Illustrator CS5 Essential Training
Illustration by John Hersey

Using the Shape Builder tool


Illustrator CS5 Essential Training

with Mordy Golding

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Video: Using the Shape Builder tool

One of the new tools that was added to Illustrator CS5 is something called the Shape Builder tool. You'll find that here inside of the Tools panel and the keyboard shortcut for it is Shift+M. You know, over the years Adobe has noticed that many people struggle with building artwork inside of Illustrator. Unfortunately, many people struggle with the Pen tool not realizing that it can be far more efficient to build shapes using Pathfinders like we've been discussing so far. However, admittedly, even if you take a look at the Pathfinder panel itself and I will go to the Window menu here just to open it up, you will note that the Pathfinder panel has many options inside of it and it can be sometimes difficult to understand which button to click at what time.
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  1. 3m 35s
    1. Welcome
      1m 18s
    2. What is Illustrator CS5?
      1m 46s
    3. Using the exercise files
  2. 12m 37s
    1. What are vector graphics?
      6m 3s
    2. Path and appearance
      3m 42s
    3. Stacking
      2m 52s
  3. 32m 6s
    1. The Welcome screen
      2m 23s
    2. Creating files for print
      6m 7s
    3. Creating files for the screen
      2m 55s
    4. Using prebuilt templates
      2m 40s
    5. Adding XMP metadata
      4m 18s
    6. Exploring the panels
      6m 33s
    7. Using the Control panel
      3m 11s
    8. Using workspaces
      3m 59s
  4. 43m 44s
    1. Navigating within a document
      9m 15s
    2. Using rulers and guides
      7m 26s
    3. Using grids
      3m 6s
    4. Using the bounding box
      3m 37s
    5. Using Smart Guides
      5m 56s
    6. The Hide Edges command
      3m 22s
    7. Various preview modes
      3m 47s
    8. Creating custom views
      4m 3s
    9. Locking and hiding artwork
      3m 12s
  5. 28m 46s
    1. Using the basic selection tools
      8m 50s
    2. Using the Magic Wand tool
      5m 22s
    3. Using the Lasso tool
      2m 28s
    4. Selecting objects by attribute or type
      3m 37s
    5. Saving and reusing selections
      2m 15s
    6. Selecting artwork beneath other objects
      2m 13s
    7. Exploring selection preferences
      4m 1s
  6. 1h 16m
    1. The importance of modifier keys
      1m 52s
    2. Drawing closed path primitives
      11m 38s
    3. Drawing open path primitives
      5m 47s
    4. Understanding anchor points
      3m 43s
    5. Drawing straight paths with the Pen tool
      7m 37s
    6. Drawing curved paths with the Pen tool
      9m 47s
    7. Drawing freeform paths with the Pencil tool
      5m 33s
    8. Smoothing and erasing paths
      3m 8s
    9. Editing anchor points
      7m 21s
    10. Joining and averaging paths
      10m 9s
    11. Simplifying paths
      4m 55s
    12. Using Offset Path
      2m 17s
    13. Cleaning up errant paths
      2m 32s
  7. 48m 26s
    1. The Draw Inside and Draw Behind modes
      7m 34s
    2. Creating compound paths
      5m 56s
    3. Creating compound shapes
      8m 0s
    4. Using the Shape Builder tool
      10m 28s
    5. Using Pathfinder functions
      8m 6s
    6. Splitting an object into a grid
      1m 16s
    7. Using the Blob Brush and Eraser tools
      7m 6s
  8. 49m 1s
    1. Creating point text
      4m 2s
    2. Creating area text
      8m 13s
    3. Applying basic character settings
      7m 44s
    4. Applying basic paragraph settings
      4m 24s
    5. Creating text threads
      8m 25s
    6. Setting text along an open path
      6m 29s
    7. Setting text along a closed path
      6m 24s
    8. Converting text into paths
      3m 20s
  9. 18m 55s
    1. Create a logo mark
      11m 26s
    2. Add type to your logo
      7m 29s
  10. 42m 42s
    1. Using the Appearance panel
      8m 21s
    2. Targeting object attributes
      4m 42s
    3. Adding multiple attributes
      4m 25s
    4. Applying Live Effects
      5m 18s
    5. Expanding appearances
      4m 42s
    6. Appearance panel settings
      4m 33s
    7. Copying appearances
      4m 51s
    8. Saving appearances as graphic styles
      5m 50s
  11. 34m 0s
    1. Applying color to artwork
      5m 57s
    2. Creating process and global process swatches
      8m 54s
    3. Creating spot color swatches
      3m 19s
    4. Loading PANTONE and other custom color libraries
      4m 49s
    5. Organizing colors with Swatch Groups
      3m 31s
    6. Finding color suggestions with the Color Guide panel
      4m 24s
    7. Loading the Color Guide with user-defined colors
      3m 6s
  12. 50m 23s
    1. Creating gradients with the Gradient panel
      8m 12s
    2. Modifying gradients with the Gradient Annotator
      4m 37s
    3. Applying and manipulating pattern fills
      5m 33s
    4. Defining your own custom pattern fills
      9m 13s
    5. Applying basic stroke settings
      5m 22s
    6. Creating strokes with dashed lines
      3m 41s
    7. Adding arrowheads to strokes
      2m 45s
    8. Creating variable-width strokes
      4m 35s
    9. Working with width profiles
      2m 36s
    10. Turning strokes into filled paths
      3m 49s
  13. 32m 46s
    1. Creating and editing groups
      8m 18s
    2. Adding attributes to groups
      12m 17s
    3. The importance of using layers
      5m 9s
    4. Using and "reading" the Layers panel
      7m 2s
  14. 12m 13s
    1. Creating and using multiple artboards
      7m 52s
    2. Modifying artboards with the Artboards panel
      2m 2s
    3. Copy and paste options with Artboards
      2m 19s
  15. 31m 10s
    1. Moving and copying artwork
      3m 55s
    2. Scaling or resizing artwork
      6m 47s
    3. Rotating artwork
      2m 44s
    4. Reflecting and skewing artwork
      2m 34s
    5. Using the Free Transform tool
      2m 15s
    6. Repeating transformations
      3m 39s
    7. Performing individual transforms across multiple objects
      2m 10s
    8. Aligning objects and groups precisely
      4m 27s
    9. Distributing objects and spaces between objects
      2m 39s
  16. 35m 40s
    1. Placing pixel-based content into Illustrator
      5m 14s
    2. Managing images with the Links panel
      4m 49s
    3. Converting pixels to paths with Live Trace
      8m 44s
    4. Making Live Trace adjustments
      6m 9s
    5. Controlling colors in Live Trace
      6m 4s
    6. Using Photoshop and Live Trace together
      4m 40s
  17. 14m 42s
    1. Managing repeating artwork with symbols
      4m 38s
    2. Modifying and replacing symbol instances
      3m 8s
    3. Using the Symbol Sprayer tool
      6m 56s
  18. 16m 57s
    1. Cropping photographs
      1m 59s
    2. Clipping artwork with masks
      3m 22s
    3. Clipping the contents of a layer
      3m 31s
    4. Defining masks with soft edges
      8m 5s
  19. 25m 52s
    1. Defining a perspective grid
      7m 48s
    2. Drawing artwork in perspective
      8m 46s
    3. Moving flat art onto the perspective grid
      9m 18s
  20. 25m 8s
    1. Printing your Illustrator document
      3m 26s
    2. Saving your Illustrator document
      6m 39s
    3. Creating PDF files for clients and printers
      7m 30s
    4. Exporting Illustrator files for use in Microsoft Office
      1m 4s
    5. Exporting Illustrator files for use in Photoshop
      2m 31s
    6. Exporting artwork for use on the web
      3m 3s
    7. Exporting high-resolution raster files
  21. 2m 18s
    1. Additional Illustrator learning resources
      1m 36s
    2. Goodbye

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Watch the Online Video Course Illustrator CS5 Essential Training
10h 37m Beginner Apr 30, 2010

Viewers: in countries Watching now:

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.

Topics include:
  • Setting up a new document based on the output destination
  • Using rules, guides, and grids
  • Making detailed selections
  • Drawing and editing paths with the Pen and Pencil tools
  • Creating compound vector shapes
  • Understanding the difference between point and area text
  • Applying live effects
  • Creating color swatches
  • Transforming artwork with Rotation, Scale, and Transform effects
  • Placing images
  • Working with masks
  • Printing, saving, and exporting artwork
Mordy Golding

Using the Shape Builder tool

One of the new tools that was added to Illustrator CS5 is something called the Shape Builder tool. You'll find that here inside of the Tools panel and the keyboard shortcut for it is Shift+M. You know, over the years Adobe has noticed that many people struggle with building artwork inside of Illustrator. Unfortunately, many people struggle with the Pen tool not realizing that it can be far more efficient to build shapes using Pathfinders like we've been discussing so far. However, admittedly, even if you take a look at the Pathfinder panel itself and I will go to the Window menu here just to open it up, you will note that the Pathfinder panel has many options inside of it and it can be sometimes difficult to understand which button to click at what time.

So while working at Pathfinders can be very helpful inside Illustrator, Adobe notice that there is a lot of trial and error, meaning that people would select some artwork try one Pathfinder function, realize no, that wasn't it, maybe undo, try another one, until they finally got what they were looking for. Well, the Shape Builder tool was built to help alleviate the situation. In fact, rather than rely on Pathfinder itself, the Shape Builder tool allows us to take a more visual approach to the concept of shape building. So I am going to close the Pathfinder panel for now and let's start by focusing on this artwork right over here.

I am actually going to zoom in a little bit closer to this artwork, and before we use the Shape Builder tool on this piece of artwork, let's take a quick look at how it actually works, because we are going to have to learn a few keyboard shortcuts along the way. So I will just grab my Ellipse tool here and I will create a circle. I'll switch to my Selection tool here, Option-drag to create a copy, and now I have two overlapping circles. The first thing to note about working with the Shape Builder tool is that it only works on artwork that's selected. Since I have nothing selected right now, you could see that my cursor has a little circle with a line running through it.

Now remember that at anytime inside of Illustrator by pressing down the Command key, you could temporarily toggle for the last selection tool that you were using. This is going to be increasingly important when you start using the Shape Builder tool, as it's the only way that it will allow you to make selections. So I am going to hold down my Command key and I am going to click and drag to select these two circles, and now that they are both selected and I release the mouse, you'll see that now a plus appears next to my cursor for the Shape Builder tool. When I run my mouse over the shapes itself, Illustrator will highlight those regions or areas, and it will identify closed regions or areas that can now become distinctive shapes.

For example, if I wanted both of these circles to be combined together into one, we know that there's a Pathfinder command called Unite that can make that happen. However, with the Shape Builder tool, since both of these are now selected, [00:02:439.88] I can start by clicking on the top shape right here, and then dragging down, and notice that now as I touch all these other three areas, they all become highlighted. When I release the mouse they will become joined into one new shape. In other words, I have just now performed the Pathfinder Unite, but I've done so visually instead of just clicking on some icons inside of a panel.

Let's press Undo for a moment here, because what I just created now was a single shape out of two shapes. Let's say I wanted to end up with that crescent shape. I only want this one shape in the bottom. But I want to remove these two areas right here. So to do that I am going to hold down my Option key and you can now see that instead of a plus next to my cursor, it changes to a minus sign. That means that I'm currently now in Subtract mode. So if now click and then drag downwards to highlight these two areas and release the mouse, I am left with only this crescent shape.

So we are starting to get an idea right now on how the Shape Builder tool works. It identifies all the overlapping regions of my artwork, granted that that artwork is selected, and that allows me to either add or subtract those elements from each other. So I am going to delete this crescent shape right here and let's focus on the artwork that I see right here on my screen. Now first I need to select it. So I am going to press Command and then I am going to click and drag to marquee select all this artwork. Next, as I run my cursor of the Shape Builder tool over this artwork, you can see that each individual area, even though they're not distinct shapes right now, show up as regions that can be turned into their own shapes.

If I wanted to combine all these, I can start by clicking and dragging to combine these different areas. Now remember, I going to want this shape in the middle here to be hollow, so I don't want to include that shape, so what I am going to do is click and drag around the outside of this. And then once again, I can add on these little areas here to add those. Unfortunately, as you click and drag the line that gets created is a straight line and there is now way to create a curved line. So I can't just trace around the outside, for example, of all these areas, but by clicking and dragging here, I can now combine all those shapes together.

However, as you can see, there is a lot of clicking and dragging going on. It can be somewhat tedious to do this. And while at first blush you might think that the fact that you need to make selections in order to use the Shape Builder tool is somewhat of a disadvantage, if you think about how you want a create your artwork, you can actually use this requirement of making selections to your benefit. So to show you what I mean, I am actually going to go back to the File menu here, choose Revert, because I want to go back to the state this document was in at the beginning, and I will just focus on this part of the document right here, so that we can use the Shape Builder tool to create the shape that we want.

Now I have the Shape Builder tool currently selected, but there's no artwork selected in my artboard, so I am going to press Command and then I click and drag to select this artwork, and with the Command key still pressed down, I am also now going to and add the Shift key. I am going to click on the circle with a thick outline to deselect it. So now all these shapes are selected, except for that circle right there. In other words, the calculations right now that the Shape Builder tool is doing are not taking to account this circle right here. Now while it's certainly true that I could start clicking and dragging to combine these shapes together, notice that because I can only go in a straight line, it would require many multiple clicks and drags to select and fill this entire piece of artwork.

So here's a little keyboard shortcut. If I move my Shape Builder cursor out about over here and I click and drag, right now, you don't actually need to be inside of the piece of artwork. I can also hold down the Shift key to activate this Marquee mode. In other words, the same way that I just made the selection of these pieces of artwork to begin with. As I increase the size of my marquee, any area that falls within that marquee will now be combined or united together into one shape. So with one click and drag and now I'll release the mouse, all of these elements have now been combined together.

This circle was not touched because it wasn't selected, but now I actually want to remove or cut out that circle from the shape. So what I will now do is hold down the Command key and then I will click and drag, so that now I have both the outside shape and the circle selected. I'll move my cursor to the circle on the inside here and I will hold down my Option key, because I want to remove this circle from the overall flower shape. So I'll click right now and what I have successfully done now is created an overall flower shape that has a whole cut out of the center.

At this point, I can now go ahead and change the fill color of my flower and I am done. Speaking of the fill color itself, the Shape Builder tool actually has a lot more functionality built into it. In fact, with a little bit of planning, you can even save yourself some steps, because the Shape Builder tool can not only build shapes. It can also color them at the same time. I'd like to show that to you and it will also be a great opportunity to review the concepts that we have just learned. So once again I am going to go to the File menu. I am going to choose to revert my file back to its original state. I will just zoom in a bit closer here on this part of the flower.

Before I make my selection, I am actually going to double-click on the Shape Builder tool in the Tools panel. This brings up the Shape Builder Tool Options dialog box. Now at the very top there is an option here called Gap Detection. This is actually a pretty cool feature brought over from the Live Paint feature inside of Illustrator that allows you to connect their combine objects even if they aren't exactly touching each other. For now, however, for the shapes that I've created I don't need to use that setting, but notice over here at the bottom where it says Options. There is a setting here called Cursor Swatch Preview and I have the ability to pick a color from either Color Swatches or from Artwork itself.

I am actually going to choose Color Swatches here and I am going to turn on the Cursor Swatch Preview setting and click OK. The first thing you'll notice as I start to work with my shapes here is that once I make my selection-- and I'll do that by pressing Command and then marquee dragging across the shapes to release. And then once again now, I'll press Command+Shift to deselect just this one thick circle here. My cursor now looks somewhat different. Yes, I see that little arrow and plus sign, but on top of that I have three boxes.

The three boxes that appear here are actually my swatch indicators, and if I open up my Swatches panel right here, you can see that the first three swatches inside of my document are none, white and then black. We don't count registration as a color here in this case. And if I take a look over here at the Preview, on the left you'll see then none box, in the middle is a bigger box, which is the white box, and on the right is the black box. Well watch what happens now when I actually tap the right arrow on my keyboard. You can see that I am actually moving across the swatches panel.

For example, right now I have the yellow swatch selected. Just to the left is my red swatch, and just to the right is my green swatch, but as I'm working now with the Shape Builder tool, I have the ability to select a color which will be applied as I combine and join my shapes together. So for example, if I wanted this to be a yellow flower, instead of first creating the shape then going to the Swatches panel and applying Yellow, I could load up my cursor now with yellow and now I will start here and click and drag by holding down the Shift key to activate the Marquee setting for the Shape Builder tool, and at the same time that it now combined all the shapes, it also filled them all yellow.

I will now press the Command key and I will click and drag to select all this artwork, and then using the Shape Builder tool, I am going to Option+Click on just the center to remove it. So again, here in this example, I was able to build my flower and color at the same time using the Shape Builder tool. Again, it's just another way to think about how to create your artwork inside of Illustrator. Start by creating very simple shapes and then use either Pathfinder functions or the new Shape Builder tool to create exactly what you're looking for.

Find answers to the most frequently asked questions about Illustrator CS5 Essential Training .

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Q: Despite clicking the rectangle icon on the toolbar, as shown in the video, the other tool shapes are not accessible in Illustrator. The rectangle is usable, but the star, ellipse, etc. are not, and do not appear anywhere in the toolbar. What is causing this problem?
A: These tools are grouped together, so to access them, click and hold the mouse for a second until the other tools appear. If that isn't happening, reset the Illustrator preferences file. To do so, quit Illustrator and then relaunch the application while pressing and holding the Ctrl+Alt+Shift keys. Once the Illustrator splash screen appears, release the keys and that will reset the preferences file.
Q: In the video “What are vector graphics,” the author states that if he creates a 1 inch x 1 inch Photoshop file at 300ppi image, there are 300 pixels in that image. Is that correct?
A: This statement is by the author was not totally correct. If the resolution is 300ppi, it means that there are 300 pixels across one inch, both vertically and horizontally. That would mean you'd have 90,000 pixels in a 1 inch x 1 inch image at 300 ppi.
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