on the Minus Front button, but really when I hold the Option button down, it changes it to be a Subtract option. If I click on this, it looks like the red circle kind of bit away at the yellow circle beneath it, but if I go into Outline mode, I still see the red circle path is still there and I have the ability to use my white arrow to click on that path, I am holding down to the Option key by the way, so I get the Group Selection tool, so I can select the entire path and all of its anchor points.

And I can still move this around and adjust the shape. So this kind of gives me almost, what we might call a live Pathfinder type of an effect, and I can do the same thing with these remaining two modes of Intersect and Exclude. Again, as long as I hold down the Option or the Alt key, before I apply that, I have the ability now to create this effect where the vectors are live and editable, but the result is an appearance that looks like the paths have been the actually applied with the mathematical functions. Now again, the reason why this might be useful is that, even after I've got at the shape that I want to create, if I decide later on, I want to make some small edits, I have the ability to do so, I haven't created something permanent that I can no longer modify or change.

Let's take a look at how we might apply this to some of the artwork that we've been creating for Mister Zee. I am going to delete the shape right here because we don't need it right now. And I am going to zoom in on this part of the body right here where we have been working on the stripes and the belly of Mister Zee. Now what I have here in this document is three shapes that already exist. I have one oval over here and one oval over here which we've created before. But I have also added yet another shape over here which we will see in a minute why that's going to come in to play. So the first thing I am going to do is I am actually going to apply some colors to this because I want you to better understand what's happening when we start applying the Shape Modes.

I am going to leave all of these objects with a stroke basically black, but I am going to take this circle right here and give this one a fill of yellow and may be I will take this circle over here and give this is one a fill of red and may be I will take this shape over here and give this one a fill of blue. And again I'm doing this because I want you to be able to understand, how these shapes are going to interact with each other. I am going to begin by selecting these two oval shapes right here. Now these two shapes actually overlap each other and the rules that we have been using so far for Pathfinder apply here as well, meaning only to pieces of art that I have selected are the ones to which these mathematical functions are going to apply.

So if I now realize that all I want to see is just this yellow strip here because that's what his stripe is going to be, I don't need the entire red area, since the entire red oval kind of blocks or covers that yellow circle, I can basically subtract it from the one that's beneath that over here. So with these two circles currently selected, I'm going to hold down my Option key or the Alt key on Windows and I am going to click now on the Subtract button. Now, all I'm left with is just this part of the stripe right here.

I can't see any of the parts of the red circle now because I have subtracted that from the yellow circle. But again, if we go into Outline mode, you will see that the circle is still there. Let me hit Command+Y again. It's important to realize that with Shape Modes, I can actually create a situation where I have something called nested compound shapes. We just now created a compound shape by taking two ovals and applying the shape mode called Subtract. I know it's a compound shape because I can see here and here that it's listed as a compound shape.

But now I have this blue area over here on the top, if I actually move the blue area away, I can see that the yellow parts still kind of extends beneath the belly. But I want the stripe to end right over here. So I've created this blue shape and if I now select a blue shape which is a single regular vector object and I also select this compound shape and now I hold down my Option key because I now want to create yet another compound shape. And I now choose a Subtract, what I've done now is I've taken the blue shape that I created here and I have subtracted that from the compound shape that was beneath it.

So now I have what we call a nested compound shape, I have one compound shape that I created, which created just the yellow stripe here. Then by using another blue shape here I am subtracting it from the yellow shape, I have now subtracted another portion of it. So if I deselect this right now, I have the final shape that I want to work with. In fact if I click on it right now select it and simply change its color from a yellow fill here to may be a black fill. So now I am getting the actual shape of the stripe that I want, but I've built this using live editable shapes.

So if my client later on tells me or even as an artist I decide I want to make some kind of adjustment to the stripe. I can use the white arrow here to come over here and basically hold down my Option key so I get the Group Selection tool. I kind of click on the path right here and I can adjust it by using the arrow key in my keyboard by moving it around. So you can see I can still adjust what I'm working with here because that circle still exists, it's just being subtracted in a live states in something called the compound shape. Once I am done and I know I don't need to edit this anymore, I can now take this artwork, select all of it and choose the Expand button and in doing so it will be flattened and now all I am left with is just this piece of non-editable artwork.

I am going to press undo for a second, because I want to show you that I also have the ability to go to fly-out menu of the Pathfinder panel and choose this option called Release Compound Shape and if I do that then Illustrator just simply undoes the shape, it keeps the artwork that's there, but it releases that compound shapes on back to editing the path itself. Now what I can simply do is take this piece of artwork and select it and release that one as well and now I have my original artwork still intact. But remember, I'm only able to get this function out inside of Illustrator, when I hold out my Option key and then choose any of these Shape Modes and that's really what sets these Shape Modes apart from Pathfinders because these Pathfinders don't have any ability to create compound shapes or these editable live shapes that I am working with.

However, these four Shape Modes are special because they have the ability to create these live compound shapes. Now here's the funny thing about Illustrator's history. When this concept of compound shapes was added which was back in Illustrator 10, Adobe made it so that whenever I have two pieces of artwork selected and I click on one of the Shape Modes, it actually creates a compound shape by default. And then if I wanted to flatten that object, I would now need to expand it. However, after many years of Illustrator, and people becoming frustrated by creating these live shapes and not knowing why they existed, Adobe decided to reverse the behavior and give people what they wanted which was the ability to actually create a flattened shape right at the beginning.

That is why, when I now take my regular let's say Minus Front option, I click on it. It's automatically a flattened shape that's no longer editable, if I want to specifically create one of these editable compound shapes, I would need to do so deliberately and again Adobe made that change as if Illustrator CS4 and now in CS5, or if I want to create the editable compound shape I would need to hold on my Option key and also click on the button to do so. So now we know the difference between Shape Modes inside of Illustrator and Pathfinders inside of Illustrator.

I guess you can ask yourself why did Adobe even go ahead and create these Shape Modes, what was the real purpose for it? Well, that's something that we are going to discuss in the next movie.

Show transcript

This video is part of

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  1. 7m 4s
    1. Welcome
      1m 21s
    2. The evolution of vector drawing
      3m 46s
    3. Getting the most out of this training
      1m 30s
    4. Using the exercise files
      27s
  2. 39m 2s
    1. Plotting points vs. drawing paths
      5m 36s
    2. Drawing artwork vs. building artwork
      7m 59s
    3. The keyboard shortcuts you HAVE to know
      8m 52s
    4. Groups and layers really do matter
      3m 11s
    5. Taming Smart Guides and the Bounding Box
      10m 53s
    6. Do you need a drawing tablet?
      2m 31s
  3. 47m 51s
    1. To sketch or not to sketch?
      2m 32s
    2. Setting up a template layer for your sketch
      3m 37s
    3. Optimizing default settings for drawing
      5m 27s
    4. Using the primitive shapes tools
      5m 7s
    5. Mastering the modifier keys
      2m 8s
    6. Mastering the transform tools
      6m 37s
    7. Creating curves with the Reshape tool
      6m 44s
    8. Using the Smooth tool
      3m 35s
    9. Using Simplify to create smooth paths
      3m 2s
    10. Recording an action for the Simplify command
      5m 2s
    11. Mirroring art for speed and accuracy
      4m 0s
  4. 50m 18s
    1. Deconstructing the Pathfinder panel
      1m 56s
    2. Using the Shape Modes functions
      12m 4s
    3. Using the Pathfinder functions
      13m 4s
    4. Understanding how compound shapes work
      11m 45s
    5. Understanding why compound shapes exist
      7m 32s
    6. Exploring additional Pathfinder options
      3m 57s
  5. 52m 51s
    1. Why Live Paint was created
      10m 45s
    2. Creating a Live Paint group
      4m 21s
    3. Using the Live Paint Bucket tool
      7m 8s
    4. Using Live Paint with open paths
      5m 6s
    5. Detecting gaps in Live Paint groups
      3m 42s
    6. Adding paths to a Live Paint group
      5m 34s
    7. Using the Live Paint Selection tool
      6m 28s
    8. Releasing and expanding Live Paint groups
      2m 59s
    9. Understanding how Live Paint works
      6m 48s
  6. 27m 37s
    1. Why the Shape Builder tool was created
      4m 18s
    2. Focusing on the big three: Add, Subtract, and Divide
      2m 27s
    3. Using the Shape Builder tool to add and subtract artwork
      9m 50s
    4. Using the Shape Builder to divide artwork
      3m 48s
    5. Building and coloring artwork at the same time
      3m 50s
    6. Using Gap Detection with the Shape Builder tool
      3m 24s
  7. 23m 2s
    1. Understanding how variable widths work
      8m 25s
    2. Modifying width points along a path
      7m 9s
    3. Saving time with width profiles
      5m 14s
    4. Turning variable width strokes into filled paths
      2m 14s
  8. 28m 21s
    1. Understanding how the Pen and Pencil tools differ
      4m 41s
    2. Adjusting the behavior of the Pencil tool
      7m 5s
    3. Using the Path Eraser tool
      1m 17s
    4. Drawing with the Calligraphic Brush tool
      5m 43s
    5. Drawing with the Blob Brush tool
      5m 53s
    6. Using the Eraser tool
      3m 42s
  9. 3m 44s
    1. Looking at the VectorScribe plug-in
      2m 16s
    2. Next steps
      1m 28s

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