Recently I was making a birthday gift for my sister. I had an idea in my head from a sign I saw at Hobby Lobby. It’s a pretty common graphic right now — a rooster standing on a pig standing on a cow. Sometimes they have words on each animal like “moo” or “beef.” But this one had some gorgeous flourishes. This project is a great one to take a first step in using the Modify panel by learning about Subtract.
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What is the Modify panel?
The Modify panel allows you to take 2 or more shapes and make a new shape based on their overlapping sections. Most folks are familiar with Weld, but there’s SO much more in this amazing panel that they rarely try. That’s usually because they don’t know what the options are. I find most people treat it like a swimming pool in May — they stick their toe in to test it, then pull it right back out when it’s freezing cold. Folks open the panel, click a few buttons, can’t figure out how it works, so don’t go any further. But trust me — it’s worth the effort to learn it.
Here’s a quick synopsis of each of the Modify tools:
Make the shapes into just 1 shape and eliminate the cut lines in the overlapping areas. Lots of folks use it for script text, but there’s a better way which I describe in this post.
Use the upper shape to make a hole in the lower shape. If you use more than 2 shapes, each one cuts a hole downward. Only the remaining portion of the bottom-most shape remains. This is helpful for quickly removing a portion of a design.
This is similar to Subtract, but instead of all upper pieces going away after the operation they remain. This is useful for something like a vinyl project where overlapping pieces would give you a ridge, or when you’re using multiple types of HTV that can’t be laid on top of one another (such as glitter or flocked). Using Subtract All, you can nestle them in right next to one another in a single level.
Any portion of the shapes that is shared by them ALL is what remains. I use this frequently to create new shapes quickly.
Similar to intersect, but what is kept is any area shared by at least 2 shapes. This is a great way to quickly fill an entire set of images with a raster image (jpg or png such as a photo, printable pattern, etc.).
Every area of overlap becomes a separate piece. I use this to create a knockout design with 1 click.
You can raise the line thickness on a regular cut shape, then use this to separate the line from the shape. It makes a really quick internal and external offset in 1 click, because half the thickness of the line is on each side of the outer edge of the shape. It’s also useful on SVG files you import where what seems to be separate pieces is actually just a thick line on a single shape.
Make and Release Compound Paths
I have an entire post on understanding compound paths. I promise it’s WAY easier than any other explanation you’ve ever heard.
HINT: The little icons beside each Modify option give you a picture of what they do.
Step 1: Start with a solid shape
For this process, you want to start with a solid shape. I’m using Design #279909 by Sara Hurley called Farm Animals.
I find it helpful on any project to fill it my designs with color. That helps me more easily visualize the finished project (for more tips on that, see this post), keep my pieces straight, and see where I have groupings vs. compound paths. It’s especially important to fill your shapes with color when you use the Modify option so you can more easily predict the outcome. Groupings and compound paths will always respond differently to the Modify options as well.
I’ll be using black spray paint, so I filled my animals with black. I measured the space on my project and created a rectangle of that size in the software. I filled it with gray, because I’m putting this on galvanized metal. That also helps me plan how large I want my design to be. I’ll tell you another reason I need it in a bit.
HINT: If you have 3 separate animals like this in your library, you can stack them, overlap them slightly and weld them together.
Step 2: Choose some flourishes
I’m using the following:
- Flourish — Design #64183 by Lori Whitlock.
- A dingbat font called Arnabelle Script. This is a good choice because I’ll have lots of options for coordinating designs. I removed some small dots in some of the dingbats by ungrouping the text and releasing the compound path on the individual dingbats.
Again, you want to fill these with a color. I want the flourishes, on the top edge only, to cut into the animals so that you’ll see the metal. So I filled mine with gray. In other words, the background rectangle and the flourishes are the same color.
I made several copies of each flourish. I knew I wanted to repeat them for a cohesive design, so it was easiest to do it right away.
For more ideas on ways to make a project cohesive, see this post.
Step 3: Play with the design
Start laying the flourishes over the animals. Notice that you can see through the flourishes slightly. I did that by raising the fill transparency to around 35%. It’s helpful to be able to see where the edges of the animals are. This also makes figuring out what’s going to happen when you Subtract WAY easier. Here’s mine in progress:
Part of the flourish is overlapping the animals design, part is not. If I had wanted them completely enclosed, I wouldn’t have to do Subtract. I could just put them inside the solid shape and weed away that portion after cutting. Technically, I as long as a flourish didn’t overlap another animal I could still have it cut the full shape and then just remove all of it. But (a) that takes more cutting time and (b) I’m doing a stencil, so need all of the background solid.
Watch your overlaps
I made sure that the legs of the pig weren’t covered by the flourishes for the cow. Ditto with the rooster and pig.
You might be able to move your designs around to avoid that. If not, you can use point editing to remove unwanted portions. Or, since we’re talking about using Modify options, let me show you how to easily remove those portions with Subtract.
- Draw a shape that covers the portion you need to remove. Make sure that shape is at the front of the order.
- Select both the shape and your design and click Subtract.
Yep, it’s just that easy. The top shape erases the part of the lower design that’s below/behind it.
HINT: If you purchase the design I used, you could use this same technique to make 3 separate animals.
One other thing to watch out for depends on what material you’re cutting. I’m using vinyl, so any unconnected pieces won’t be a problem. The transfer tape will pick those up and keep the design together. But if you’re using something like paper, you would want to avoid that.
If this is your first time doing something like this, you might not see those. What you’ll look for is any of your solid design piece completely surrounded by your background color. The good news is that when you Subtract, any loose pieces like this, well, won’t be connected to the large piece. As soon as you move the design you’ll know. Don’t forget that the Undo button can be your best friend.
Combining pieces with Weld
I also used Weld to add a few leaves to an existing stem here and there to fill in space I felt was empty.
Keep playing until you have your flourishes where you want them.
Step 4: Use Subtract
Make sure your original design (so my farm animals) is at the bottom/back of the order. That will make a huge difference.
Now select all your flourishes and your original design and click Subtract.
HINT: If your software is bogged down by this process, select only a few flourishes at a time to subtract. Just keep repeating until they are all done.
Here’s my finished design:
See how the tops of each animal have the open flourishes? That’s why I used Subtract. I wanted to keep all of the animals except what was behind each flourish.
Remember: if any parts aren’t connected, they will be separate pieces. You can either group them all or create a single compound path with them.
Step 5: Finish the project
I added some wording and a couple of leaf stems. “Heat ‘Em and Eat ‘Em” is the way my dad used to call us to a meal. My apologies to any vegetarians out there.
I left my gray rectangle in place because I’m making a stencil. If you aren’t, you can remove it.
I cut the design out of vinyl. For a stencil, I do the opposite of normal — I weed away the animal designs and words and leave the background. This is another reason it’s a good idea to fill your design with color. Since black is my paint color, I knew to weed away anything black on my design (I always keep the page open as I weed). And I kept the gray — the parts that will cover the metal as I spray paint it. I was also careful to give a good large margin around the design.
I applied the vinyl to the tablet stand and masked off the remaining areas. (I got my stand at Hobby Lobby, but this one on Amazon is the same.)
HINT: Once I pulled off the transfer tape, I used that to cover part of the back. You can see a bit on the left side.
Then I used a satin finish black spray paint, let it dry and carefully removed the stencil.
And my sister now has a stand to hold a tablet or cookbook in her farmhouse kitchen.