Illustrator Basics: The Shape Builder Tool | Dylan Mierzwinski | Skillshare

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Illustrator Basics: The Shape Builder Tool

teacher avatar Dylan Mierzwinski, Illustrator & Lover of Flowers

Watch this class and thousands more

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Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Watch this class and thousands more

Get unlimited access to every class
Taught by industry leaders & working professionals
Topics include illustration, design, photography, and more

Lessons in This Class

    • 1.



    • 2.

      Class Project


    • 3.

      Working in Pieces


    • 4.

      Extracting and Combining


    • 5.



    • 6.



    • 7.

      Thank You!


    • 8.

      Bonus! Time-lapse of Ernie the Excitable


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About This Class

This class is the first in a new Illustrator Basics series and covers how to combine, extract, and trim shapes all with the single, powerful shape builder tool! Your Illustrator workflow will never be the same, kiss the various and often confusing pathfinder functions goodbye.

Meet Your Teacher

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Dylan Mierzwinski

Illustrator & Lover of Flowers

Top Teacher

I'm an artist and educator living in Phoenix, Arizona, and my main mission here is to inspire you to fill up a sketchbook. And then to acquire another and do it again. You see, my sketchbooks have become a journal of my life as intimate as a diary; a place to meet myself on the page, to grow, to express, to enjoy myself, and to heal. And to commemorate my favorite snacks if I'm going to be so honest about it. It's the greatest thing ever, and all people deserve to dabble in creative practice.

In my time as a professional illustrator I've gotten to work with clients like Anthropologie, Magnolia, Martha Stewart, Red Cap Cards, Penguin Random House, and many more. As of this writing I've enjoyed teaching over 150k of you here on Skillshare, as well as many ... See full profile

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1. Introduction: Hi guys, my name's Dylan Mierzwinski, graphic designer and sewing enthusiasts living in Phoenix, Arizona. In this sculpture class, I want to let you in on the power of illustrators shape builder tool to combine, trim and create shapes for multiple paths. Are you ready for your illustration workflow to get easier? Let's get started. 2. Class Project: For this class, I'd like you to complete an illustration of a monster. I encourage you to construct your little guy from simple shapes, so that you can focus on ways to incorporate the shape builder tool into your workflow. When you post your project, include the final version, as well as a screenshot of your illustration and outline mode, so we can see those tidy pads. Feel free to use mine as inspiration or a template. You can find the step-by-step instructions on the sidebar of the class project tab. 3. Working in Pieces: I want to start off by saying that there are multiple ways to achieve the same results in Illustrator. In this course, I'm going to be showing you how to use the shape builder tool because that's what I personally use, and I found that it made my workflow on Illustrator a lot easier and a lot faster. Let me give you an example. If I wanted to make a crescent moon-shape then I could use the pathfinder tool. I have these two overlapping circles. I could select both of them, go to my pathfinder and hit minus front and what I'm left with is the crescent shape that I'm looking for. Or I could take those same two ellipses, select both of them, grab my shape builder and simply get rid of the shapes that I don't want. What's left is the exact same crescent shape. My point is that although I'm showing you the shape builder tool, you should use what you're most comfortable with. Ninety nine percent of the time I use the shape builder tool. But every once in a while, one of the pathfinder functions makes the most sense to me. That's totally okay. Now let's jump into it. The best way to have success with the shape builder tool is to start thinking like the shape builder tool. For example, I have this leaf over here that I drew. It's made up of eight separate shapes. I have this background shape in the back. I have six shapes on the sides, these little leaf segments, and then I have one shape going up the center. However, when I use shape builder tool, it's going to break this into pieces and those pieces are defined by where those shapes are overlapping. Even though I only drew eight shapes, you can see that the pieces that I have to work with from where all of these overlap is pretty immense. Even though this is one shape, it really gets broken into three pieces because it overlaps with this leaf right here, and it overlaps with the middle stem. The shape builder tool gives us access to all of these pieces to extract and combine and trim to get the final shape that we want. In the case of this leaf, you can see that I used shape builder tool to trim all the excess that was hanging off the outside leaf shape and then I also used it to combine all of these yellow shapes into one instead of having them be separate. If I look at what the outline of that looks like, you can see that everything is a lot neater. Another reason why I love the shape builder is it effortlessly gives me matching shared lines. To show you what I mean, I'm going to go into actual outline mode. I'm going to hit "Command" or "Control Y" on my keyboard or go up to view an outline. An outline mode trims away all of the excess and shows us only those paths that are making up our shapes. If I zoom in here, you can see that right here, I have a shared line where this line right here and the outside of the leaf meet is shared and by using the shape builder tool, it trimmed both of those to be exact. I don't have to worry about getting pretty close, but actually having this shape hang off a little bit. The shape builder does all of that for us and it does it perfectly every single time. Let me show you another example. Down here I have this pumpkin and I drew the outside pumpkin shape, I drew the crease shapes, which you can see are hanging off the bottom of the pumpkin. I drew the stem, which is just plopped on top of everything and then I have the top of the stem, which at this point just looks like a weird hat and doesn't even look like it belongs in the illustration. If I look at the outline, you can see that it's pretty crazy. We've got a lot of overlapping going on in here. We've got the weird cap up here and we've got the excess hanging off at the bottom. But as we talked about, I can look at this and see pieces. I know that I can use this outside pumpkin line to trim off all of this excess and then I can work out ways to trim the stem to fit perfectly within this pumpkin and again, trim the excess of these other lines. The same for the top of the stem. All I have to do is trim the excess based on where these two paths overlap. The final result I get is a lot cleaner and even better when I look at my paths, I can see that everything is lining up perfectly and my paths are overall more neat. Now, why do I care so much about everything being so perfectly neat? For one thing, it makes editing your illustrations a whole lot easier. Instead of just arranging things in a complex order and hoping that it looks okay, I know that everything is very precise and looking exactly as I want. It's easier for me to recolor. It's easier for me to group and re-layer things. It overall just makes my workflow a lot easier. One more example is that one common thing that has been happening in flat illustration is people like to have shadows on 1.5 of the illustration. Now, you could achieve this with the pathfinder tool, but you'd probably have to do it in multiple steps and make multiple copies of shapes to use as cutting guides. But with the shape builder tool, I can do it in one step. You can see I have this rectangle here that is black and at 15 percent opacity and I have it over the half of the illustration that I want to have a shadow. Well, since they're overlapping, I have access to this line to be able to perfectly trim the shadow that I don't want out of there. The same goes for down here. With one click, I'm able to get rid of all of that excess and have the perfect shadow over my illustration. Start trying to view your illustrations as pieces where the paths are overlapping instead of the separate shapes and you'll catch on to the shape builder tool very quickly. 4. Extracting and Combining: Let's get into using the shape builder tool. We're going to start by learning how to extract and combine shapes, and I'm going to use these two hexagons. I'm going to make them overlap, and although we know that we have two shapes here, we're going to think like shape builder, which means if I go into outline mode, you can see that I potentially have three pieces that I can work with to create new shapes. If I select both of these and hit "Shift M," you can see which is how I get to shape builder tool. It's also in your toolbar, it looks like a cloud or two circles of different sizes being joined together by a dotted line. You can see that if I go over these pieces, sure enough, it's registering them as separate pieces instead of two hexagons. If I want to extract a shape from these pieces, which is to say I want to make a new shape, all I have to do is click once, and if I exit outline mode and grab my selection tool, you can see that sure enough I was able to make a diamond from where they were intersecting. If I want to combine some shapes, then I select them, go in outline mode, hit "Shift M." All I have to do is click and drag. Now I combined that left shape with a diamond in the middle, and what I have left over is a hexagon and this shape over on the right-hand side. There are a few things that I want you to note. For one, when we're extracting, even though we know that we have two shapes here, and that there would technically be a blue diamond on top and a pink diamond beneath, where they're overlapping, shape builder tool is truly just seeing these as pieces. Which means it's not going to see two diamonds here, it's only going to see one. If I click to extract that diamond in the middle, and move it, you can see there's not anything left behind, it makes true cuts where those paths were overlapping. Another thing that's really great, that was a little bit harder to do with the Pathfinder tool, is I can have multiple shapes overlapping, and only tell the shape builder tool to pay attention to what I want to work on. Right now I have four hexagons, if I go into outline mode, you can see we've got a lot of paths overlapping and intersecting that I could create potential shapes from. However, let's say I only want to work with the front two hexagons. I can go ahead and select both of those, grab my shape builder tool, and combine or extract whatever I want to. Even though all of these paths were overlapping, shape builder tool only paid attention to the shapes that we selected, which is really nice. Now you can see I have leftover exactly what I thought I would, without disrupting these shapes up here. Let me show you how we can use these in action. I want to make a petal from these two shapes, and I'm going to do it from where they are intersecting. I'll hit "Shift M" and I'm going to extract that shape in the middle, and I don't need this, so I'm going to get rid of them. Now, I want to rotate this petal around in a circle in order to make the flower shape. I'm going to grab my rotate tool by hitting ''R'' on my keyboard, and I want to go ahead and click and drag this pink anchor point down to the bottom. That anchor point is telling the rotate tool where it should rotate the petal around. By default, it's in the center, but I want to rotate around this bottom point. Now I'm going to hold down "Option" or "Alt" on my keyboard, until I see those three dots next to my cursor. Do you see that? I'm going to click on that pink anchor point. That opens up the rotate dialog box, and now I can work on rotating this flower petal. One of the things I love most about Illustrator is it doesn't make me do math. It's going to do the math for me, and since I know I'm rotating this petal in a circle, I know I'm working with 360 degrees to begin with. Now, let's say I want 12 petals. Instead of having to do that math, I can just type in divided by 12 and hit "Tab", and Illustrator is going to let me know that that is 30 degrees. I want to make a copy from my original, and now to just duplicate that, I'm going to hit "Command" or "Control D" on my keyboard, until I have enough petals going around in the circle. Now I've got 12 petals making up my flower, all from just that extracted shape from those two overlapping circles. If I want to work on combining shapes like, you can see I have this cloud here, if I select them, you can see the cloud is made up of four separate shapes, but multiple pieces where they overlap. I select all of them, hit "Shift M," and I'm going to go ahead and draw a line to connect all of those, and now I have one shape. Now one thing you should know is that that was a pretty simple combine, so I didn't mind clicking and dragging to combine all of them. However, if I wanted to combine this flower into one shape instead of separate petals, you can see when I select everything, that I've got a lot of paths coming together here, and so it might actually be more work for me to try and click, and drag and make sure that I'm getting all of those pieces without leaving anything out. Sometimes if I have a really complex set of paths overlapping, instead of using the shape builder tool, I'll go to the Pathfinder just down here. If you don't see it in your sidebar, you can go to Window and Pathfinder, and I'm going to click on this "First Shape Mode," which is going to unite everything. That's that one percent I was talking about when sometimes the shape builder tool isn't what I go for and I go for a Pathfinder instead. In review, if you want to extract shapes from overlapping paths, all you have to do is click. If you want to combine them, you just have to click and drag. 5. Trimming: We've already made it through the most difficult part of the Shape Builder tool, and that's understanding that it works in pieces. Now that we've extracted and combined shapes, it's pretty easy to show how to trim them. In an earlier video, I showed you the example of the crescent moon, and to do that, all I had to do was trim some shapes away. So I'm going to go ahead and select both of these and I'll go into outline mode and to get my crescent moon shape, you can see that I already have it created here, which means that this shape in the middle and this piece over here are both extraneous and I don't need them. So I'm going to grab my shape builder tool by hitting Shift M. Instead of clicking and clicking or dragging, I'm going to hold down Option or Alt on my keyboard. You can see that the little plus sign next to my cursor turns into a minus sign, so I know that it's going to do what I want. I can either click one at a time or I can click and drag. Just like that, it gets rid of what I don't want. Let's look at another example. Down here, I have this palm leaf that I drew, and I have these extra shapes drawn on top, and these are sacrifice shapes. I drew them just so that I can use them to cut out pieces from the leaves. So I'm going to go ahead and select everything, hit Shift M, hold down Option on my keyboard, and I'm just going to do this all at once. Just going to pop into all of these to get rid of them. With one click and drag, I was able to make a much more intricate shape. To take it a bit further, we can put shadow on half of it like I showed you earlier. So I'm going to go ahead and draw a shape that goes roughly down the center of this. I don't care what the outside line looks like because we are going to be using the line of the leaf to dictate where it's trimmed. So I'm going to take this and set it to black. Change the opacity, something lower, we'll do 30. I'm going to select both shapes, hit Shift M, hold down Option and click once. Just like that, it looks like we have a shadow going across half of the leaf. Let's return back to the very first example I showed you, and let's use both trimming and combining to make a more interesting shape. The first thing I'm going to do is trim off the excess that's going across the outside of the leaf shape. I'll select everything, hit Shift M, hold down Option and click and drag and just go across all of these. That part's done. Looks like I have a little excess up here. I'll go over that. Now to combine these, I just stop holding down Option or Alt, and I'll just click and drag. If you didn't want to click and drag across all of these, you could open up the Pathfinder and do the Unite. Just like that they are one. Then if I wanted to make it even more interesting, I could select all of them. I got to get my Shape Builder tool first, hold down Option and click once and cut that shape out of the leaf shape, and now I have an even more interesting leaf. I was able to do both of those functions, both combining and trimming while using the same tool and just using different keys, and that's really where the Shape Builder tool is superior to the Pathfinder. I'm able to select everything at once and use one tool to create the shape that I want. 6. Strokes: The last thing I want to let you in on is that the shape builder tool works with strokes as well. For this example, I have this little vase of flowers and you can see that I have this decoration that I want to put onto the base, but it doesn't look so great just falling off the edges. So the first thing I want to do is select both of these strokes and the vase to use as my cutting line, and I'm going to grab my shape builder tool. Just like trimming anything else, I can hold down Option and sure enough, I'm able to trim a stroke the exact same way, and that's pretty cool. I'll grab these circles too, hit Shift M. Could I get in there? Trim the excess, and just like that, we have a little decorative vase. That's pretty cool that it works with strokes too. I would like to show you an advanced example of how powerful strokes can be in design. I am going to use the shape builder tool, but I'm also going to use a few other tools too. Like I said, they're a little bit more advanced, but I think it'll give you a good scope of how often I use the shape builder tool. I'm going to start by drawing a circle and I guess the color isn't that important, but there we go. I'm going to go ahead and make a copy by holding down Option, and clicking and dragging, and I'll hold down shift to make sure that it moves in the same line so that it stays aligned with it, and I'm going to turn this into a stroke. I turned that from a stroke to a fill to a stroke by hitting Shift X and I'm going to change the color, and bump up the stroke width, and I'm going to do the same thing on this side. To make sure that both of these are centered with the circle, I'm going to select both of them and group them temporarily. I'm going to hold down Shift and select the one in the middle and click it once to dedicate it or designate it as the thing that we are aligning these shapes to, go to my Align panel and do the center one, and now I can go ahead and, and ungroup these. Now, I want to select everything and hit Shift M, and I am going to trim the excess that's coming off the edges. So you might be able to tell what we're making now. Now I'm going to do an advanced move and that's okay, but what I'm going to do is do some little strokes. Copy that. I copy that again by holding down Option and dragging, and get that into place. Now I'm going to do a blend and a blend essentially takes two items and can put steps in between that are either amount of steps or they can be colors. So I'm going to grab my blend tool and I'm going to click once here and once on the second one, and you can see that it put an even amount of the same object in between them. Seven is good. Now, obviously, I want them and if you can't tell yet, we're making a baseball, I want these to line up perfectly with this, so I'm going to grab both of these things and make a copy. Select both of them, and go to Object, Blend, Replace Spine. It's okay if you're not totally following me here, blends are for a different day. But I just wanted to show you an example of how else we can use strokes and the shape builder tool. Now I've got these little lines in place and I actually don't want these ones that are hanging off the edge, and if I wanted, I could use the shape builder tool by first going to expand. Again, this is advanced, but the reason I need to expand it is because right now, the way that these intermediate shapes are being created are by an algorithm that Illustrator is computing and we want to turn it into usable shapes. So that is what expanding does. It says, "Thanks for doing all your math, but I like how it is and I'm ready to accept it." I'm going to move this out of the way because I think we have two. No, we don't have two copies. Never mind. Move this into place and now, instead of using these as strokes, I am going to do something that I like to do a lot, which is outline the strokes. I'm going to go to object, path, outline stroke, and what that did is it kept the shape, but now instead of being strokes, these are actually filled shapes. I can go ahead and go to the Unite tool, and now they're one shape. I can select the shape behind it, hit Shift M, and now I can trim this little bit of excess that's hanging off. Now, all I have to do is hold down Option and Shift to make a copy. I'm going to right-click and go to Reflect. I want to reflect it vertically so that I can pop it into place over here. I'm going to hide it temporarily by hitting Command 3 so that I can delete this Option Command 3 and it comes right back, and now I can pop it into place here. I like to do that by going into Outline mode, it makes it a lot easier for me to see. Just like that, I was able to make a baseball by using strokes and the shape builder tool, and blends, of course, to make a finished design. 7. Thank You!: Thank you so much for taking this course. Illustrator has some powerful functions. Although it can be daunting to learn them all, getting familiar with even just a few multi-use tools can really get you feeling more comfortable with the program. Can't wait to see your little creatures. 8. Bonus! Time-lapse of Ernie the Excitable: