How to Divide Basic Shapes into Component Pieces in Adobe Illustrator

There are many methods that can be used to break shapes apart in Illustrator. In this post, we'll explore ways the Pathfinder Panel can create compound paths, or split shapes into divided, separate objects.

  1. Open the Pathfinder Panel by going to Window > Pathfinder.
  2. To combine multiple objects into one, select the shapes, then go to the Pathfinder Panel and click Unite.
    Pathfinder Panel
  3. Compound paths can be thought of as a shape within a shape, or multiple shapes combined to create transparency, such as the center of the letter "o", or the space between the dot and the stem in a lowercase "i". Select the shapes, go to the Pathfinder Panel and click Minus Front.
    Pathfinder Panel
  4. Another option in the Pathfinder Panel's Shapes section is Intersect:
    Pathfinder Panel
  5. Then Exclude, where shapes are created both inside and outside the overlap:
    Pathfinder Panel
  6. Nothing appears to change when the Exclude option is applied. To understand what it did, double-click the object on the artboard to enter Isolation Mode.
  7. In Isolation Mode, the individual shapes that make up the compound object can be edited. Here I've moved the shapes apart and applied different colors. To exit isolation and return to the normal mode, go to the top-left of the document window and click the Back button twice until the gray isolation bar disappears.
    Isolation Mode
  8. The Pathfinder Panel can also be used with shapes and lines, as well as shapes and shapes. Here, I have a sail shape selected as well the three intersecting lines. In the Pathfinder Panel, clicking Divide will divide the shape wherever the lines intersect.
    Pathfinder Panel
  9. I've edited the individual shapes without having to enter Isolation Mode because each shape is a stand-alone object.
    Edited Shapes
Author: Kate Cahill

Kate Cahill is a graphic designer, writer, and creative director who has developed content for print and web. As creative director, she has produced award-winning work for agencies focused on the pharmaceutical and health and beauty aid industries. She has also served as production manager, with responsibility for the successful fulfillment of long-run print contracts. Kate has been delivering training for Webucator clients since 2010. Her enthusiasm for cutting-edge technology, combined with hands-on practical experience, brings an added benefit to her classes. Kate teaches real-world techniques and integration of Adobe software, as well as Microsoft PowerPoint, to produce a fully developed and cohesive brand identity.

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