Working with Paths in Adobe Illustrator

Reshape Paths

The Reshape tool in the toolbox lets you move points and segments around and modify paths. You will find the Reshape tool with the Scale tool. The Reshape tool looks like this, .

You use the Reshape tool for extending a side of an object. You can extend or contract the selected point and leave all other points unchanged.

To use the Reshape tool, click on the Direct Selection tool.

Now, click a blank area in your document to deselect everything. Then click an anchor point on a path.

Click the Reshape tool and drag the point as we have done below.

Here is the new shape.

Reshape a Path with the Pencil or Paintbrush Tool

You can also reshape a path. To do so, select the Pencil tool by clicking on it to reshape a path that does not have a brush stroke. If it has a brush stroke, select the Paintbrush tool .

Next, select the path that you want to reshape by pushing Ctrl+click.

Drag along the edge of the path to reshape the path, from point to point.

Erasing Paths

You can use the Eraser tool in the toolbox () to erase parts of objects. When you do so, Illustrator connects the parts that remain to reshape and close the path. If you erase inside a filled object, Illustrator then creates a compound path.

Here is how to erase parts of paths.

Use the Selection tool to select the object that you want to erase partially.

Click the Eraser tool and drag to erase the paths that you want to remove.

As you can see, Illustrator reshaped our object for us and closed the path.

Let us show you what we mean by erasing fill.

We have filled the above shape with red fill. Then, we erased part of it.

You can now see the complex path inside the shape.

Smooth Paths

If you have a rough looking or ragged path, you can smooth it out using the Smooth tool in the toolbox. It looks like this, . It is grouped with the Pencil tool.

We are going to smooth a path on this shape:

Select the object that you want to smooth with the Selection tool.

Then, click on the Smooth tool, and then drag it along the path you want to smooth.

To set options for the Smooth tool, double click on the tool.

Adjust fidelity to control how far you have to move the mouse before a new anchor is added. The higher the value that you select, the smoother and less complex the path will be.

Smoothness will set how much smoothing is applied to the path.

You can also reset the tool back to default values.

Divide Paths

Think of dividing paths like a cookie cutter. You can cut shapes out of other shapes and divide them.

To divide paths, select an object that you want to use as the cutting object.

Click the Selection tool, and then move the cutting object on top of the objects to divide.

Go to Object>Path>Divide Objects Below.

You can now move your cutting object away. You have now created a new object.

Interested in learning more? Why not take an online Adobe Illustrator course?

Now, you can drag the edge of the path to reshape it.

Split Paths with the Scissors Tool

Use the Scissors tool to split paths. The Scissors tool is in the toolbox and looks like this, . It is grouped with the Eraser tool.

To split a path, select the object that has a path that you want to split using the Selection tool.

Now, click the Scissors tool and click on the object's path where you want the split to occur.

Two new endpoints appear, one on top of the other:

Merge Paths

You merge adjacent paths using the Blob Brush tool. It is in the toolbox and looks like this, .

To do this, click the Direct Selection tool, and then click a blank area in your document so everything is deselected.

Next, click and select an anchor point on a path.

Now, open the Appearance panel. If you do not see it, go to Window>Appearance.

Click the Options menu. Deselect New Art Has Basic Appearance by clicking it.

Now, the Blob Brush tool will use the attributes of the artwork you have selected.

Click on the Blob Brush tool and draw paths that intersect with the artwork.

Shape Mode

You can use Shape Mode to create compound shapes from objects that overlap. These new compound shapes are editable.

To use Shape Mode, select two or more overlapping objects using the Selection tool. Remember to press Shift to select more than one object.

Now go to Window>Pathfinder.

Select one of the Shape Mode buttons (from left to right):

  • Unite to Shape Area joins the outer edges of selected objects.
  • Minus Front from Shape Area removes objects in front of other objects.
  • Intersect Shape Area preserves object areas that intersect.
  • Exclude Overlapping Shape Areas changes overlapping areas to transparency.

    We are going to select Unite to Shape Area.

    Compound Paths

    A compound path is an object that is made up from two or more objects. The objects overlap. The compound path removes the overlapping space and displays the attributes of the backmost object.

    To create a compound path, arrange your objects so the front object will cut out to reveal the attributes of the back object.

    Now, select the objects that you want in the compound path.

    Go to Object>Compound Path>Make.

    This is now a compound path. It is made up of our snapshot from the last section and another star. Now, when we click the Selection tool, it selects all objects as one because they have the same path.

    Working With Layers

    Most complex graphics editing programs nowadays use layers or some variation thereof. Layers work pretty much just as they sound. They are like transparent pieces of paper laid on top of each other. The objects on the upper layer can obscure those on the lower layers.

    Do you need to use layers? Of course not. You can create a perfectly acceptable image with all of the text, objects, images, background colors on a single layer. However, if you have a lot of them, it can quickly become chaotic and frustrating to select or edit individual objects. Layers allows you to isolate objects. You can then lock individual layers so that the objects on them cannot be altered. You can also hide them from view so that you can work with objects on other layers unhindered.

    Just like a stack of pages, layers have a hierarchy. The top most layer is at the top of the stack. The bottom layer on the bottom. You can move a layer in the stack simply like clicking on it, then dragging it up or down.

    Getting to Know the Layers Panel

    You can find the layers panel on the right side of the screen in the panels bar. In the default "Essentials" workspace, Layers is located at the bottom of the bar. If the panels bar has been collapsed into icons, the layers panel looks like this, . By default it is grouped with the artboards panel, which looks like this, . You should know at this point that to expand an icon so that you can see its panel, you can just click on it.

    For the examples in this article, we are using one of the free templates that come complimentary with each copy of Illustrator. If you would like to follow along in Illustrator, you can launch this template by going to File > New From Template, and then from the "Tech" folder, select "Brochures."

    It looks like this.

    This template contains three separate artboards.

    Now, let us expand the layers panel.

    This document consists of four basic layers. They are labeled "Dieline," "Text," "Artwork," and "Printer Marks." As you can see, the creators of this template labeled each of the layers according to what kind of content was on them. For example, all of the text in the document would be on the Text layer, all of the artwork on the Artwork layer.

    Illustrator does not name the layers automatically according to the content on them. Instead, Illustrator simply names them according to the order they were created. For instance, the first created layer would be called "Layer 1," the second layer, "Layer 2," and so on.

    Now, you do not have to rename them if you do not want to. However, doing so can help you stay organized, and prevent unwanted alterations to items.

    To rename a layer, simply double-click on the layer title and type the new name.

    Showing and Hiding Layers and Objects

    So look again at the Layers panel. On the far left, you will see a column of icons in the shape of human eyes. This is called the Visibility column. This icon means that the layer (and all of the objects on it) are visible. If you want to hide a layer, you would click the icon to remove it.

    Let us look at the what happens when we do this. In the first example, all layers are visible. In the second, we have hidden the text layer.

    Note the empty square where the Eye icon is usually located in the Text layer.

    To view the layer again, simply click that empty square.

    It should be noted that hiding a layer is not the same as deleting it. The objects are still preserved within the document. We will show you how to delete a layer, and all of the items on it, later on in this article.

    Locking Layers and Objects

    Now let us look at the column to the right of the Eye icon. In the example provided, and by default, the boxes in this column are empty. What this box does is it allows you to lock a layer to prevent it or any of the objects on it from being altered in any way. That is why this is called the Edit column, it prevents you from editing the associated layer. To lock a layer, simply click on this box. As soon as you do so, an icon that looks like a padlock will appear in it.

    Note the padlock icon in the Text layer.

    To the right of the lock column, you will see a narrow column of color. These colors are automatically assigned to each layer to help identify which layer a selected object is located upon.

    In the preceding example, we have selected the text "Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet" at the top left of the artboard. We can tell that the object has been selected because of the colored border with square handles around it. With the Layers panel open, we can also easily determine which layer the object is on by its color and by the colored box on the far right of the Text layer.

    The white arrows to the right of color column indicate that there is a list of objects and sublayers associated with that layer. This feature is active by default. We will tell you how to toggle it, in a minute. For now, let us look at what it does.

    Click on one of the arrows. This will expand the list so you can see all of the objects and sublayers contained on that layer. Look at the screenshot below.

    In this example, we have decided to see what objects are contained on the Artwork layer. The white arrow is not pointing down, instead of pointing at the layer name. This lets you know that the list has been expanded. Here you can select each object by clicking its target icon. When you do so, the object will be outlined in the document.

    In this example, you can see that we have made a selection because it is outlined in red. (Note the image box outlined in red with white handles.) We can also see a large red square in the layers panel (in the "<Clip ." row) indicating which object was selected. You might also note that a smaller square has appeared in the Artwork layer row, indicating that it is the main layer on which the selected item is located.

    Selecting Layers

    To the right of the layer names is a column of circles. This is called the Target column. To select all of the objects on a layer from the layers panel, simply click this circle. In the next example, we have "Targeted" the text layer. A double circle in this column tells you which layer or item has been selected.

    You can also target individual objects and sublayers. Just expand the main layer and then select the object.

    Layers Panel Options

    The Panel Options icon in the upper right hand corner of the layers panel can access the layers panel options. It looks like this, . Simply click on it to see a list of options. At the bottom, you will see "Panel Options." Click that.

    The Layers Panel Options looks like this.

    The "Show Layers Only" box allows you to see only the main layers. It hides sublayers and other objects contained on the layer. When this option is activated, you will not be able to expand a layer and select objects on it from the Layers panel.

    Use the Row Size section to increase the size of the Layer panel icons.

    The Thumbnails section allows you to choose which thumbnails you would like to see. Uncheck the boxes to hide the associated thumbnails.

    Creating Layers and Sublayers

    There are several ways to create new layers and even sublayers. The easiest, perhaps, is to use the Create New Layer button on the Layers panel. It looks like this, . It creates a blank layer below the currently selected layer, and automatically assigns a name and a color.

    Another way you can create a layer is to click the Panel Options button in the upper right hand corner of the Layers panel. From the menu, select "New Layer." This will not only create a new layer, but also will launch the Layer Options dialogue window.

    With this window, you can enter a name for the layer, as well as an associated color. You can also choose whether you want this layer to be included when printing, whether to lock it to prevent any changes, and more. To create the layer, click OK.

    To create a sublayer, select a layer then click the "Create New Sublayer" button at the bottom of the Layers panel. Using this button will create a sublayer and automatically assign a name to it. You can also select the layer and click the Layers Panel option button, and then "New Sublayer" in the dropdown menu. Doing so will launch the Layer Options dialogue, allowing you to enter a name for it, and a color.

    Deleting Layers

    Just as there were several ways to create a layer, there are several ways to delete them. The first step is to select a layer. You do not need to "Target" the layer by clicking the circle associated with it, simply click on the layer name to highlight it. In the following example, Layer 12 has been selected, but not targeted.

    To delete the selected layer, click the garbage pail icon at the bottom left of the Layers panel. If the layer contains objects, a dialogue opens to ask you to verify the deletion. However, do not worry, even if you click "Yes," and delete the layer, you can still use the Undo feature to recover it.

    Another way to delete the layer is to select it, then click the Layer Options button. From there, select Delete "Layer Name" from the dropdown menu.

    Duplicating Layers

    To duplicate a layer (and all of the objects on it), select the layer, click the Layers Panel Options button and choose Duplicate "Layer Name."

    Arranging Layers and Objects

    Arranging layers and objects is as easy as clicking on a layer (or an object) and dragging it up or down in the list.

    Merging Layers

    Merging layers involves selecting all of the layers you want to merge, and then using the merge function. To select multiple layers you may have to use either the shift key or the control key when clicking on them.

    In the example above, we selected the first layer, and then held down the control key while we selected the other. This allows us to select layers that are not adjacent to each other.

    To merge them, click the Layers Panel Options button and then select Merge Selected. The layers and all of their objects will be combined into one.

    Moving Objects to another Layer

    Find and select the object you want to move, then click on it and hold the mouse button down. Now drag the object to the layer in the layers panel where you want to move it. Release the mouse button.