There are so many hidden tools in Adobe Illustrator. I’m a designer and I use this application almost every day, yet I’m always discovering new things that make my workflow so much easier. Today I wanted to explore the Pathfinder Palette with you. I use it a lot to create different shapes. Though it seems like a very simple and underrated tool in Illustrator, it can be very useful in a number of ways.
The Pathfinder Palette is exactly what it sounds like – a path finder. It finds paths and then performs various interactions to them where they intersect. It’s most useful for creating shapes that aren’t available in the Toolbar (so anything beyond squares, circles and polygons). To open the Palette you go to Window > Pathfinder. This will open a Palette in your toolbar that looks like the one I have screenshotted on the right.
This Palette contains two different rows of buttons. The first four are Shape Modes (basic shape interaction options) and the other six are Pathfinders (more advanced path interactions).
To use this palette and any of the actions in it, you need to select two overlapping shapes. This Palette is all about shapes and how their paths interact with each other, so selecting one object and then clicking one of the pathfinder options will do nothing. You need to have at least 2 shapes selected to use this palette, and they need to be overlapping one another. Below are some short explanations of what each tool does, along with a visual representation in the graphic.
1. Unite – Joins the two shapes together into one
2. Minus Front – Deletes the shape that is in front and leaves the back shape, minus the overlapping area.
3. Intersect – Keeps the overlapping area and deletes the back and front shapes.
4. Exclude – Keeps the front and back shapes and deletes the overlapping area.
5. Divide – Divides the shapes along the intersecting lines. Once you do this you then must ungroup the shapes so that you can move them apart, which I have done in the image.
6. Trim – Keeps the front shape whole and keeps the back shape, minus the overlapping area.
7. Merge – Keeps the front shape whole and keeps the back shape, minus the overlapping area. This is similar to the trim tool, except if you had two similar shapes intersecting (for example if I added a pink circle over the pink rectangle) those two would merge and become one.
8. Crop – Crop the back shape to where it overlaps the front shape.
9. Outline – Keeps the outlines of the shapes and deletes the inside. These lines are all now separate, and if you ungroup them you can move them apart.
10. Minus Back – Deletes the shape that is in back and leaves the front shape, minus the overlapping area.
The pathfinder tool can be used to help you make any shape you need, from very simple to very intricate shapes. I use it most often to combine and minus shapes from one another. We all know that the shapes provided in the illustrator toolbar by default are very simple ones like circles, squares, and stars, so the pathfinder palette makes it possible to combine them and create anything from a cone, to a rainbow, to a sunset, and much more. Though you could still create these shapes without the pathfinder palette, this tool makes it so much easier and quicker to create these shapes.
Open up illustrator and play around with the pathfinder palette to see what you can do and get used to the functions!