How to Use the Illustrator Shape Builder

In this handy guide, we've shared how to use the Illustrator Shape Builder tool to quickly add, subtract, and intersect shapes.

Preparing for the Shape Builder
First, launch a new Illustrator document. In the New Document dialog box, make sure that "Letter" is selected in the Size drop-down menu, and that the Units option is set to "Inches". After clicking OK, press the D key to set the default fill color to white, and the default stroke color to black.  

Next, click and hold the cursor over the Rectangle tool in the Tools panel. This will bring up a submenu with a selection of other shape tools. Click on the shape tool that you want to use, and then click once on the artboard to bring up a dialog box for your shape. Here, you can specify the shape's dimensions. When you're happy with the settings, click OK and start drawing on the artboard to create a new shape. 

Now, go back to the Tools panel and choose a different shape tool, like the Polygon or Ellipse. In order to show off what the Shape Builder can do, you need to draw your new shape so that it overlaps with the previous one. After drawing the shapes, you can use the Selection tool to reposition them on the artboard if necessary. 

Combining Shapes
Before using the Shape Builder, we recommend saving your file ("File" > "Save" or CTRL+S on the keyboard) so that you can undo any actions that you don't like. Then, choose the Selection tool and Shift+click on the shapes to select them. Finally, choose the Illustrator Shape Builder from the Tools panel (it looks like a mouse cursor on a speech bubble). 

To combine shapes with the Shape Builder, just click and drag between the two shapes. Any overlapping sections will be removed, and your new shape will be an outline of the combined shapes. With this effective tool, you can create complex designs out of simple circles, rectangles, and polygons. 

Subtracting with the Shape Builder
Using the shape tools and the Shape Builder, it's also possible to subtract sections of your drawing, just like a cookie cutter. First, select a shape tool and draw it over the area that you'd like to subtract. Then, choose the Selection tool and press Shift+click to ensure that your main design and the cookie cutter shape are both selected. 

Finally, choose the Shape Builder tool and hold down the Alt key (Option on Mac). You'll know the Subtract function is enabled when you see a minus sign below your cursor. To subtract the cookie cutter section from your main design, continue holding the Alt key while dragging from one side of the newly created shape to the other. Any sections that overlap with your main design will be subtracted. 

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