Shape Builder tool tutorial for Adobe Illustrator: ONe Advanced Trick

shape builder tool tutorial cover image

Adobe Illustrator is a vector-based application. This means you can create illustrations and artwork that can be scaled to any size. You can either use a digital pen or the inbuilt pen tool to make complex shapes, but this shape builder tutorial will let you create any shape you want, perfectly.

The shape builder tool in Adobe Illustrator lets you create complex shapes by either combining or subtracting two or more overlapping objects. This process is fast and simple, yielding great results. 

But as it is with all the tutorials from Techcity Times, we try to find some unique and new use of simple tools in Illustrator and the shape builder tool is not an exception. At the end of this article, we have included a way with which you can speed up a very complex process. 

Basics with the shape builder tool

To understand the very basics of the shape builder tool, let’s see a very simple process to understand what this tool does. 

Step 1– Let’s make two shapes, one square and the other, a circle. I’ll color both these differently for better distinction. I use colorhunt to choose the colors and this is not sponsored by them. It’s just great for choosing colors.

A square and a circle

Step 2– As shown in the image, Let’s keep the circle right above the square. I’ve sized them equally so that the circle fits inside. 

Adding two shapes together

Step 3– Select both the shapes and click on the shape builder tool on the toolbar. It looks like a direct selection arrow on a shape.

Step 4– As you hover the shape builder arrow over the shapes, you can see different shapes are being highlighted. This indicates what shape will be created. Now comes the important part. 

Note– Clicking on any shape with the shape builder tool will create the shape within the borders. Clicking the shape while pressing the Option (Alt for Windows) key will delete the area of the shape. Let’s see the example. 

Step 5– With both the shapes selected, select the shape builder, press Option (Alt for Windows), and click on the circle inside the square. The circle will be gone, leaving a hollow square. This is the basic use of the shape builder tool. 

Cutting a shape using shape builder tool

Of course, this basic function does not seem very helpful and it isn’t. This was just to show what the shape builder can do. In the next part, we’ll see the things you can make using the shape builder. 

Patterns using shape builder tutorial

Another great thing that can be made using the shape builder is complex structures that can be used as patterns. These are simple structures that can be made very easily. Let me show some tutorials. 

Step 1– Make two triangles of a different color, the same size. Turn one triangle 180º and then place it over the other one as shown in the image.

Step 2– Select both the shape (which now resembles a star) and then select the shape builder tool (shortcut: Shift+M). 

Making patterns using shape builder tool

Step 3– While pressing down Option or Alt key, click on the center of the shape to remove the area inside, keeping only the edges.

This gives you a star-like shape with a hollow center. This can be used as a pattern. But there’s more. You can use other shapes as well. 

Making a star using shape builder tool

Here, I have used a pentagon and did the same process as the triangle one. Take a look at the images…

These mountains (shown below) were created very easily. First, take three triangles and place them side by side after resizing them. Then select all the triangles and choose the shape builder tool. 

Illustration of a mountain

Click on the first triangle, hold and then start selecting all the triangles, as if you are drawing a line. This will make the three triangles as one complex shape. Now let’s change the color to something that resembles a mountain. I have used c99a66. 

creating mountain illustration using shape builder

Now let’s use the pen tool to make a rough snowcap for the mountain. Remember, only the bottom part matters, the top part will be removed using the shape builder. I have changed the color of the snow so that you can see how it looks.

Adding snow caps on the mountain

Using the shape builder, get rid of the part that is not needed and you get the snow-capped effect on the mountain. This example was just to show how many things can be done using this tool. 

Read more tutorials for Adobe Illustrator:

Complex image tracing 

Here’s how the shape builder tool can be of great help in processing image tracing and getting the desired results. This is the secret trick that we talked about and we are sure that this will make your image tracing much much easier. 

So suppose you get a picture and want to trace it using the image tracing feature of Illustrator. I have chosen this black and white image to serve as an example. This picture is taken from Unsplash and it belongs to Zulmaury Saavedra.

Step 1- Take the image and place it on the Illustrator artboard. 

Step 2– To trace it, go to Window>> Image trace. Choose 16 colors and then press on expand. 

Now the whole purpose of tracing the image was so that I could get rid of the background and have the image on the foreground. But I have run into a problem. Look at the image below. 

Tracing an image on Illustrator

Now, If I want to remove the background, it will remove the hair of the subject as well. This is a problem. How should we tackle it? With the shape builder tool. Let’s see the solution. 

Both the image in background and foreground are selected

Step 1– First, using the pen tool, create an outline around the subject’s hair to separate the background and the subject. I’ll use red color and the thinnest line breadth, 0.25.

Step 2– Create the outline. 

Step 3– Using the shape builder tool. Select both the line and the image and click on the shape builder tool icon. It may take some time for your computer to process it. 

Shape builder tool separates the two conjoined parts

Step 4– As you can see from the image above, the background and the subject have been separated smoothly and now we can isolate it. 

Step 5– Using the Option+Click method, remove the unwanted background with the shape builder. The processing will take some time, let it happen. There you go, getting rid of the background was never this easy.

Final image of the shape builder tutorial

Here are some examples of different shapes you can make using just simple squares and circles. Again, this is just to show what you can do with it. Not just shapes, but you can create great typography designs using these tricks. Just remember that before you use the shape builder tool on text, convert them into outlines. You can learn one more typography tutorial here to make great text illustrations.

Basics of shape builder tool

The shape builder tool is a powerful tool that is often ignored. Once you get accustomed to using it, you can create complex illustrations of objects with so much ease. And as we do in all our tutorials, you are always encouraged to take the basics from here and practice with the tool, create anything you want, experiment with it to learn new routes of using the tool. Till the next tutorial, keep creating and keep learning.

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