How to Use Pathfinder in Illustrator

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Adobe Illustrator is a powerful graphic design program that is used to create vector images. In a vector image, the final product is represented with paths instead of pixels, which allows the image to be resized without losing accuracy. The Pathfinder tool in Illustrator is a useful way to combine shapes together to make unique looks by automatically performing actions ranging from joining shapes to chopping them into smaller pieces. Although Pathfinder is a tool that can be finely tweaked for exact specifications, learning the basics of the tool provides a strong foundation for design.

  • Draw the shapes you wish to use the Pathfinder tool on. Pathfinder can work with any paths, from those created with the pen tool to the pre-made shapes tool.

  • Click "Window" from the top menu, then "Pathfinder" from the drop-down menu to open the Pathfinder toolbar.

  • Select the objects you wish to use Pathfinder tools with, either by dragging a box around them or holding "Ctrl" and clicking the items.

  • Click the "Unite" button, represented by two overlapping squares joined as one, to combine the shapes. They will take on the properties of the top shape.

  • Select "Subtract," represented by a white square covering part of a gray square, to remove any portion of the bottom shape that is covered by the top shape.

  • Select "Intersect," represented by two squares with the overlapping section filled in, to show only the areas of the two shapes that overlap, or "Exclude" to perform the inverse and leave only areas that do not overlap.

  • Choose the "Divide" option, the leftmost option in the "Pathfinders" section of the toolbar, to create multiple new shapes. This divides each shape selected into multiple shapes along any areas that another selected shape intersects it.

  • Select "Minus Back," the rightmost "Pathfinders" option, to remove the top shape anywhere it overlaps the shape behind it. For example, if you made a square over a circle so that half the circle overlaps into the square, the area of the circle that crosses into the square would be removed while the area it extends beyond the square would remain.

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