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- Creating complex art from basic shapes with the Shape Builder tool
- Transforming flat artwork using perspective grids and vanishing points
- Creating variable-width strokes
- Controlling dashed line length, corners, and gaps
- Creating original brushes using the Brushes panel
- Adding arrowheads to strokes
- Creating web-ready graphics, text, and slices
- Integrating with Flash Catalyst
Skill Level Intermediate
If you spend a lot of time drawing inside of Illustrator, you're probably familiar with something called Pathfinder. It's simply a way to draw basic shapes and then combine those shapes in various forms to create more complex shapes. For example, if you wanted to create a crescent shape, you wouldn't start dealing with the actual crescent shape itself. You would start by creating a circle, then create a duplicate of that circle. I'm holding down the Option key as I drag this other circle here to make a copy, and then you'd select both of these and use a Pathfinder function called Minus Front, or Subtract.
You can find the Pathfinder panel on the Window menu. I'll scroll down here where it says Pathfinder, and you can see this option over here called Minus Front and in doing so, I'll now get the crescent shape that I'm looking for. It's far more easier to work with two circles than it would be to start using the Pen tool to try to draw that exact shape. However, using the Pathfinder panel is not always intuitive. There are a lot of buttons here and sometimes it's just simply trial and error to click a few buttons, press undo, to get the results that you're looking for. Well, now inside of Illustrator CS5, there is a new tool called the Shape Builder tool.
This allows you to build complex shapes out of very basic shapes, but without needing the Pathfinder functions themselves. For example, I'm going to press undo for a moment here, I'm going to close the Pathfinder panel and from the Tool panel I'm now going to choose the Shape Builder tool. With it selected, I can mouse over these areas, and you can see how they get highlighted. If I were to simply click and then drag across all of them, it would be as if I had performed a Pathfinder unite function or an add function, where all the shapes will be combined into one new shape. If I press Undo, I'll see that as I drag and hold down the Option key or the Alt key on my keyboard, you can see that plus sign changes to a minus sign.
That means subtract. So, by dragging over these two areas of my artwork, I am now left with just a crescent shape right here. The key thing to know about working with the Shape Builder tool is that it works with artwork that is selected, meaning that if you drag over artwork that's not selected, nothing happens. Let's take a closer look at how I might use the Shape Builder tool. I'll delete this crescent shape right now and say I wanted to build this watering can right here. The first thing I want to do is take a look at it and break it down into its primitive basic parts. For example, I may start off by using a Rounded Rectangle.
I'll choose the Rounded Rectangle tool here, and I'll click and drag to draw a shape, something like this. Next, I'll use the regular Rectangle tool simply to draw a bar straight across. I can then duplicate this shape so I have another one down towards the bottom of the can, and I'll use my Direct Selection tool just to highlight these anchor points on the corner of this part of the rounded rectangle. I'll use the arrow keys in my keyboard just to tap a few times to move it over to the right, and I'll do the same thing over here on the reverse for this side.
Next, I'm going to use my Ellipse tool to create the handle for the watering can. I'll hold down my Option key and the Shift key. Option key allows me to draw it out from the center, the Shift constrains to a perfect circle, and I'll click and drag to get a shape like this. I'll create another shape over here as well. To create the spout, I can use a combination of tools. For example, maybe I'll use the Pen tool to click over here, define a shape like this. And I'll use The Ellipse tool to create something of an oval and then also rotate it using the Rotate tool, just a little bit on an angle and position it just where I need it to, again, using the cursor keys on my keyboard.
Finally, since I want it to have a straight or a flat end here, I can use just a simple line and drag that straight down to the middle over here, like this. I know it doesn't look like much, but I now have all the elements that I need to build this watering can. To make it just a little bit easier to see, rather than all these elements being filled with the default white, I'm going to set them all to be filled with none. So, I'll take my Selectionstool, select all these elements and choose None for the Fill. Now I'm ready to use the Shape Builder tool to complete my art. I'll select it from the Tools panel and again, because the artwork is now selected as I mouse over it, I'll start seeing area that are highlighted.
Let me zoom in just a little bit more so that we can get a better idea of what's happening here. I'll start by combining some of the basic elements together. For example, I can start clicking here and then dragging in this direction. This combines all these elements into one new shape. I can do the same thing by clicking-and- dragging here as well, and I can combine these areas into one shape. Now I'd like to actually remove this area from that particular shape. So, I'm going to hold down my Option key, or the Alt key on Windows, and click and drag straight to the middle. I can do the same thing here as well, click and drag right through here to delete all those areas.
I'm going to combine these together, combine these shapes together, hold down the Option key, or the Alt key on Windows, to remove this part of the shape and then click and drag to combine these together. Now I have two lines that are sticking out here. I can simply delete those by holding down the Option key or the Alt key on Windows. You just click on these two segments to remove them. As the finishing touch, I'll just connect these two areas here to complete the loop, and there you have it. With a few clicks and drags to the mouse, I was able to build a shape out of very basic components. More importantly, I didn't need to worry about which Pathfinder functions to use.
I simply used one tool to make all that happen. The truth is there is really more to the Shape Builder tool. If you double-click on the tool, you'll see that there are several options. One of them is called Gap Detection. If you're familiar with the Live Paint feature inside of Illustrator, you'll find that the Shape Builder tool works in a similar fashion. Turning Gap Detection on will allow the Shape Builder tool to treat open areas that are very, very small, as if they were actually closed. More importantly, if you turn on this Cursor Swatch Preview option, you'll find that there when you click OK, you'll see these little boxes that appear on top of your cursor.
Again, this works very similar to the way that Live Paint works inside of Illustrator where I can use the arrow keys in my keyboard to toggle between different colors that are in my Swatches panel. In doing so, I can combine shapes and color them all at one time. So, give the new Shape Builder tool inside of Illustrator CS5 a try. If you draw a lot of objects inside of Illustrator, and you're constantly building shapes, it will surely become your best friend.