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Creating Custom Shapes In Illustrator is Faster

Photoshop is great for a lot of things, but some tasks I prefer to do in Illustrator, simply because I can do them much quicker there. One of those tasks is building complex and precise shapes. Honestly I feel like I can build custom complex shapes in Illustrator in a fraction of the time that I can in Photoshop. I am going to show you how to make shapes in Illustrator quickly and easily, using a few key tools and features.

Open a new document and create a document that is 600 x 450. You can make it whatever size you need, but this will be the size of the document that I am using. Just like in Photoshop, you have the Ellipse Tool, The Rectangle Tool, The Rounded Rectangle Tool, and then you have the Polygon Tool, The Star Tool and the Flare Tool. You can use these tools to lay the groundwork for just about any shape. You will need to consider what you can combine to create the shape you need. For example, if you want to create a custom + symbol, then you would take the Rectangle Tool and Create one rectangle.

Rectangle Shapes In Illustrator

Depending on the style of your + symbol, you could make it thick or thin. Then, with the rectangle still active as a selection, hit Command/Ctrl +C to copy the shape, then hit Command/Ctrl + B(to paste in back) or F(to paste in front). Your copy will still be active, so select the Selection Tool, and the bounding box will appear. Then, You can hold Shift and rotate the shape in 45° increments until you have the + Symbol. The advantage to this approach is that your symbol will be equal in size and shape vertically and horizontally.

Group Shapes In Illustrator

Your options from here depends on what your needs are. You could group these two objects together if you want to keep them together, while keeping them separate and editable. Simply hit Command/Ctrl + G to group them, and add shift to the same keyboard combo to ungroup them. If you want to combine these two rectangles into one shape, then you will want to use one of two different options:

Shapes in Illustrator Using The Pathfinder Panel

The first  one is the Pathfinder Panel. This is where you can combine shapes, subtract overlapping areas between shapes and much more. The options, starting from the top left and working from left to right are:

Combine Shapes In Illustrator

Unite- This option combines the selected shapes into one complete shape. This can apply to multiple shapes.

Minus Shapes In Illustrator

Minus Front – When you have 2 objects, this will take the top object in the stack and subtract its shape from the bottom object.

Intersect Shapes In Illustrator

Intersect – This will take 2 overlapping shapes and get rid of everything, except where the 2 shapes overlap.

Exclude Shapes In Illustrator

Exclude –  This does the opposite of Intersect and removes the overlapping areas of your shapes.

Shapes in Illustrator Using The Shape Builder Tool

The Shape Builder Tool is another great option for building custom shapes. This tool makes it easy to create custom shapes in Illustrator.

Shape Builder Tool Shapes In Illustrator

When you hover over a section of your artwork in Illustrator, that area becomes filled with a halftone-like pattern. This lets you know that the Shape Builder Tool is over that area.

Shift Shapes In Illustrator

If you hold shift while you click and drag over multiple areas, it will combine all of the pieces that you’d selected.

Option Shapes In Illustrator

If You hold down Option while you click and drag over areas of your shapes, it will subtract those pieces from the shape. Using the Shape Builder Tool makes it really fast and easy to make complex shapes in Illustrator. You have precise control over what you include in your custom shape and what you leave out.


Custom Shapes In Illustrator

Making custom shapes such as the one shown above using the Pen tool would be tedious and time consuming. However, creating a few precise, native shapes, overlapping them, and subtracting the parts you don’t need saves you a ton of time. It is also more precise than creating each curve by hand with the Pen Tool.

Do you have any time saving tricks for creating shapes in Illustrator? If so, post them in the comments section below.