If you’ve read many of my tutorials, you know I love compound paths. Maybe it’s because when I explain them, I use a donut as an illustration. LOL! Understanding compound paths and how they differ from groupings is KEY to designing and altering shapes in Silhouette Studio. If you haven’t read my explanation using pancakes and donuts as a word picture, check out this post. (Just don’t do it when you’re hungry).
But as much as I love them, there are times you do NOT want to use them. In this post, I’m going to give you an example of a time when you should use something other than a compound path.
Note: This post contains affiliate links. That means if you click the link and purchase something, I may receive a small commission. You pay the same price. This helps me to be able to keep my business going and provide more tutorials.
The basic design
Here’s a simple design, a pair of sunglasses (you can find it in the Silhouette Design Store here).
Notice that I filled the design with color and raised the transparency to around 35%. I always do the former right away with any shape, which makes it easier to grab and gives me information about the design. See how the part over the bridge of the nose is darker? That’s because it’s a separate piece sitting on top of the main piece. I know that because I filled the design with color. Once in a while, a designer will fill a piece with white and it looks like a compound path but is really a grouping. Don’t let that fool you. If you can ungroup at all, it’s not a compound path.
We’re going to be working with some Modify options. A grouping will always act differently than a compound path with any Modify tool. So, I need to make those 2 pieces into 1 compound path. They may or may not be grouped together, depending on how the design created the image. In this case, they are grouped so selecting the larger shape will also get the smaller one. If yours isn’t grouped, make sure to select all the pieces. Then make them into a compound path in one of these ways:
- Right click menu
- Object drop down menu
- Modify panel
- Keyboard shortcut CTRL+e (Windows) or CMD+e (Mac)
Now that piece over the nose is a hole. That’s just what we want.
I also raise the transparency any time I use a Modify tool because it helps me predict what will happen. You’ll see more of that in the next steps.
Adding ovelapping elements
I want to add some beachy designs on the sunglasses and use those to make holes in the glasses. I used–
- palm trees
- phrase in a font called The Hustle
Notice that portions of my shapes and text fall outside the glasses, and that the sun overlaps the palm trees. That’s a key detail.
I filled each of my shapes with a different color and raised the transparency to that 35%. That’s going to help in several ways.
- You want each of your shapes to be a compound path. I found out by zooming in that one piece of the palm tree design is just grouped with the rest of it. By filling with color I can see that because it’s not a hole. And because I raised the transparency, I can see that it’s hiding behind the main portion of the tree.
If I didn’t make that into a compound path with the rest of the tree, I would lose it (more on that below).
- Front to back/top to bottom order is going to make a BIG difference, and it’s easy to see the order when my shapes are filled with a semi-transparent color.
- The colors will help me predict the outcome.
If your text is a block font, you’ll be fine as the letters don’t overlap. Letters of script fonts do overlap, so you’d need to Weld it first. (This is one of the very few times I recommend welding a script font. In most cases, there’s a better way which you can read about in this post). As with any Modify option, make a copy of the text box before you do, or else you won’t be able to edit it or identify the font. Yep, I learned that the hard way so many times!
Why a compound path doesn’t work
Let’s pretend for a moment that I didn’t have anything falling outside the glasses. If that were the case, I could just make everything into a compound path to create my design. It’s a simple way to turn pancakes into donuts (read the post linked in the introductory paragraph to understand that). That works because all the portions of the palm trees, sun and phrase are surrounded by the sunglasses.
But look what happens when I do that to the original layout. We have some funky stuff going on.
Let’s zoom in and look at the area where the sun was falling outside the glasses. That’s something you would only use in rare circumstances, because those rays outside the sun are barely connected to the overall design.
That same thing happens where the palm trees and phrase fall outside the sunglasses. It also happens where the sun overlaps the palm trees.
And if I had been using a script font and hadn’t welded the letters, I would get those separate little areas where the letters overlap.
Here’s what happened. When I made everything into a single compound path, I was telling the software to take all my selected shapes and make them into a single piece, retaining all of everything. Going back to our pancakes and donuts analogy, it’s kinda like I cut a hole in the pancake to make it look more like a donut, but then realized I still have that portion I took out.
Subtract the shapes instead
But that’s not what I wanted. I want the shapes and phrase (hole cutters) to cut holes in the sunglasses (the donut dough), but I don’t want to keep the portions that fall outside that shape (kinda like a donut hole — a leftover). And I don’t want the funny-looking result where the sun meets the palm trees (no half-cut donut hole). So let’s learn what to do instead.
First, make a copy of everything and pull it off to the side. Once we do this, you can’t do something like close the file, open it again, and get back your original shapes or move them around or figure out what font you used. Making a copy means you can if necessary.
Predicting the outcome
Let’s talk about why I raise the transparency on my shapes before I use any Modify tool. When you do that, you can predict the outcome by looking at the mixture of colors. It’s like glazing in watercolor painting. That’s where you paint something and let it dry. Then you use another color over it, covering it either partially or fully. If your base color is red and you use a blue to glaze over it, you get a purple in the areas where they overlap. If you do it with the same color, it’s a darker value of that color (like our sunglasses with the original 2 pieces). Because it’s watercolor, you see the lower shape still.
This artist uses the technique in a way that mesmerizes me. (He uses a different technique for mixing the colors within each person).
When you raise the transparency of the shapes in Silhouette Studio, you’re doing just that. I know that the holes I make are going to be where the yellow, green and blue are glazed over the gray. Any of the pure bits of yellow, green or blue — the portions outside the shape — will go away. I’ll be left with the pure gray portions of the sunglasses. That’s harder to see when everything has full-strength color. I can also tell if I’m still going to be able to recognize the shapes and words.
I know that where the yellow of the sun overlaps the green of the palm trees to make a yellow green is an area that will in essence get welded.
Okay, so if I’m not going to use a compound path to make holes, what should I use instead? Technically, you could just cut as is, since all the cut lines cut unless you change it. But you will probably waste material. I would lose a good amount if the part of the trees below the sunglasses cut.
Let’s use something different — Subtract in the Modify panel. What that does is take a shape and use it to cut a hole downward through any shape below it. Each level (each pancake in the stack) cuts away whatever is below it. That means the very top shape might even cut a hole in the bottom one, if that’s the only shape that’s covering a portion of that bottom shape. When the process is complete, the only thing that’s left is the bottommost shape in the order. You can see that front to back order matters a great deal.
- I’m left with the pure gray of the sunglasses — the portions that weren’t under anything else.
- The portions of the sun, palm trees and words that fell outside the sunglasses are gone.
- The funny overlap of the sun and palm tree is gone. The sun cut away that portion of the tree in its trek downward.
Let’s take a look at what would have happened if I hadn’t make that palm tree into a compound path before we started. The main portion of the tree is higher in the order than the small piece, and it’s covering it completely. That means the big portion of the tree would subtract all of it. Here’s a look at that portion both ways–
On a design like this, that small piece might not be a big deal. But on other designs it will change the entire look. And if your shapes have not fill color, it’s much harder to figure out what’s going on.
Another option would be to just bring that small piece higher in the order. It’s just that that makes it harder to predict the outcome because you aren’t seeing that as a hole initially.
Once you’ve done your subtracting, you will have shapes that aren’t tied together. Select all the piece and make your newly-created design a single compound path.
Let’s say you want to visualize the outcome without the multiple colors. Here’s a trick. Select everything except the bottom shape. Give them all a white fill, 0% transparency and no line color. You’ll see exactly what your design would look like after you subtract, but you can still move things around. Just don’t forget to do your subtracting so that you don’t waste material.
I used this principle recently in making a shirt for my daughter for Mother’s Day. I just needed it for the portions at the upper left of the first “M” and the right side of the bar under the second “A.” By doing that, I was able to fill more of the lens with the word but you can still read it easily.
Notice the little Cool Cub body suit? Why, yes, my first grandchild will be arriving in about 5 weeks!
Leave a Reply