Illustrator is a vector-based design program used primarily to create graphics, typography, icons, logos, etc. So, whether you are creating comics for an online publication or making designs for your apparel company, Illustrator is your one-stop shop. A library of tools will help you accomplish any task with ease. Some tools are unique to Illustrator compared to Adobe’s other design software like Photoshop or InDesign, like the knife tool.
Illustrator’s knife tool might get overlooked in its usefulness, but there are plenty of instances when it comes in handy.
- Cutting a Straight Path (Object or Text)
- Cutting a Freehand Path (Object or Text)
- Dividing a Cut Object or Text
- Trimming Objects or Text
Let’s take a more detailed look at the uses for the knife tool in Illustrator and the step-by-step process of executing these commands.
The knife tool is used primarily to cut a shape into smaller fragments or divide shapes on a cut path. Where you find the knife tool is dependent on the version of Illustrator you are using. It could be located with the eraser tool in the tools panel (CS3/CS5) or the scissors tool in the tools panel (CS2). In one version, CS4, the knife tool has its own icon in the tools panel. The icon resembles a serrated kitchen knife, so it’s easily identifiable.
1. Cutting a Straight Path (Object or Text)
Any vector shape can be cut using the knife tool in Illustrator. If you want to cut a raster shape, you must trace it first and make it editable. To do this, go to Windows>Image Trace in Illustrator. A panel will appear where you can select mode and adjust paths, corners, and noise under the “Advanced” menu. Once you’re done, choose “Expand” and save your vector image— now it’s ready for editing.
To cut a straight path on an object or text, choose the knife tool from the toolbar. Remember, the knife tool will be found in different places, depending on what version of Illustrator you’re using. Draw a path through the object or text by holding down the “Option” key for Mac or the “Alt” key for Windows. Don’t worry if your hand wobbles while you drag the knife tool across the object; it will be straight regardless.
If you want to cut a perfect 90˚ angle in your shape, you hold down both “Option+Shift” as you cut your path. Whatever angle your line is closest to will instantly click into that angle. So, if it’s most relative to a 45˚ angle, that’s what your straight link will set it there.
2. Cutting a Freehand Path (Object or Text)
Like cutting a straight path, if you’re working with a raster shape, you will need to trace it and make it editable. Select the knife tool from the toolbar according to your version of Illustrator, and drag it across the shape without holding down any keys.
Keep in mind that the path will look exactly how you moved your hand when cutting across with the knife tool, meaning if you moved your hand up and down as you moved it across the object or text, you’re going to have a curvy line. So, keep a steady hand to ensure the path looks the way you intended. You always have the option of undoing the cut path if you don’t like it— select Edit>Undo.
3. Dividing a Cut Object or Text
Perhaps you’ve just cut across an object or text, and you want to separate the two or more sections; you have to show negative space or add something later. You can do this with the knife tool as well. First, you have to make the necessary cuts to the shape. Once you do, you can utilize your “Selection” tool to move the new shapes around however you would like.
Note: If you have multiple shapes overlapping one another, be sure to select all shapes if you want your cuts to travel across all objects or choose the shape(s) you want to cut with the knife tool to isolate the ones you don’t wish to cut.
4. Trimming Objects or Text
If there is a section of the shape or text you’re working on that you don’t want in the overall design, you can trim it entirely. Just be sure that the cut is complete when you are cutting the path with the knife tool. If it doesn’t fully reach both ends of the object or text, you could delete the entire object or letter.
Once you’ve made your cut and double-checked that you can fully separate the shapes, using the “Selection” tool, you can move on to trimming. Make the part you want to trim is selected only, and then press “Delete” on your keyboard, and the shape should disappear. If you make a mistake and delete the wrong section go to Edit>Undo and start over.
If you have this version of Illustrator, you may have noticed that the knife tool is nowhere to be found. Don’t worry; the knife tool is still accessible in your version of Illustrator. Illustrator CC 2019 has a customizable toolbar that allows you to move, add or subtract any tool from your toolbar. After you customize your toolbar, you can save it by selecting “New Workspace” under your “Workspace” menu and renaming it to whatever you’d like.
If you don’t want to bother with the customization, you can simply change your workspace to “Essentials Classic,” and the knife tool will appear. If Illustrator seems too complex, there are more user-friendly options to create designs and logos, like Placeit.net— this website provides you with a whole library of templates and ideas and allows for unique customization in just a few easy steps.
The knife tool can be quite handy when illustrating or designing your next piece. The commands are simple and easy to remember to get the desired effect with your paths. It will become muscle memory once you’ve executed them a handful of times, second nature.