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Easily Manipulate Shapes with the Pathfinder Tool in Illustrator, Part 2

By Karl RosencrantsShutterstock Submitter

The Pathfinder Tool is a great way to manipulate shapes to your liking in a quick and efficient manner. Let‘s now explore these functions while continuing to use the shapes we created in Part 1. You can use the Pathfinder Tool to “group” the shapes together, rather than putting them into a compound shape, as the Shape tools do.

Many of the Pathfinder functions play off of the Shape tools and give similar results. Below are the original two shapes we worked with in Part 1.


The first icon, the Divide function, will cut each shape where it overlaps the other shape in the group. The results, below, would be an individual square in the middle surrounded by four archway shapes.


The next icon is the Trim function, which is similar to the Subtract from Shape Area function. The shape on the bottom of the stack will be trimmed away exactly like the Subtract Shape function. The difference is all of the shapes above it on the stack will remain intact. This function will also remove the stroke from all the shapes.

Shapes separated to illustrate the Trim function. The vertical shape was at the bottom of the stack.


The Merge function has the exact same effect as the Add to Shape Area function, combining all the shapes into one. The difference is the Merge function combines all the shapes into one path rather than a grouped compound path.


The Crop function takes the top shape and cuts away all the lower shapes where the top shape does not overlap them, essentially cropping them. In the example below, the circle drawn over the top of our cross shape eliminates the shape area that is not contained within the area of the circle. The stroke is also removed from all the shapes.


The Outline function does exactly what its name implies. It breaks the shapes into individual line segments that comprise the visual shape. As you can see in the image below, each visual segment is broken down into an individual path. The stroke is also removed when using this function.

Line segments separated to illustrate the Outline function.

Minus Back

The Minus Back function does the exact opposite of the Subtract from Shape Area function. The shape that is on the top of the stack will be deleted where it overlaps all other shapes beneath it. The shape on the bottom of the stack will be deleted as well. In the case of our cross shape, since the horizontal bar is on top, that is the shape that gets cut in half by the lower shape.

Hopefully this brief overview of the Pathfinder and Shape functions was enough to get you acquainted with them and their common uses. Continue to use and experiment with them and you will find yourself using them almost daily.