I’ve been using InDesign since my sophomore year of high school, so it’s definitely the Adobe program I’m most comfortable with. I used it in yearbook in high school and as a journalism student in college. Now, I’m using it at work almost every day.
However, I’ve found that no matter how long you’ve been using a program, you can always learn new shortcuts. It wasn’t until my junior year of college (six years after I first opened InDesign) that I found out about the Pathfinder tool.
Holy cow. Now that I’ve learned how to use Pathfinder, my designing time has decreased incredibly. Let me show you how.
How to Use Pathfinder
First of all, let’s talk about what Pathfinder is used for. It’s a tool you can use to add and subtract objects from each other. For example, you could use it to combine two circles and a triangle to form a heart, or subtract a small circle from a larger circle to create a donut.
If only it created a real donut, though. Om nom nom.
Where to Find Pathfinder
I personally keep Pathfinder in my InDesign sidebar at all times. If it doesn’t show up for you, though, simply click on “Window,” go down to “Object & Layout,” and click on “Pathfinder.”
When you click on it to open the options, it will look like this:
It might not be super obvious what all of the icons mean at first, but after you start playing around with them it will start to make sense. There’s a lot in there, so we’re going to just stick with the icons labeled “Pathfinder” for now.
Adding Objects Together
The first icon is probably the one I use the most. It’s used to combine two objects; the icon shows two squares being added together to create… some sort of eight-point polygon. I don’t really know what you would call it. A crooked bow tie maybe?
To combine the two objects, you have to make sure they’re both highlighted. If you’re using the addition tool, you can highlight as many objects as you want and combine them into one. Subtraction should just have two at a time.
The important thing to note is that the new object will use the style (color, outline, etc) of the object that’s on top of the other object(s). So, for example…
Here, the black circle is on top of the pink circle. So when we use the first icon to combine the circles, you get…
A black shape. On the other hand…
When the pink circle is on top….
You get a pink shape! Make sense?
Well, these shapes haven’t exactly been helpful so far. Unless you’re a science teacher looking to illustrate mitosis to your students. But have no fear, there are many more uses for Pathfinder! Let’s try one out, shall we?
How to Create a Yin-Yang Using Pathfinder
This was one of my first projects using Pathfinder in my graphic design class in college. And it really stuck with me and proved how useful Pathfinder can be, so I wanted to share.
First, we want to start out with two large circles (one directly on top of the other), two small circles that are half the diameter of the large circles, laid out in the center of the other circle. Then you’ll want a rectangle that “divides” the large circle in half. Like this:
Not very much yet, right? Well have patience, grasshopper.
First we’re going to subtract the rectangle from one of the two larger circles. Because I want the right side to be black, I filled in one of the two large circles with black, and the rectangle with white (for illustration purposes only; you don’t have to have it filled in if you don’t want to.)
Then, we use the second icon under Pathfinder to subtract the top layer (in this case, the rectangle) from the bottom layer (the black circle).
Which gives us…
Another weird-looking shape.
Do you see why we needed two large circles directly on top of each other now? Without the second one, there wouldn’t be anything to create the white half of the yin-yang. It’s little things like this that take a little bit of practice to get used to.
Now we want to add one of the smaller circles to the half-circle we’ve just created. We can do either, but I’ve decided to do the top one. I colored it in black for illustration purposes, but because the half-circle is already black and is on top of the small circle, it would have turned the new shape black anyway.
Then we’ll use the addition tool (the first icon) to combine the two objects.
It’s starting to come together! Now we have to subtract the bottom small circle from the black shape. So highlight the two and use the second icon, because you want to subtract the bottom layer (the small circle) from the top layer (the weird black shape).
Which gives us…
Not bad right? Now you can just add two small dots and be done!
But if you wanted to be super slick about it, you’d highlight the black and white shapes and use the last icon to subtract the top layer (the black shape) from the bottom layer (the white shape). Then you can pull them apart without it getting all wonky…
Okay, so it’s still a little wonky-looking, but you get the point.
Using Pathfinder takes a little bit to get used to, but once you understand how it works, you can save a lot of time. Creating a yin-yang with Pathfinder is much easier than trying to freehand the whole thing.
A yin-yang might not be the most practical use of Pathfinder (very few people need a yin-yang graphic every day…) but it really shows how the different options work.
Do you use Pathfinder? For what?
Jenn @ OA and BL&D says
Super cool! I never draw anything in InDesign because I thought it really wasn’t suited to it as well as Illustrator, but this is pretty awesome! Illustrator could do one thing better – the Path>Divide Objects Below option would split the circle in half instead of just deleting half of it. BUT I don’t currently know how to add two objects together in Illustrator and that would be a huge time saver!!! (unlike the trick I just mentioned – because it’s almost as easy to just make multiple shape and “subject” from each to get all the shapes you need)
Seriously the way I do it now is to add extra anchor points, delete one to “open” the shape, then position the shapes as closely together as possible and connect the lines. It’s not terribly precise and it’s not all that quick either. Now what I’m wondering is, if InDesign can combine 2 shapes automatically, does Illustrator also have a way to do that… (To the Google!!!)
Ooof, that sounds super frustrating! I don’t use Illustrator much because I’m so comfortable with InDesign, so I don’t know if it can do something similar! Let me know if you find out! 🙂
Brooke Knipp says
I would love to know how to use any of this! When I did yearbook in high school, we literally had to cut and paste photos onto templates and send them in to the company. That was only the mid-late 90’s! Crazy how much is possible now.
Haha! That’s so crazy!
Cynthia @craftoflaughter says
You are a wealth of information and my go to person! I loved this tutorial!
Shann Eva says
Wow. I’m new to design, so this is a great tutorial. I’ve never even heard of this before. Thanks for the great step by step instructions.
You’re welcome! Hopefully it helps! 🙂
Jess Rey says
we have something in common….I did 2 years of yearbook in high school. I do not remember the program used but I need to look into this. I have never heard of InDesign. It looks pretty cool!
Wow, that looks super cool! I’ve never used pathfinder and I’ve only used InDesign when designing a newspaper layout at work. I definately should start using it more and learn some new ways to use it!
Love this! Huge fan of pathfinder 🙂
It’s seriously the best!
Trish Nicholas says
These are pretty cool programs, I’ll be looking into them. Thanks!
Glad I could help, Trish!