Interactively Combine Shapes with the Shape Builder Tool in Adobe Illustrator

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Bob Flisser
Bob Flisser has authored many courses and books about Microsoft, Adobe and Apple products, and has been a computer trainer since the 1980s.
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.

Video Steps

1. Technique 1: combining two adjacent objects - Select two adjacent objects.

Several overlapping shapes
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.

Two selected overlapping objects

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.

Object with shading

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.
After dragging over two shapes
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.

Overlapping area selected

3. Click, and that area becomes a new object.

After clicking the overlapping area

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.

New shape dragged away----

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.

Removed circle

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…


1. Technique 4: removing an overlapping area. - As with the previous technique, select two shapes.

2. With the Shape Builder tool active, hold down the Alt or Option key, then just click in the overlapping area.

The overlapping area gets removed, and there is no new object created.

Removed overlapping area

3. Undo so you get the original shapes back, and go to the next technique…

You can combine multiple shapes that aren’t next to each other or even touching each other. (If you have an older version of Illustrator, you might not be able to do this.)

1. Technique 5: combining non-contiguous shapes - Select all the shapes (marquee-select or press Ctrl + A in Windows or Command + A on the Mac).

All shapes selected

2. Get the Shape Builder tool, then similar to the Lasso tool, draw a line through the shapes you want to combine.

Draw line through shapes
The shapes will now be joined, and their fill will be Illustrator’s current fill.
Distant shapes combined

3. Undo so you get the original shapes back, and do our last technique…


1. Technique 6: combining all shapes - Like in the previous technique, select all shapes.

2. Get the Shape Builder tool, and position it outside all the shapes (above and to the left or above and to the right, etc.)

3. Hold down the Shift key, and draw a marquee box around all the shapes.

Marquee box around all shapes
All shapes will get combined, and the fill will be Illustrator’s current color. Of course, you can change either the fill or the stroke.
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Author:Bob Flisser
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Administrative Comment

by:Kyle Santos
Congratulations.  Your video has been Accepted and is now published on Experts Exchange.  Feel free to share this video by selecting the social sharing icons on the left side of this page.

Administrative Comment

by:Kyle Santos
Video submission is Approved; the steps provided are a great addition to the work done in this video.  Thanks for your contributions and efforts, Bob!

Author Comment

by:Bob Flisser
Great, glad you like it!

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