The Pathfinder palette is a huge timesaver when creating detailed vector designs in Adobe Illustrator. Use this tool to easily create one-of-a-kind shapes in just one click.

Cover image via Darko 1981

Adobe Illustrator’s Pathfinder panel is one of the most beneficial in the entire program. You can create custom shapes and paths by using the versatile Shape Modes and Pathfinders within the panel.

The Ultimate Guide to the Pathfinder Panel in Illustrator – Pathfinder Panel

Navigate to Window > Pathfinder in Illustrator to bring up the Pathfinder palette. For this overview, we will go over the results of each pathfinder when applied to the compound shape below.

The Ultimate Guide to the Pathfinder Panel in Illustrator – Vector Shapes Pathfinder

This palette works best when applied to multiple different shapes. Select two or more adjoining polygons with the Selection Tool (V) while holding down the Shift key, then group the shapes with Command+G for best results.


Shape Modes

Shape Modes alter the final shape by uniting, excluding, intersecting, or eliminating separate layers. These actions create new and unique polygons of a single color.

Unite

The Ultimate Guide to the Pathfinder Panel in Illustrator – Unite Shape Mode

The Unite action combines two or more shapes into one cohesive polygon. This tool is ideal for building complex vector shapes and joining them together.


Minus Front

The Ultimate Guide to the Pathfinder Panel in Illustrator – Minus Front Shape Mode

The Minus Front shape mode eliminates the top shape layers and any overlaps, leaving behind the bottom shape and color.


Intersect

The Ultimate Guide to the Pathfinder Panel in Illustrator – Intersect Shape Mode

Intersect actions create a new shape by revealing the overlapped area and removing the top and bottom shape layers.


Exclude

The Ultimate Guide to the Pathfinder Panel in Illustrator – Exclude Shape Mode

The Exclude shape mode eliminates the overlapping area and leaves behind the remaining polygons to create a complex shape.


Pathfinders

Pathfinder commands alter existing paths, shown by line segments; these actions don’t typically form new shapes, but rather break the existing compound shapes into distinct paths.

Divide

The Ultimate Guide to the Pathfinder Panel in Illustrator – Divide Pathfinder

The Divide pathfinder breaks up the existing shapes into top, overlap, and bottom layers to create three distinct paths.


Trim

The Ultimate Guide to the Pathfinder Panel in Illustrator – Trim Pathfinder

Trim pathfinders cut away the top shape layer from the revealing bottom layer. This is similar to taking scissors to multiple shapes glued together and trimming around the edges of each overlapping polygon.


Merge

The Ultimate Guide to the Pathfinder Panel in Illustrator – Merge Pathfinder

The Merge pathfinder is similar to that of the Trim command when applied to two multicolored shapes.

The Ultimate Guide to the Pathfinder Panel in Illustrator – Merge and Trim Pathfinder

When applied to three shapes, two of them being the same hue, the Merge action joins the two yellow shapes and trims the outline of the other blue polygon.


Crop

The Ultimate Guide to the Pathfinder Panel in Illustrator – Crop Pathfinder

This command crops the existing shapes and leaves behind the overlapping area along with the shape path of the top layer, like the outline of the circle above.


Outline

The Ultimate Guide to the Pathfinder Panel in Illustrator – Outline Pathfinder

Just as the name mentions, the Outline pathfinder creates an outline of the shapes selected. These outlines can then be individually selected with the Selection Tool (V) when ungrouped with Shift+Command+G.


Minus Back

The Ultimate Guide to the Pathfinder Panel in Illustrator – Minus Black Pathfinder

The Minus Back is opposite of the Minus Front command; it removes the bottom shape layer and its overlap, revealing the top layer of the circle.


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