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…
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.
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).
2. Get the Shape Builder tool, then similar to the Lasso tool, draw a line through the shapes you want to combine.
The shapes will now be joined, and their fill will be Illustrator’s current fill.
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.
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.