How the Adobe Illustrator Eraser Tool Helps You Create Cool Infographics

By Justin Beegel, MBA, The Infographic World Team

The powerful Eraser tool in Adobe Illustrator does several functions at once when you’re working on your infographics. In essence, it draws a brushstroke, expanding that brush stroke to make an actual shape, and then uses that shape to cut into other vector shapes in the same way the Pathfinder tool works. Incredibly complex, but it’s quite easy to use.

You can take a vector object — any vector object — in Adobe Illustrator and erase parts of it as easily as you can with the Eraser tool in Photoshop . . . perhaps even more easily than with pencil and paper.

Getting started with the Eraser tool

Double-click the Eraser tool (about one-third of the way down the Tools palette, and looks like, well, an eraser).

Double-clicking any of Illustrator’s tools opens a dialog box offering precise control over the way that tool behaves.

If you have a Wacom tablet, the Eraser tool gives you the ability to become “pressure sensitive.” See the Fixed option? Check out that drop-down menu and marvel.

The Eraser is just as much fun if you’re using a mouse, though. Here’s something you can try.

  1. Draw an apple.

  2. Select the shape, activate the Eraser tool, and start cutting.

    For fun, draw a bite-shaped cut. See this figure.

    After you cut the shape, the stroke around the edge of the apple now goes around everything that hasn’t been erased. If there is a stroke, the tool reapplies it to all of the edges. If there isn’t, then the cuts are simply cuts. The Eraser cuts a narrow line because the size of the Eraser tool is small.

  3. Select the cut-out piece and delete it.

    Working with the Eraser tool.

    Working with the Eraser tool.

Working with straight edges and lines

Hold Option/Alt while you click and drag with the tool to create a cutting area shaped like a rectangle. Cut whole straight-edged chunks off anything you’ve drawn. Hold Shift+Option/Alt, and the Eraser tool constrains it to a square.

Another really excellent use of the Eraser tool is to refine drawn brush lines. Brush stroke lines can be cut or sculpted with the Eraser, as shown in the figure. If your line end is too rounded and blunt, select the line and shave away unwanted parts with the eraser.

Perfect brush lines with the Eraser tool.

Perfect brush lines with the Eraser tool.

Troubleshooting the eraser tool

You may find that parts of your illustration are erased, while others are not. There are a couple of reasons why this may happen.

  • The Eraser tool works only on vectors. If you have a rasterized image in your graphic, you can’t edit it this way.

  • Maybe only part of your illustration was selected. The Eraser tool works only on the part that is selected. Or, if nothing is selected, it will affect everything — except rasterized images (see the preceding bullet).

  • If you erase a part of a line and the result is surprising, you may need to “expand” the look of the line before you use the Eraser on it. If your line has an effect applied to it (like an artistic brushstroke) and you cut the line with the Eraser, each new part of the line has the effect applied to it separately.

    The results can sometimes be unexpected. If you want the Eraser tool to cut the shape as the shape is shown, use the “expand” option under the Object menu to turn paths into straightforward vector shapes that you can erase.

  • You may be trying to erase type. You can’t erase type unless you’ve turned it into a vector object (Type→Create Outlines). You also can’t erase charts or blends until they are ungrouped or expanded.