Join Von Glitschka for an in-depth discussion in this video Creating compound paths, part of Drawing Vector Graphics Laboratory.
(whirring) - [Instructor] Welcome to Drawing Vector Graphics Laboratory. One aspect of vector art creation that confuses a lot of people is compound paths. More than likely, you've ran into some of the issues I'll be covering in this movie. I have to admit, the thinking behind compound paths in Illustrator is, at best, confusing. Now I've even talked to engineers at Adobe and I'm on their beta team and after they explain it to me, I'm still not a whole lot clearer on how they work or function.
All I know is I used Macromedia Freehand for 15 years before I switched to Illustrator, and this is still one issue that kind of frustrates me because it's just simply not easy, in certain respects, to wrap your mind around it. So what I'm going to attempt to do is to explain a best-practice methodology for handling and working with compound shapes to make your workflow easier. And one thing I want to say before I jump into this is that all the methodology I'm going to use in this movie, I use on a daily basis and I've been using this methodology for well over a decade now.
And it depends upon setting up your own keyboard shortcuts. Now, I'm not going to go into keyboard shortcuts in terms of how to set those up in this movie. But with the exercise files for this movie, I've included the chapter in my book, Vector Basic Training, that covers how to set up your own keyboard shortcuts. So you can customize your own workflow. Now I'm going to show you what I have 'em assigned to in this movie, and you're going to see how I use 'em as I go forward, and if you want to set up your own, just make sure to check out that PDF.
So let's jump into this. Now, we're going to look at some basic shapes right here. And you can see all these shapes are just merely circles and if I drag and select 'em, and we're going to refer to the Appearance panel a lot in this movie because it gives us specific characteristic information on the vector shapes you have selected at any given time. Right now I have all these independent circle shapes selected and it says, hey, all of these are paths, and you have mixed appearances, meaning they have different colors applied to 'em.
Now this is going to change as we change and build our artwork. So if I select this white circle and this gold circle and I go to Pathfinder and I Minus Front through Pathfinder here, it now turns it into a donut and that means Appearance panel shows it as a compound path meaning the donut hole area, you can actually see through to the background. It's like a window of sorts. And if I select all the elements now, it no longer says Paths, it says hey, you have mixed elements.
Meaning you have Paths with these blue dots, but if we select the donut that is a compound path so it's mixed. So if we just select the donut, it says it's compound. Now when you're using Pathfinder you can have a compound path, you can have all of these elements on top, these individual blue dots, they can be individual meaning you can select any one of them and move 'em. But they're not working as a group and that's okay. As long as they're on top, you can select everything.
And you go to Minus Front and it's going to eat through that donut like it's taking bits out of it, and work properly, And it retains its compound nature as shown in the Appearance. This is expected behavior. Let's take a look at the same art again. We have our donut, once again it's a compound shape, and now instead of individual blue dots floatin' above it, it's now Group. Meaning these elements are grouped together. So if i select one, it selects all.
If I color one, let's say we go to a darker blue, it colors all of them darker blue. We'll revert back to our original color. And if I move it, it moves it all as a grouped shapes. Now if I select this with my compound donut and I go to Minus Front again on Pathfinder and click that, it'll do the same behavior and give us the exact same result. So it doesn't matter if they're independent shapes or groups, they'll punch through a compound shape just fine using Pathfinder methodology.
Now here's one problem that you're going to run into, and that's the donut problem, is the donut is... Here's what we've created by eatin' through the different elements of the donut. Let's say we want to add free floating donut shapes around it. They're not touching or attached to the other shape. They're free floating. Meaning this is a group of shapes, as the Appearance panel tells us. So we're going to go go here and first we'll just color it gold just so it's the same color. And this is a group, once again, as the Appearance panel says.
We'll select this donut. This says it's a compound, so with both of these selected, then we can go to unite on the Pathfinder, click that, and now it makes everything a group. So the donut has lost its compound nature and it's now considering all of these things a group. Now, what's wrong with this? Well, nothing visually. This is expected behavior. This is just the way Illustrator works. I'm not completely sure why. I would think it would want to retain its compound nature but it doesn't.
And the problem with this is even though this looks good, let's say you want to take another bite. So this green is representing another wedge you want to take out of your donut. If I select that and select this donut shape, and remember, this is now a group not a compound path, if I select these two and go let's Minus Front on Pathfinder this will happen. Any free floating shape, because it's not compound, is going to just disappear. Why? I have no idea. I've asked this question for years and none of 'em can give me a really good definition of why this behavior is expected behavior, it just is.
So it's easy on an element like that to see when something disappears. But on something far more complex, you might lose something along the way and you don't notice it. I know I've done that over the years and then I get further along and I zoom in on something and I go wait a minute, where's this or where's that, and then I realize like, three hours prior it must have disappeared when I was shape building. And it can kind of get frustrating. So how do I deal with that? What have I done to remedy the situation? Well, here's how I've remedied it.
I've used keyboard shortcuts. So if I select a shape, if it's a group I want it to be a compound again and to make a compound you go up to Object, you pull down to Compound, and you go Make. But notice how I have F7 set up with it. So I never have to go to the menu. All I have to do is select my shape once it's a group, hit F7, if you watch the Appearance panel it turns it into a compound shape. And then I can select this piece to bite out of it, go to Minus Front, and it does what it should do and it appears the way I want it to.
But notice again, now, it's reverted back to a group instead of a compound. So I'm going to hit F7 again to return the compound nature. So that's the problem you're going to run into is that by default, shapes, when you use the Pathfinder specifically, are going to revert back to a group in terms of its characteristic and you want to make sure you retain your compound nature as you build. And the way I do that is anytime I Minus Front out of a shape like this, I'll just hit F7.
And I don't even think about it anymore, it's muscle memory at this point. So that's something you want to be aware of and you've probably seen me use the Pathfinder in many other movies. That's actually how this question came about. Because I did the functionality without stating that I was making a compound path and I really should. So I apologize for that but this is what I do on everything, whether I say it or not, as I'm building my shapes. Or using shape building methods, I should say. So, I want to show you a couple ways you can approach this without having to use compound path command like I did.
Here's another keyboard shortcut. I can select one shape and now I want to select everything the same color, so I'll hold option F1 and it'll select the same color. All that is is a keyboard shortcut that's been attached to Select, Same, Fill Color. You can see, option F1. I have one for Stroke, too. So I use that all the time so I can easily select. Let's do that again. Option F1, select all the blue, hit unite, it's a group so I'll hit F7. And now, let's say you want to make this a compound shape with the-- Actually, we need to make the donut.
So let's select these two shapes and Minus Front to create our compound donut. And now we'll select the blue. Let's say you want to take these bites without destroying the art. Making nondestructive design decisions. Well you can, with these two things selected. All you'd have to do is hold option down and hit Minus Front now and it will visually give you what you want. But notice, all the shapes that made up that are still there. And in this case we'll select these shapes and if you want to build nondestructively, noncompound, then you can just color these this.
And let's say you want to make another edit, you can select this shape, select your donut, hold option down again, hit Minus Front, and you can continue to build in that manner to get, aesthetically speaking, exactly what you want. So if you prefer working that way, you can. I'd never use this because frankly, if I go to key line view, I know what I'm building before I even build it so I don't care about retaining those shapes. So I never use that. But you might like it, that's fine. However you work best, that's up to you.
So we're going to do one and I'm going to show you exactly how I build this if I'm just creating this at home, using keyboard shortcuts and all. So I'd select these two and I would reverse it for a donut. Select this, option F1, unite it, F7, select the donut, knock that out, select the group, unite it, F7 to create compound, and then Minus out of that, hit F7 to return to compound, and color it.
So when it's all said and done, it goes pretty fast and I'm not talking when I'm actually building so it goes even a little bit faster. But if I turn on the bottom layer, you can see exact same aesthetic results. This one is compound and it's built with being destructive. I don't even like that terminology, destructive. It's not destructive if it's intended. I call it intended building. You should know what you're going to create before you even create it. That's a whole course right there I could cover. But if you prefer to work nondestructively, you can do it that way too.
It all depends on what you prefer. So I'm a big believer in working the way you prefer to work and facilitating your software to equip you to do just that. So how do I use this methodology in a real world context? Well let's zoom in on this character. All this is, it's a simple little brand character for Skew Drinks. And I've created a symmetric design, a left and right, it's the same. Move that back. So I'll just select these two background shapes, the left and the right, the top and the stem.
We'll go to unite and we'll unite 'em together. And you can see it's created a nice compound shape. I'll drag select the elements on the inside, I'll unite those together. It's a group, so once again, I get in the habit of hitting compound shape. And to make sure this is on top of the other one, I also have another F key set up, F5, which brings this element to front to make sure it's on top of this background element. And I don't even have to go to the Pathfinder to hit Minus Front.
I have an F key set up called F9 that I can hit. And actually, to demonstrate this better let's go ahead and color this the brand color so you can see what's going on a little better here. And we'll color the inside. We'll color it white and we'll get rid of this outline. So actually, just so you can see what I'm doin', let's color it gold so you know it's not the background. Okay, so with these two shapes selected, I could hit Minus Front and then-- Actually, let's go ahead and do that. I'll hit Minus Front so it'll punch it through and it creates a compound shape.
I can do it like that. But I don't even need to move my cursor down here and click that. With these two shapes selected I can hit F9 and it does the exact same thing because I set up a keyboard shortcut to do it. So that's how I use keyboard shortcuts to really speed up the design process. And on this design it was a Skew icon like this in its final context. Now when it comes to compound shapes on more complex elements, you know, it really can get confusing. Now this is a gradient shader that I created.
If I zoom in on this you can see it just has a lot of anchor points. If I go to my Pathscribe panel, this is a plugin by Astute Graphics, but I use it for this very reason. It will tell me how many anchor points are in a shape and this just has a lot. So it's a very complex, as you look at the Appearance panel, compound shape. So all I'm going to do is I want to go ahead and drag this over. We're going to create some highlighting on this rocket. Now, I'll select the rocket shape. I want to clone this.
There is no clone command in Illustrator. There was one in Freehand that I used for 15 years and I missed it. So I created my own. All clone is in Illustrator, and I'll show you how to do it, you just go Copy, then you go Edit, and you go Paste in Front, and then you go Object, Arrange, Bring to Front, and that's cloning the shape. So if I move this you can see I've cloned the shape. Well, that's three commands. So what I've done is I created a keyboard command.
In this case, the keyboard command is F3. I've recorded an action that runs all three of those commands and it attaches it to the F3 key. So I can just select a shape and go F3 and it immediately brings that image to front, speeds up the process. Select my shading, go intersect on my Pathfinder. And notice it reverts to a group, so I'll hit F7 to turn it back into a compound. I'll color this the way it should, white, and we'll change the value.
I believe I want to have this at 20. And you get a nice texture. Well, it's at this point I might go, oh, you know what? I kind of like this line cuttin' through it, I wish there's another one. So what we're going to do is I'm going to drag this thing over and I should have done this before I did the shading but I forgot. Well, you can still make edits like this. So I'll go ahead and clone this, F3, and I'll select my shading and I'm going to punch it through that shading. Notice again it reverts back to a group so I'll hit F7 to fix it.
I'll select this bar again, select the rocket itself, and I'll punch through the rocket. Notice even the rocket now reverts to a group instead of a compound so I'll go F7 on that as well. Now I have it the way it should be. So I'll select this and drag it over for the shading and I'll clone, F3, the rockets. Select the shading, intersect it, hit F7 to return to compound nature, and then I'll go ahead and color it that color.
And we'll just do a couple of these other ones. This will be the shading, this will be highlighting, I'll clone the fins, create the intersect to create the highlighting on the left side. And we can sample what we've already created here to create that. Then I'll clone this shape, F3 once again on the fins, select the shading, intersect it with Pathfinder, correct it from being a group to a compound.
And then I will select the shading there. So you can see how fast this can go. We'll bring this one up here, select the flames, we'll clone it, F3, select the shading, intersect it, turn it back into a compound, F7. In this case I believe this was white. And we'll try 30% to get that detail. So this is the methodology I'll use. Now complex compound paths can be a little tricky.
So let's continue to develop this artwork. And I'm going to move this exhaust portion up here like this. And if I zoom in on this, let's do that so you can see this a little better, you can see that this shape is pretty complex, has almost 2,500 anchor points. The background itself has 11,000 anchor points. And what I want to do now is I want to take this background element and intersect it with this foreground element.
So I'll select this, I'll go F3 to clone it once again, select my exhaust shape, and then intersect it. And on a very complex shape like this, it would be wholly impractical, let's go ahead and colorize this, wholly impractical as a group to go in with the shape building tool and try to do any of this. That's why Pathfinder is far better and superior for this type of building. But we want to correct this group so we're going to hit F7 again to return to compound nature.
We're going to nest this where it should go, which is behind the exhaust, behind the rocket. And command B to paste it behind. And now we're going to slide this guy over and we'll make a clone of the exhaust shape that we just created. F3 will select the shading. We'll intersect it with Pathfinder again. Fix it by F7 to get the compound nature back. Select a darker shade of the orange and we're going to go to Multiply, we'll try 40%, see what that looks like.
That looks good. Then we'll cut it and we're going to paste it, command B, behind the flame to get the exhaust. So this is the methodology all used to compose. And on this final design, this is how this one came out, but I did all the shape building on these complex compound shapes. And I used keyboard shortcuts in kind of orchestration with that methodology. So once again, make sure to check the exercise files and read the PDF and you can set up your own keyboard shortcuts and improve your workflow.
I use Pathfinder all the time, and the shape building tool is okay for certain types of projects, I'm going to cover one of those in an upcoming movie, but when you combine Pathfinder with keyboard shortcuts it can really speed things up and it doesn't compromise the precision of your art. So I hope this clarifies some of the confusion surrounding compound paths and helps you discover and make the whole process a little easier so that when you approach your creative projects you can not only do it with more efficiency, you know that it's being built the right way.
And I think that's really important, so. This whole movie was inspired by a question somebody sent me so if you have a question about anything, make sure to send it to email@example.com. Thank you for watching DVG LAB. And until next time, remember, as always, never stop drawing.
Skill Level Intermediate
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