Sculpting shapes with the shape builder tool

The shape builder tool is one of the lesser known tools in Adobe Illustrator that works much in the same way as some of the options in the Pathfinder panel, but with more flexibility.

To test out the shape builder tool, first draw out some shapes and have them overlapping it other like so:

shape builder tool


With the Selection Tool select the all the shapes you want to affect:

shape builder tool


In the toolbar select the Shape Builder Tool or press Shift+M

shape builder tool


As you hover the mouse over each shape or their intersections you will see that part highlight:

shape builder tool


To merge both shapes or intersections together, start on a shape and drag out to the shape or intersection you want it to merge with.  As you drag the mouse out you will see a line path follow behind the mouse and the sections it overlaps will become highlighted, signaling that these are the section that will be affected:

shape buider tool


Release the mouse and the two shapes will merge:

shape builder tool


TIP: Holding shift while clicking and dragging displays a rectangular marquee that allows you to easily merge multiple parts.


Inherited style and colour

As you can see from the example above, both squares merge into one colour.  The colour and style of the final shape depends on the following factors:

    • Where the mouse drag was initiated.  If you started from the red square and dragged out to the green, then the final merged shape will be red.
    • If no art style is available on mouse down, then the art style available on mouse release is applied to the merging shapes.
    • If no art style is available on mouse down or mouse release, then the art style of the topmost selected object in the Layers panel, is applied.

You can also select which colour you want the final merged shape to be through the Shape Builder Tool Options dialog window, which you can access by double-clicking the Shape Builder Tool button on the toolbar.  Just change Pick Color From to Color Swatches, hit OK, then select the colour you want for Fill in the Color or Swatches panels.

shape builder tool


Subtracting parts

Just as you can merge sections together, you can also subtract/delete parts of intersecting shapes.  Simply hold the Alt key and click on the sections you want to remove.

shape builder tool

You can also delete edges in this erase mode.  This option is useful when you want to clear the remaining portions after creating the required shape.

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