Day 9: Creating Compound Paths

Almost all objects in over daily life can be built with basic shapes. By drawing shapes using our basic shape tool, we can use compound path to combine or subtract shapes to create what we need.

What is Compound Path?

Compound path is made out of at least two objects. You can add, subtract and intersect shapes to form a compound path.

Compound Path Cheat Sheet

I have compiled a cheat sheet to show how it looks like using different functions of compound path. You can see the final effect after we applied the compound path to three colored circles.

Compound Path Cheat Sheet

Creating an Ancient Key Using Compound Path

In this tutorial, I will show you how to create an ancient key using compound paths rather than using Pen Tool in our previous tutorial.

Turning on the Grids

Go to View>Show Grid to turn on the grids, then go and turn on Snap to Grid. With the grid and snapping turned on, you can easily snap objects to the grid.

First draw a Circle using your Shape Tools, hold Alt/Option as you click and drag a new copy beside it.

Duplicate a new circle and place it on top.

Next, select the Rectangle Tool and continue building up your key shape.

Swap the Fill and Stroke for the object, this will show you all the objects we have.

Using the Selection Tool, select the whole shape and go to Window>Pathfinder to bring up the Pathfinder. Select Add to shape to combine the objects.

You can still make changes to the compound path at this stage. Try moving the top circle below to see how it works. To do this, double click with the Selection Tool to go into isolation mode to move the individual shapes.

Next we will swap it back to black fill again, draw a circle in the middle which we will punch a new hole there. Select both shapes and select Subtract from shape area.

Here is the final illustration.

Next Lesson: Working with Color and Strokes »
Back to Illustrator Training Course

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  1. Mine didn’t work like that. Instead of removing the middle, it took the whole thing with it! What could be causing this?

  2. I can’t seem to manipulate the individual circle after using Add to shape. The entire compound path is moving altogether. What did I miss?

  3. Swap the Fill and Stroke … after I’ve found it, it only made some of my key black. Besides, why should I keep down Alt/Option to draw the second cirkle? Give up for now 🙁 Too many things I do not understand.

  4. Just wanted to drop you a note on Compound Path lesson: Creating an Ancient Key. I found it very enlightening, and as a matter of fact; since Iv’e been visiting your site (less than two weeks), working in Illustrator has become less of a chore. Thanks for all your instruction.
    Dwight

  5. To those who have trouble –
    You must hold down the alt/option key while clicking the “add to shape / unite” button in the pathfinder window. This way, you’ll be able to move each circle independently in isolation mode.

    Try it this way. Draw 3 random circles with the ellipse tool, all overlapping eachother like the key. If you click the unite button in the pathfinder window, they’ll all now be one object and move together as one object, even in isolation mode. BUT, if you click the unite button while holding down alt/option, now they’ll be separate objects in isolation mode.

  6. I dont understand the moving of the circles, it doesnt move for me, it moves the whole key not the circle.

    i’m using cs4, would that change how it at all?

  7. For CS4, it is different. Compound Paths get expanded on default. Hence, you will need to press Alt/Option before you click the Pathfinder effects to make it editable.

  8. I’m almost an expert at photoshop, but trying to go from Photoshop, to Illustrator, is a DAUNTING task. Thanks for this tutorial! Its insanely helpful, and I’m starting to get the hang of this!
    😀
    Thanks!

  9. me neva used ol dose compound and pathfinder effects… its amazing.. me used to draw ol dose shape.. buh its easier to use pathfinder..

  10. Another excellent lesson. This is enjoyable and so easy to understand. Thanks again for being so generous and sharing your knowledge!

  11. if i place a new circle on an existing circle an try to subtract, it subtracts the wrong circle, not the little one , but one of the three big circles. Can someone explain this to me?

  12. Subtract always take the top level object and subtract away the object that is directly below. In this case it will be the circle in the 2nd level instead of the bottom circle.

  13. # Duke December 26th, 2008
    READ HIS POST !

    It adds the extra, that the tut missing. Very usefull. Thx Duke

  14. Dear: I Try : “You can still make changes to the compound path at this stage. Try moving the top circle below to see how it works. To do this, double click with the Selection Tool to go into isolation mode to move the individual shapes.”
    Into Illustrator CS4 but don’t works? You can help me!
    Best Regards!

  15. Hi,
    Thanks very much for the tuts….this lesson took me a bit of time to get my head around but I got there in the end !!!
    Cant wait for the next one

    Regards

    Johnboy

  16. Thank you for this series 🙂

    However, like the other CS4 users, I couldn’t move the objects, even after using alt/option key. Any other way that we can try, perhaps? 🙂

  17. DAY9: The title of this lesson scared me a little – Compound Paths – but it wasn’t as bad as I first thought. Although, some of the finer points ARE a bit tricky – and not being totally au fait with many of the commands (yet) I find I have to go over it many times until it sort of works.
    Hopefully things will get easier as I become more proficient and more aware of all the common tasks.
    The terminology is one thing I AM having a bit of a struggle with. For example: ‘Swap the Fill and Stroke for the object’ and ‘go into isolation mode’ and ‘swap it back to black fill’ and ‘minus back’ (in the cheat sheet – which I got totally lost in BTW). Day10 beckons….

  18. using illustrator CS5 I found a couple of slight differences to the tutorial (which was excellent and I’m really enjoying them so far)
    1. As mentioned above, you need to hold down alt/option key to make the paths remain inidivually editable when you’re merging them;
    2. Before it’ll let you punch that final hole, you have to click the ‘expand’ button on the original set of paths to fully merge them before it’ll allow you to punch through. i tested this on a couple other shapes too and it seems to be the rule.

  19. to nicxt: I found another trick for CS4 (maybe it works for CS5 as well). You don´t have to click expand, before punching the hole. Just keep your shapes in stroke, instead of fill, add the hole, select all shapes and Alt click on Substract (Minus). Fill the shape and you have it. This way you can still move and change each separate shape.

  20. What am I doing wrong? When I try to use pathfinder on my circles, it tells me that Pathfinder effects should usually be applied to groups, layers, or type objects, and that it may not have any effect on the current selection. …?

  21. Dude, there’s something you’re doing here that you’re not telling anyone else. I can’t replicate each image because something you did is missing here. I can’t get the same image because when I click Swap Fill and Stroke like you said it doesn’t show me the overlapping lines. I’m completely lost on this because I don’t know what you’re doing, please help me!

  22. Jana suggestion worked perfectly. I still don’t even know what expanding is, but sounds like if I can avoid it at this stage, it’s a good thing : )

  23. NICXF: 2. Before it’ll let you punch that final hole, you have to click the ‘expand’ button on the original set of paths to fully merge them before it’ll allow you to punch through. i tested this on a couple other shapes too and it seems to be the rule

    Hell yeah! I was messing with this for like 30 minutes before I got it to work. You’re a life saver!

  24. Hello I just starting my own Illustrator project and I have filing that your blog will be very help full for me.
    I have some question about illustrator compound path and I can’t find answer anywhere. When I’m creating two overlapped path lets say two circles. Small and large. Than I try using pathfinder to cut hole in the bigger one. but I don’t wont them to create compound path. Can I do something like this.

  25. thanks for this. btw, after selecting multiple shapes, you have to ‘Alt-click Pathfinder->Add’ to make the separate shapes editable after combinining them. Coz, if you just do ‘click Pathfinder->Add’, they cant be editable again. 🙂 ijust figured this now.hehe.

    thank you for this whole series of AI tute 🙂 i’m going to the next lesson now 🙂

  26. what i said was said by Duke and Vectordiary already. 🙂 i’m just happy that i actually learn this time 🙂 thanks guys…

  27. Double clicking the Selection Tool brings up a Move dialog box, and does not make the shapes editable. I am using CS5.

  28. In CS5 you have to hold down ALT before & then click on the “Unite” or “Add”. It will then temporarily make it like that. After that you can go into isolation mode & edit it. Worked for me.

    Here’s the source: http://forums.adobe.com/thread/696133

    Thanks For the tutorials, I hope you’ll fix this soon ‘cos this is a major issue for most of the people going through your tuts.

    Cheers.

  29. when i try to use compound path it doesnt even come up as an option its grey out so i cant click on it. does anyone have any idea why? i have CS5

  30. CS5 Use shapebuilder tool.

    Try this: Draw one circle on top of another. Select both shapes (using shift). Select shapebuilder tool – as you hover it over each shape it will be ‘grayed out’ – Alt click over the shape you want to delete and voila!

  31. Too bad I did not read the comments when I was in trouble with Add to shape and moving the circle after that.

    This has been mentioned in other comments, CS5 users need to hold down ALT key when you click Unite to Add to shape if you want to be able to move the objects in the Isolation Mode.

    Thanks for the tut.

  32. I’m having trouble understanding “Swap the Fill and Stroke for the object, this will show you all the objects we have.”
    I changed my fill from white to black, my stroke is in black but when I select either/or, I never seem to get a stroke (outline).
    Any tips?

  33. I was having problems moving a circle when in isolation mode, then I tried holding down the control (alt didn’t work)key whilst clicking the add to shape area and it worked, I could move shapes in isolation mode.
    Using CS3 on a Windows 7 box.

  34. I am researching things like this that give excellent samples for the steps to take in this kind of art. I look forward in learning more from this site. This is awesome. Thank you!

  35. Illustrator has a way of turning me mad. After I create the small circle inside the key, if I attempt to change its color, it changes the color of the key too. If I swap fill an stroke, it swaps not only in small circle but in key too. Lastly, if I select both shapes and click on the subtract thing, it complains that I need to select two intersecting paths. Can anybody explain me what is going on? I just don’t get it.
    Thanks

  36. Actually I found out that my problem is solved if I exit isolation mode BEFORE I create the small circle. Then, I can subtract the shapes ONLY if I keep alt/option pressed while clicking on “minus front” shape mode.
    I completed the exercise, but I am utterly confused and don’t get a thing. It all seems random and crazy to me.

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    UpVote Reply 4 Upvotes
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    This is one of the green weight loss pills for men. Polyphenols have antioxidant properties. Uterine fibroids plague as many as feasible, like a single review may allure you to place orders instantly, on some bogus product.
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  • Luis Martínez quantumredpill.wordpress.com/

    Actually I found out that my problem is solved if I exit isolation mode BEFORE I create the small circle. Then, I can subtract the shapes ONLY if I keep alt/option pressed while clicking on "minus front" shape mode. I completed the exercise, but I am utterly confused and don't get a thing. It all seems random and crazy to me.
    UpVote Reply 0 Upvotes
  • Luis Martínez quantumredpill.wordpress.com/

    Illustrator has a way of turning me mad. After I create the small circle inside the key, if I attempt to change its color, it changes the color of the key too. If I swap fill an stroke, it swaps not only in small circle but in key too. Lastly, if I select both shapes and click on the subtract thing, it complains that I need to select two intersecting paths. Can anybody explain me what is going on? I just don't get it. Thanks
    UpVote Reply 17 Upvotes
  • Shoaib www.w3softs.com

    Thnku so much, that’s exactly what I needed for my last punch!
    UpVote Reply 0 Upvotes
  • Cindy Stout www.stoutsdeepfriedbites.com

    I am researching things like this that give excellent samples for the steps to take in this kind of art. I look forward in learning more from this site. This is awesome. Thank you!
    UpVote Reply 0 Upvotes
  • melissa www.facebook.com/loveforever247?ref=hl

    Actually it is best post.It is very helpful and important.
    UpVote Reply 0 Upvotes
  • MikeH

    I was having problems moving a circle when in isolation mode, then I tried holding down the control (alt didn't work)key whilst clicking the add to shape area and it worked, I could move shapes in isolation mode. Using CS3 on a Windows 7 box.
    UpVote Reply 0 Upvotes
  • Michelle

    I'm having trouble understanding "Swap the Fill and Stroke for the object, this will show you all the objects we have." I changed my fill from white to black, my stroke is in black but when I select either/or, I never seem to get a stroke (outline). Any tips?
    UpVote Reply 0 Upvotes
  • Gi

    Very useful! Thanks so much for the help :)
    UpVote Reply 0 Upvotes
  • Rajitha

    @Grant : Thanks for the tip man, that really helped. (I'm on CS 5)
    UpVote Reply 0 Upvotes
  • Rajitha

    Too bad I did not read the comments when I was in trouble with Add to shape and moving the circle after that. This has been mentioned in other comments, CS5 users need to hold down ALT key when you click Unite to Add to shape if you want to be able to move the objects in the Isolation Mode. Thanks for the tut.
    UpVote Reply 0 Upvotes
  • Muhammad Adil

    Thank you great
    UpVote Reply 0 Upvotes
  • Grant

    CS5 Use shapebuilder tool. Try this: Draw one circle on top of another. Select both shapes (using shift). Select shapebuilder tool - as you hover it over each shape it will be 'grayed out' - Alt click over the shape you want to delete and voila!
    UpVote Reply 0 Upvotes
  • hannah lake

    when i try to use compound path it doesnt even come up as an option its grey out so i cant click on it. does anyone have any idea why? i have CS5
    UpVote Reply 0 Upvotes
  • RSCdev rscdev.net

    Hey @Duke, thanks for explaining it better! I got it. Cheers!
    UpVote Reply 0 Upvotes
  • Stuck In Time lastrhyme.blogspot.com/

    In CS5 you have to hold down ALT before & then click on the "Unite" or "Add". It will then temporarily make it like that. After that you can go into isolation mode & edit it. Worked for me. Here's the source: http://forums.adobe.com/thread/696133 Thanks For the tutorials, I hope you'll fix this soon 'cos this is a major issue for most of the people going through your tuts. Cheers.
    UpVote Reply 0 Upvotes
  • Eric

    Double clicking the Selection Tool brings up a Move dialog box, and does not make the shapes editable. I am using CS5.
    UpVote Reply 0 Upvotes
  • Mariane Meira

    Hey guys...thank you so much! This has been so helpfullll!!!!!
    UpVote Reply 0 Upvotes
  • marso

    what i said was said by Duke and Vectordiary already. :) i'm just happy that i actually learn this time :) thanks guys...
    UpVote Reply 0 Upvotes
  • marso

    thanks for this. btw, after selecting multiple shapes, you have to 'Alt-click Pathfinder->Add' to make the separate shapes editable after combinining them. Coz, if you just do 'click Pathfinder->Add', they cant be editable again. :) ijust figured this now.hehe. thank you for this whole series of AI tute :) i'm going to the next lesson now :)
    UpVote Reply 0 Upvotes
  • Tony Soh www.vectordiary.com

    You can just go to Object > Expand the compound shape.
    UpVote Reply 0 Upvotes
  • Andrzej andpondesign.blogspot.com/

    Hello I just starting my own Illustrator project and I have filing that your blog will be very help full for me. I have some question about illustrator compound path and I can't find answer anywhere. When I'm creating two overlapped path lets say two circles. Small and large. Than I try using pathfinder to cut hole in the bigger one. but I don't wont them to create compound path. Can I do something like this.
    UpVote Reply 0 Upvotes
  • Z-Rabbit

    NICXF: 2. Before it’ll let you punch that final hole, you have to click the ‘expand’ button on the original set of paths to fully merge them before it’ll allow you to punch through. i tested this on a couple other shapes too and it seems to be the rule Hell yeah! I was messing with this for like 30 minutes before I got it to work. You're a life saver!
    UpVote Reply 0 Upvotes
  • kerry

    Jana suggestion worked perfectly. I still don't even know what expanding is, but sounds like if I can avoid it at this stage, it's a good thing : )
    UpVote Reply 0 Upvotes
  • Nanda Scott

    Dude, there's something you're doing here that you're not telling anyone else. I can't replicate each image because something you did is missing here. I can't get the same image because when I click Swap Fill and Stroke like you said it doesn't show me the overlapping lines. I'm completely lost on this because I don't know what you're doing, please help me!
    UpVote Reply 0 Upvotes
  • Haidang

    I really like this tutorial! thanks a lot !
    UpVote Reply 0 Upvotes
  • Katherine

    What am I doing wrong? When I try to use pathfinder on my circles, it tells me that Pathfinder effects should usually be applied to groups, layers, or type objects, and that it may not have any effect on the current selection. ...?
    UpVote Reply 0 Upvotes
  • oldmantg vnexpress24.com

    hihi, tôi rất thích các bài viết của trang này.
    UpVote Reply 0 Upvotes
  • Lenore

    Tx so much nicxf, that's exactly what I needed for my last punch!
    UpVote Reply 0 Upvotes
  • jana

    to nicxt: I found another trick for CS4 (maybe it works for CS5 as well). You don´t have to click expand, before punching the hole. Just keep your shapes in stroke, instead of fill, add the hole, select all shapes and Alt click on Substract (Minus). Fill the shape and you have it. This way you can still move and change each separate shape.
    UpVote Reply 0 Upvotes
  • nicxf

    using illustrator CS5 I found a couple of slight differences to the tutorial (which was excellent and I'm really enjoying them so far) 1. As mentioned above, you need to hold down alt/option key to make the paths remain inidivually editable when you're merging them; 2. Before it'll let you punch that final hole, you have to click the 'expand' button on the original set of paths to fully merge them before it'll allow you to punch through. i tested this on a couple other shapes too and it seems to be the rule.
    UpVote Reply 0 Upvotes
  • MichaelV ab-workouts-to-look-hot.com

    DAY9: The title of this lesson scared me a little - Compound Paths - but it wasn't as bad as I first thought. Although, some of the finer points ARE a bit tricky - and not being totally au fait with many of the commands (yet) I find I have to go over it many times until it sort of works. Hopefully things will get easier as I become more proficient and more aware of all the common tasks. The terminology is one thing I AM having a bit of a struggle with. For example: 'Swap the Fill and Stroke for the object' and 'go into isolation mode' and 'swap it back to black fill' and 'minus back' (in the cheat sheet - which I got totally lost in BTW). Day10 beckons....
    UpVote Reply 0 Upvotes
  • Paopi paopi.tumblr.com

    Thank you for this series :) However, like the other CS4 users, I couldn't move the objects, even after using alt/option key. Any other way that we can try, perhaps? :)
    UpVote Reply 0 Upvotes
  • j0hnb0y

    Hi, Thanks very much for the tuts....this lesson took me a bit of time to get my head around but I got there in the end !!! Cant wait for the next one Regards Johnboy
    UpVote Reply 0 Upvotes
  • abdullah no

    thank.s great site
    UpVote Reply 0 Upvotes
  • AziF www.azifaudio.com.ar

    Dear: I Try : "You can still make changes to the compound path at this stage. Try moving the top circle below to see how it works. To do this, double click with the Selection Tool to go into isolation mode to move the individual shapes." Into Illustrator CS4 but don't works? You can help me! Best Regards!
    UpVote Reply 0 Upvotes
  • Mbala VectorDiary

    Perfect!! I got the flow. Illustrator is my thing!! Thanks alot for the lesson
    UpVote Reply 0 Upvotes
  • Natrak

    I got CS4 and moving circles inside the compound doesn't work for me as well.
    UpVote Reply 0 Upvotes
  • Johnni

    # Duke December 26th, 2008 READ HIS POST ! It adds the extra, that the tut missing. Very usefull. Thx Duke
    UpVote Reply 0 Upvotes
  • Tony Soh www.vectordiary.com

    Subtract always take the top level object and subtract away the object that is directly below. In this case it will be the circle in the 2nd level instead of the bottom circle.
    UpVote Reply 0 Upvotes
  • damian

    if i place a new circle on an existing circle an try to subtract, it subtracts the wrong circle, not the little one , but one of the three big circles. Can someone explain this to me?
    UpVote Reply 0 Upvotes
  • aurorasogna

    I've CS4 but also with Alt/Option it doesn't work. Any idea??
    UpVote Reply 0 Upvotes
  • Jennifer

    Another excellent lesson. This is enjoyable and so easy to understand. Thanks again for being so generous and sharing your knowledge!
    UpVote Reply 0 Upvotes
  • Reginald Raju

    me neva used ol dose compound and pathfinder effects... its amazing.. me used to draw ol dose shape.. buh its easier to use pathfinder..
    UpVote Reply 0 Upvotes
  • Devin

    I'm almost an expert at photoshop, but trying to go from Photoshop, to Illustrator, is a DAUNTING task. Thanks for this tutorial! Its insanely helpful, and I'm starting to get the hang of this! :D Thanks!
    UpVote Reply 0 Upvotes
  • Adrian

    oh, thanks!
    UpVote Reply 0 Upvotes
  • Vectordiary www.vectordiary.com

    For CS4, it is different. Compound Paths get expanded on default. Hence, you will need to press Alt/Option before you click the Pathfinder effects to make it editable.
    UpVote Reply 0 Upvotes
  • Adrian

    I dont understand the moving of the circles, it doesnt move for me, it moves the whole key not the circle. i'm using cs4, would that change how it at all?
    UpVote Reply 0 Upvotes
  • bill bill.com

    hi
    UpVote Reply 0 Upvotes
  • hung vannguyen

    very good
    UpVote Reply 0 Upvotes
  • lj

    What a great site. Thank you
    UpVote Reply 0 Upvotes
  • Ethienne

    Love you guys!! you helped me a lot ;)
    UpVote Reply 0 Upvotes
  • Tissaka Senarath

    Again.. great tutorial.. thank you so much!!! very easy to understand
    UpVote Reply 0 Upvotes
  • Duke

    To those who have trouble - You must hold down the alt/option key while clicking the "add to shape / unite" button in the pathfinder window. This way, you'll be able to move each circle independently in isolation mode. Try it this way. Draw 3 random circles with the ellipse tool, all overlapping eachother like the key. If you click the unite button in the pathfinder window, they'll all now be one object and move together as one object, even in isolation mode. BUT, if you click the unite button while holding down alt/option, now they'll be separate objects in isolation mode.
    UpVote Reply 0 Upvotes
  • Dwight

    Just wanted to drop you a note on Compound Path lesson: Creating an Ancient Key. I found it very enlightening, and as a matter of fact; since Iv'e been visiting your site (less than two weeks), working in Illustrator has become less of a chore. Thanks for all your instruction. Dwight
    UpVote Reply 0 Upvotes
  • Rodolfo

    That was a really good tutorial!! you make it so easy to learn!! thanks a lot!!
    UpVote Reply 0 Upvotes
  • emily

    i think i got it! thanks!
    UpVote Reply 0 Upvotes
  • Leroy Simpson

    Another good lesson, Jah rasta
    UpVote Reply 0 Upvotes
  • Britt Malka www.catmaze.com

    Swap the Fill and Stroke ... after I've found it, it only made some of my key black. Besides, why should I keep down Alt/Option to draw the second cirkle? Give up for now :-( Too many things I do not understand.
    UpVote Reply 0 Upvotes
  • iStockdiary www.istockdiary.com

    Hi Heidi, try to double click with the Selection Tool to go into isolation mode to move the individual shapes.
    UpVote Reply 0 Upvotes
  • Heidi

    I can't seem to manipulate the individual circle after using Add to shape. The entire compound path is moving altogether. What did I miss?
    UpVote Reply 0 Upvotes
  • Sean

    Thank you! It worked this time. On to the next lesson =D
    UpVote Reply 0 Upvotes
  • ivan

    to show grid it's not "window>show" grid it's "view>show grid"
    UpVote Reply 0 Upvotes
  • iStockdiary www.istockdiary.com

    Hi Sean, Make sure the circle is on top of the key. Select both and click subtract from shape area.
    UpVote Reply 0 Upvotes
  • Sean O

    Mine didn't work like that. Instead of removing the middle, it took the whole thing with it! What could be causing this?
    UpVote Reply 0 Upvotes
  • LadyAngora www.darah.com

    wow, i never knew you could still change the compound path after selecting 'add to shape'... i'm always using the 'merge' tool!
    UpVote Reply 0 Upvotes
63 More Comments