Illustrator Tip: Compound Path

Illustrator can be a bit tricky sometimes, especially when there are so many ways to accomplish something. According to Adobe, “compound paths act as grouped objects” and they also say,
“When you define objects as a compound path, all objects in the compound path take on the paint and style attributes of the backmost object in the stacking order.”
Still awake? Ok good. All that means is that it’s easy to get a compound path mixed up with a group. I’ll show you a quick example of when a compound path might be handy.

Let’s say you want to make a shape like this:

This simple little shape can't be cut out with a group, you must use a compound path

I’ll quickly show you how using a compound path, you can make it!

First, make a shape close to this using the pen tool or reshaping a rectangle

Now we need to grab the rotate tool and alt-click where the center of the circle should be. This should bring up the dialog box pictured below. Check the preview box to see where your shape will end up as you put in a number. I used the number 60 to end up with 6 shapes (360/60 = 6). Click copy to duplicate the shape into place.

Hint: use the copy button on the rotation tool to quickly duplicate your shape in a circular pattern

To speed this up and keep everything properly centered, just hit cmd/ctrl+D to repeat the copy until you have enough shapes.

Use cmd/ctrl+D to skip the menu

If you add a rectangle behind your shapes, you should have something that looks like what’s below. Go ahead and group the “rays” or “blades” together.

Now with both objects selected, if you were to hit the “intersect” button in the pathfinder panel (pictured below), you would be hit with a warning message.

With only your group selected, we can make a compound path by navigating to Object > Compound Path > Make.

Use cmd/ctrl+8 to quickly perform this step

Now before you hit intersect, my recommendation is that you first select the object in the back, and quickly hit cmd/ctrl+C and cmd/ctrl+F to paste a copy in front to intersect with. That way, when the shapes have been trimmed, you still have a rectangle in the back, like this.

Now throw a circle over your new shape, hit “Unite” in the Pathfinder panel, tweak the color a bit and you’re done! Sorry it’s not prettier, but hopefully you get the idea. If you have any trouble following this tip, or if you find it useful, please let me know in the comments!

This simple little shape can't be cut out with a group, you must use a compound path