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Infographics: Create Shapes with the Adobe Illustrator Pathfinder Tool

Illustrator’s Pathfinder tool is a real workhorse tool. Use it to create shapes, even very complex shapes, for your infographics without drawing them from scratch. Then, amazingly, you’ll see how the Shapefinder tool does the same thing, only faster.

Pathfinder uses Boolean technology, which essentially uses one shape to change another. When you have two shapes, you can use the Pathfinder tool to “add” those two shapes together, “subtract” one from the other, or just cut them into separate parts.

Start by choosing Window→Pathfinder. The dialog box that opens has several different pictograms of the actions that it can perform.

The top row — Shape Modes — are live effects: that is, you can position one shape over another, click the “action” of choice, and still move and adjust the individual shapes at will. When the shapes are where you want them to be, click the Expand button on the right side of the dialog box to complete the action.

If you choose the Minus Front shape mode (second from the left), the shape that was on top will cut out the part of the lower shape where the two shapes overlapped. The lower row perform similar cuts and adds, but they are immediate and can be changed only with the Undo command.

The Shapefinder tool is newer and can be found in the Tools palette. (See the figure.) You can select many shapes at once and, without ungrouping anything, just select individual parts of the group to merge or cut. This tool behaves basically the same way as the Pathfinder tool but in a much more direct way.

Using one shape to change another in Illustrator.
Using one shape to change another in Illustrator.
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