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Using the Shape Builder tool to add and subtract artwork

From: Illustrator Insider Training: Drawing without the Pen Tool

Video: Using the Shape Builder tool to add and subtract artwork

Now that we understand what Adobe set out to accomplish with the Shape Builder tool, let's learn how it works. More importantly let's use it on some of the shapes that we've already seen so far throughout this course so we can get a better idea for its benefits. The first thing I am actually going to do is I am going to close the Pathfinder panel because we are not going to need that anymore. Next, I am going to come over here to my toolbar and I want to show you where the Shape Builder tool is. It's this icon right over here and the keyboard shortcut for it is Shift+M.I want you to memorize that keyboard shortcut because I think that you'll find it very useful.

Using the Shape Builder tool to add and subtract artwork

Now that we understand what Adobe set out to accomplish with the Shape Builder tool, let's learn how it works. More importantly let's use it on some of the shapes that we've already seen so far throughout this course so we can get a better idea for its benefits. The first thing I am actually going to do is I am going to close the Pathfinder panel because we are not going to need that anymore. Next, I am going to come over here to my toolbar and I want to show you where the Shape Builder tool is. It's this icon right over here and the keyboard shortcut for it is Shift+M.I want you to memorize that keyboard shortcut because I think that you'll find it very useful.

In fact, on my own I have kind of decided that the Shape Builder tool has become the sleeper feature of Illustrator CS5. When I first saw it I didn't think it was that exciting because I am already familiar with Pathfinder, but now I am finding that I use Shape Builder so often and the keyboard shortcut really helps me access the tool whenever I need it. There is another thing to note about the Shape Builder tool as we are about to find out. It only works on artwork that you have selected which is pretty much the same of the rules that we've used when working with Pathfinder. So anytime I want to be able to use the Shape Builder tool I am first going to have to make a selection, which means I'm always kind of jumping back and forth between tools.

So let's go back to one of our most important keyboard shortcuts that we learned way back in the beginning of this course, the Command key on the Mac and the Ctrl key on Windows. Remember that no matter what tool you're using by pressing the Command key it will take you back to the last used selection tool. So right now if the last used selection tool is my Regular Selection tool, the black arrow, if I now switch to my Shape Builder tool by pressing Shift+M on my keyboard. Now I realize I have to make a selection in order to use this tool. I am simply going to press Command or Ctrl on Windows and I am now going to marquee select these two shapes and now that they're selected by releasing the Command key or the Ctrl key I am now in a state where I could start to use the Shape Builder tool.

I find that as I'm working I am going to be constantly selecting and deselecting artwork, so I am always going to be using that Command key to help me get back to that selection tool. Let's first understand exactly what the Shape Builder tool does. We discussed that there were three main functions that we use in the world of Pathfinder. Add, Subtract and Divide. For now in this movie, let's focus on the first two, Add and Subtract. In fact, you'll see that right now I have two circles currently selected and my icon has the little Plus sign that appears next to it.

This Plus sign indicates that right now with the Shape Builder tool I am currently in Add Mode. It means that when I use the function right now it's going to act as the Pathfinder Add function or the Unite function. So let's see how that works. I am actually going to move this cursor now over my shape and you will notice that as soon as I highlight my cursor over the shapes the regions will highlight and that's similar to what we've seen in Live Paint. Live Paint didn't really care about the underlying paths. it just automatically identified which areas were individual regions.

Same thing here applies to the Shape Builder tool. So it's identifying to me right now the different regions that are inside of my selected artwork. Here is the thing. If I start clicking and then dragging my mouse any region that I start touching now becomes highlighted and when I release the mouse then my entire object or any of the objects that are highlighted now gets fused or united together. So it is if I use the Pathfinder Unite function, although I didn't have to now open up my Pathfinder panel and figure out which button to click on, I just clicked and dragged over the shapes.

Notice something interesting here because when we use Pathfinder Add before the entire shape became red when I use the Add function, because that was the topmost object. However, in this case the yellow was the backmost object and yet when I now united them altogether everything turned yellow. The reason why that happened is because the Shape Builder tool allows you to choose which color you want to use for the eventual final shape. I am going to press Undo for a second here and let's say I start clicking and dragging from the red shape first and then I go now and I touch the yellow shape.

Notice that now it turns red. I am going to press Undo to go back to this shape. So we'll see that not only is it more intuitive because I am able to apply this Pathfinder function called Unite in a more visual sense, kind of like what we were doing with Live Paint but it also gives me more control over what I want my eventual piece of artwork to look like. We'll actually explore this part of using Shape Builder a little bit later inside of the chapter, but for now I want to focus on the other function that we were talking about, which is Subtract or Minus Front . Right now I have two shapes that overlap each other and if you look at my cursor it has a little Plus sign next to it, but if I were to hold down the Option key on my keyboard and if you are on Windows that will be the Alt key, you will see that the + sign now changes to a Minus sign . That indicates that right now my Shape Builder tool is in a Subtract mode or a Minus Front mode and if I now click and drag over shapes any shape that is highlighted now gets removed from my artwork, and all I am left with is remaining areas.

So I will release the Option key or the Alt key and now you will see that I am left with this shape similar to what I might have gotten with the Subtract or the Minus Front function in Pathfinder. Again the difference here though is that because the yellow shape was in the back of the stacking order, I really have no easy way to do this using the Minus Front option, I'd really need to use the Minus Back option. But then again I'd be undoing all those buttons inside of Pathfinder just to figure it out whereas here with the Shape Builder tool I can simply drag across the objects and far more intuitively build the shape that I am looking for.

So again, when using this Shape Builder tool all I need to do is simply take some artwork, select it and that's a very important part, we need to make a selection and then simply drag across that artwork. If we just use the tool on its own its going to be in the Add mode so it will fuse objects together and if I hold down my Option key on the Mac or the Alt key on Windows as I drag across shapes it's going to subtract or remove those pieces of artwork from my document. Now that we see how that works let's apply to our project here of drawing Mister Zee.

I am actually going to hit Command again to get back to my Selection tool and then just simply hit Delete to delete that object and come down here to the bottom of the screen, let me zoom in just a little bit here. much better. And I am going to make a selection. Hold down my Command key, again Ctrl key on Windows, click and drag and select just these two ovals. It's important to realize that when I'm using the Shape Builder tool it only affects objects that are selected. So notice over here if I move let's say to these little ovals that I have here they don't become highlighted at all.

If you remember when we were using Live Paint, Live Paint, once you create a Live Paint group you don't have to have that group selected, anything will automatically become highlighted, but when dealing with the Shape Builder tool I must first make a selection. That actually can be a benefit sometimes because when we have a lot of overlapping artwork like I have right here I'll know that when I am using the Shape Builder tool I won't accidentally remove or delete or adjust any objects that are not becoming selected. So it's almost as if the other objects right now are locked. I don't even need to isolate this piece of artwork here to work with it because as long as it's not selected the Shape Builder tool ignores it or it acts as if those objects are not even there.

So right now all I really want to be left with is just this stripe right over here at the bottom part of the belly of Mister Zee. So what I can do is if I wanted to remove these areas, these three distinct areas right here I can simply come over here, hold down my Option key so that I am now in my Subtract Mode and just simply click and drag across. Notice by the way that I'm drawing a straight line. Any region that is now touched as I go across these objects become highlighted, when I release the mouse they simply disappear. It's so much easier to work in this way because it's visual, meaning it matches what I used to see in Live Paint.

But I don't have to worry about making groups and because these are regular shapes right now I can apply things like Variable Widths and also Brushes which we will see a little bit later, maybe in the next chapter. Let's try this now for the remaining two shapes. I am going to press Command and then click and drag across these, again that would be Ctrl on Windows and now if I kind of highlight the area here I see what exists. I see that I just want to kind of get rid of these two areas right here. And I just want to show you one other keyboard shortcut here. If I hold down the Option key I am going to be in Subtract Mode, so I can click and drag across these two areas.

But if I know I have a lot of area to kind of work with I can also add the Shift key. When I click on the Shift key instead of getting a straight line I get a rectangular marquee and any region that falls into the boundary of that marquee becomes deleted. By the way if I am just in the Add Mode I can hold down the Shift key and get a rectangular marquee there as well. So now once again I am going to hold down the Command key or again Ctrl key on Windows, click and drag to select these two ovals and then simply Option+Drag across these two areas and you can see how quick it was for me to just simply make just the adjustments that I want to get the stripes so that I can now get to the next step of kind of filling them in.

In fact, since I already have this line here at the bottom I can now press Command to switch to my Selection tool, drag across all of these including that line across the belly and now let's simply Option+Drag across these lines right here like this just to kind of clean up the artwork that I need, maybe I will hold down the Shift key here to get a marquee and then just remove all the remaining areas. Now all I am left with is these three stripes just the way that I want them. So we can see that by kind of drawing very simple primitive shapes, which in this case were just ovals, and now using the Shape Builder tool to either add or subtract regions it's really simple to create very complex shapes without ever once thinking about the Pen tool.

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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