Illustrator's Shape Builder tool will let you combine shapes visually and interactively. This video shows the Mac version, but the tool works the same way in Windows. To follow along with this video, you can draw your own shapes or download the file I use: www.flisser.com/classfiles/shape-builder-exercise.zip
Please check out the steps I've listed below.
1. Technique 1: combining two adjacent objects - Select two adjacent objects.
Before combining two objects, decide what fill color you want and make that the fill color in the toolbar. One way to do this is to select an object that has a fill and stroke already applied.
2. Click the Shape Builder tool in the toolbar (or press Shift + M).
3. Roll the mouse over the selected objects. Notice the shading, which means the objects are ready to have the tool applied.
4. Drag from the first object to the second object.
The objects are now combined, and the fill is the color in the toolbox, and the stroke is the color of the first object’s stroke.
5. Undo (Ctrl + Z in Windows or Command + Z on the Mac).
6. Now drag from the second object to the first object.
As before, the objects are now combined, and the fill is the color in the toolbox. But this time, the stroke is the color of the second object’s stroke.
So the stroke color of the object you start dragging from becomes the stroke color of the combined object.
7. Undo, then go on to the next technique…
1. Technique 2: overlap of two adjacent objects.
Again, select two adjacent objects.
2. Roll the mouse pointer onto the overlapping area, and notice just that area is shaded.
3. Click, and that area becomes a new object.
4. Click the Selection tool (or press V).
5. Drag the new shape out of the way so you can see.
There is now a hole where it used to be, and the new shape has a single stroke color. The stroke colors around the hole match the stroke colors of each object.
1. Technique 3: using an object as a cookie cutter - Undo about three times so you get the original shapes back, and go to the next technique…
2. Select the same two objects as before.
With the Shape Builder tool active, hold the Alt key in Windows or the Option key on the Mac, then drag from the overlapping area into one of the selected shapes.
The overlapping area and the shape you dragged onto now disappear.
3. Undo, then Alt + drag or Option + drag from the overlapping area onto the other object.
You get a similar result.
4. Undo so you get the original shapes back, and go to the next technique…