Illustrator is a vector-based software that makes you make different shapes, characters, objects, or an imaginary world. Graphic designers like me widely use it for digital and printed images, including character animation, charts, diagrams, graphs, logos, illustrations and videos. 

Are you exploring how to improve your Adobe Illustrator skills?  You're in the right place! In this blog, we want to let you understand that how to use Pathfinder in Illustrator tools, which allows us to create various vector objects with just a click. 

Even though there are many ways by which you can do it, Illustrator is a diverse software. But, if your expertise includes this tool, your workflow and efficiency will undoubtedly increase.

And the tool I am talking about is the Pathfinder tool in Illustrator. 

What is Pathfinder?

Seeing the name of this tool, you may think it helps find paths. But that's not the case; this tool has no relation to finding paths!

So why did Adobe name the tool ‘Pathfinder?' it is still a question left unanswered. 

So, for what design purposes can you use Pathfinder? The Pathfinder tool in Illustrator enables you to customize various shapes in a simple and clean manner. 

If you are familiar with Illustrator, you may have played with the Pathfinder palette occasionally.

To many people, the Pathfinder tool seems confusing, and they tend to go for a hit-and-trial method by clicking all the options available to get results rather than understanding the basics of this tool. This is why people sometimes avoid it and go with other options in Illustrator.

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How can you open Pathfinder?

To open Pathfinder, 

Go to the Windows→pathfinder option.

Or, you can also use the shortcut → Shift + Ctrl. + F9

Understanding and using the Pathfinder tool

The pathfinder tool in Illustrator has two sub-options:

  • Shape Modes
  • Pathfinders
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The main technical difference between both is that shape modes create new polygons of a single colour, while Pathfinders break existing shapes into distinct paths using the colours of the original objects. 

Let us understand the options available in shape modes and pathfinders individually. 

Shape Modes

1. Unite

The ‘Unite' option, understandable by its name, unites two objects or shapes as one with the same outline. The final object or form gets the colour of the object that is on top. This tool is perfect for creating complex vector forms and putting them together.

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For example, take a look at the image. There are two circular objects of different colours. The blue object comes on top of the other to unite and become a single form that acquires a full blue colour. 

2. Minus Front

Minus Front allows you to divide the object in the back by the object in the front. It removes the top shape layers and overlaps, leaving only the bottom form and color.

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In the image, you can see that the portion overlapped by the blue object was removed. 

3. Intersect

Intersect traces the outline of the region that is overlapped by all of the objects. Its actions generate a new shape by displaying the overlapped portion and eliminating the top and bottom shape layers.

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Look at the image; when you use the Intersect option, you can see that the portion excluding the common area shared by the two circular objects is eliminated. You will also find that the colour of the intersected portion is that of the object on top.

4. Exclude

The name of the shape mode option says it all. The tool basically allows you to exclude the overlapped area and trace the rest of the objects together. The final object's colour gets the top object's colour, like other options.

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In the image, you can see that the intersected area is eliminated using the Exclude option. Moreover, you might have also noticed that the colour of the whole form is the colour of the original object on top. 


1. Divide

When you select the divide option, all of the overlapped regions become their independent piece of artwork. It divides the original shapes into three layers: top, overlap, and bottom, consisting of three separate paths.

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In the image, you may find some areas missing. These areas are the intersecting areas that are eliminated with the divide option. 

2. Trim

This option only removes the hidden part of the object in the back by the object at the top. Both objects still have their colours as a result. It doesn't merge the objects with the same colour and removes the strokes.

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The image shows that the two shapes are separated, and the intersecting portion is trimmed off from the shape at the bottom. 

3. Merge

The Merge option also removes the hidden part of the object at the back by the object in the top-like trim. But, the only difference in this option is that it merges the objects with the same colour and removes the stroke, like the trim option. The difference between trim and merge is minute and confuses many designers.

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The image shows that the shapes' merge' and form a single form, just like it sounds. The colour of the new form will be the same as the colour of the shape on top. 

4. Crop

The crop option crops the bottom object and deletes artwork elements that fall outside the uppermost object's boundaries. It also gets rid of the strokes.

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From the image, you can see that I was able to crop the portions other than the intersecting portion by using crop. The new form, which is actually the intersecting portion, acquires the color of the shape lying below in the original. 

5. Outline 

As this option name says, it makes the objects into outlines or strokes. These outlines can then be individually selected using the Selection Tool (V) after being ungrouped with Shift+Command+G.

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From the image, you can see that the outlines of all images are traced using the outline option. 

6. Minus Back

It does the opposite of the minus front option. It subtracts the object at the top from the object in the back.

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From the image, you can see that the shape below and the overlapping portion get eliminated, leaving behind the rest of the shape on top. 

All set to use the Pathfinder Tool in the right way?

The Pathfinder Tool in Illustrator is ideal for making last-minute work appear simple. The tool can manipulate shapes and routes, which might help you increase productivity. It is critical to master the tool because it allows you to design complex forms simply.

The tool gives you complete creative flexibility and allows you to build bespoke shapes tailored to your needs. Using all of the Pathfinder tool's Effects will enable you to construct exact compound shapes.

I hope this blog gave you a good base to understand what a Pathfinder is and your options while using Adobe Illustrator. Many other tools, like the Transform, Pencil, Curvature, etc., are must-knows for a graphic designer. 

If you have any doubts or feel you could help, please Contact Us!

                                                                                                                                Editor: Amrutha

Frequently Asked Questions

Select the objects you want to manipulate to use the Pathfinder tool in Adobe Illustrator. Then, go to the “Window” menu and open the “Pathfinder” panel. The Pathfinder panel offers various operations, such as unite, subtract, intersect, and exclude, which allow you to combine, divide, or modify the selected shapes and paths. Simply click on the desired Pathfinder operation to apply it to the selected objects.

The Pathfinder tool in Illustrator performs operations on selected shapes and paths. It can combine, subtract, intersect, or exclude objects, allowing you to create complex shapes, cut shapes into new forms, or merge multiple objects into a single shape. It's a powerful tool for creating custom vector artwork and simplifying complex vector compositions.

To use Pathfinder in a group of objects in Illustrator, select the group containing the objects you want to manipulate. Then, open the “Pathfinder” panel from the “Window” menu. You can apply Pathfinder operations to the entire group, and the tool will treat the grouped objects as a single unit, creating new shapes or modifying them based on the chosen operation.

The Pathfinder tool in Illustrator is primarily designed for vector shapes and paths, so it cannot be used directly on raster images like photos. However, you can use Illustrator's image tracing features to convert a photo into vector shapes, and then apply Pathfinder operations to those vector shapes. Keep in mind that the quality of the vectorization process depends on the complexity of the image and may require some manual adjustments.