eraser knife and scissors tools in adobe illustrator

Mastering the Eraser, Knife, and Scissors Tools in Adobe Illustrator

Daniel Scott

@dan

In this post, we will learn about three special Illustrator cutting tools, ideal for vector designs like logos and artworks: the Eraser, Knife, and Scissor tools.

Follow along with me to understand what these tools can do and how you can use them on shapes and paths. We will also identify their individual strengths and weaknesses, so you will know when to choose a specific tool or combine them to unlock their combined power!

This post is based on one of the courses from my recently updated Illustrator Advanced Course. When you become a BYOL member, you gain access to this course as well as my 30+ additional courses on After Effects, Photoshop, Figma, Lightroom, and more. As a BYOL member you will also enjoy personalized support, earn certificates, and tackle exciting community challenges. Head here to sign-up!

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Eraser Tool in Illustrator

This is our best choice for a quick and easy way to remove or cut parts of an object. We can use it on filled shapes, strokes, and line segments.

Let’s have a look at how the Eraser tool works. We will design something simple – a coffee bean – so we can keep our focus on functionality.

coffee themed moodboard in adobe illustrator

Let’s draw a coffee bean!

We start with a white-filled ellipse shape with no stroke and have it selected with the Selection Tool – we can find this on top of our left toolbar or by using the shortcut “V.”

If we don’t have anything selected, the Eraser tool will cut through any shape we drag our cursor over

white ellipse over orange background in adobe illustrator

First, we draw an oval object to replicate a coffee bean’s basic shape.

Next, we move to the left toolbar to select the Eraser tool. We can also use the shortcut keys Shift + E on both Mac and PC.

highlighting the eraser tool from the left  toolbar in adobe illustrator

Pick the Eraser Tool from the left toolbar.

The Eraser tool works as a brush. To remove a part of our ellipse, we simply click and hold the left mouse button and drag to draw a line over the shape. That line, or brush stroke, indicates the exact part of our shape we will delete.

dragging an eraser tool stroke in adobe illustrator

The Eraser tool works like a common brush.

We are not dividing the shape. We are removing a part of it. Even if we set the brush size to zero, we will lose the part we’ll erase and the initial ellipse won’t join as a whole anymore.

ellipse cut in two with the eraser tool in adobe illustrator

The Eraser Tool deletes part of the object.

Let me show you something else.

We already know that we can select the object we want to edit or have nothing selected on our artboard to use the Eraser tool. If we have multiple shapes we need to edit and have nothing selected, we can drag the Eraser tool over two or more of them in a single stroke.

applying the eraser tool on two ellipses in adobe illustrator

If there’s nothing selected on our artboard, we can use the Eraser Tool on multiple objects!

Now you may be thinking: “this is so cool, but can we adjust the Eraser’s stroke to reduce the size of the part we lose?”

Yes, we can and it’s easy!

We Double-click on the Eraser icon in the left toolbar and the Eraser Tool Options panel will pop up on our screens. Then we move to the Size setting, click on the slider, and drag it to adjust the value, or we can add a specific number from 0 to 1296 on the box next to the slider bar.

eraser tool options panel in adobe illustrator

We can define the size of the removal area in the Eraser Tool Options panel.

 Remember that after we use the Eraser tool, we end up with two separate shapes that don’t match the original object – part of it is lost.

selecting a shape in adobe illustrator

After the Eraser Tool’s cut, we can select, move, and edit both remaining shapes.

To sum it up, let’s have a look at the Eraser Tool’s pros and cons:

The good stuff:

  • Works like a normal brush, quick and easy.

  • We can edit one or multiple objects at once.

  • We can apply it to both shapes and paths.

The not-so-good stuff:

  • Deletes parts of the original objects.

  • Removal area depends on how we edit the brush size.

 

Timeout #1

These cutting tools are amazing to power up your logo design skills. When you finish this post, check out this article on the art of logo design.

Ready for more? Become a BYOL member!

Explore 30+ Essentials and Advanced courses in Figma, Photoshop, Illustrator, Lightroom, Premiere Pro, Webflow, and more. Enjoy personalized support, earn certificates, connect with other creators and tackle exciting community challenges.

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Knife Tool in Illustrator

This is our BFF when it comes to splitting an object into multiple shapes with closed paths.

Let’s continue with our coffee beans and see how to use the Knife tool to improve our illustrations and logo designs. Fun!

Let’s pick the Knife tool from the left toolbar. There is still no default shortcut key for this.

picking the knife tool from the left toolbar in adobe illustrator

There are no shortcut keys to bring up the Knife Tool.

This is also quite easy to understand. As with the Eraser tool, we don’t need anything selected to apply the Knife tool, we just click and hold the left mouse button and drag across the object – or objects! – we want to cut.

splitting an ellipse with the knife tool in adobe illustrator

Click and drag with your mouse to split our coffee bean shape.

Pro tip: If we hold the Option button on a Mac or Alt on a PC, we can divide an object with straight horizontal, vertical, or diagonal cutlines. If we hold Shift + Option on a Mac or Shift + Alt on a PC, we get a 45-degree angle cutline.

Remember, we are dividing an object into two or more editable shapes. Nothing gets lost, we can go back to the original shape by joining all the pieces we’ve cut, like building a puzzle. Awesome, huh?

selecting one half of a divided ellipse in adobe illustrator

We have divided our object into two matching shapes. No part from the original ellipse is lost.

This couldn’t be any easier, let’s jump to the pros and cons!

The good stuff:

  • We can easily divide objects.

  • We get new editable shapes from the cut.

  • We can draw freehand, straight, or 45-degree angle cutlines.

 

The not-so-good stuff:

  • Could benefit from additional settings.

  • We can’t use the Knife tool on open paths.

  • Cutlines can’t be changed. The only way to go back is to undo and start again.

Timeout #2

Looking for extra inspiration for your vector art creations? Check out this article on famous vector artists and their portfolios.  

Scissor Tool in Illustrator

This tool is perfect for splitting paths, based on segments and anchor points, and it works on both open and closed paths.

Let’s learn how the Scissor tool cuts through our designs!

Let’s begin by picking the Scissor tool from the left toolbar. We can also use the shortcut keyC” on both Mac and PC.

picking the scissors tool from the left toolbar in adobe illustrator

We can pick the Scissors Tool from the left toolbar or use the shortcut key “C”.

The Scissor tool is different from the Eraser and Knife tools. It doesn’t work in a click-and-drag fashion, so if we try to do it like that, we’ll see an error message like the one below.

error message about the scissors tool in adobe illustrator

The Scissors tool works on line segments and anchor points, but not on endpoints.

Don’t be scared, it’s just as easy as the other two. As before, with nothing selected or after selecting the object we want to cut, we’ll click on the top anchor point.

new cutline with the scissors tool in adobe illustrator

Click on the top anchor point to mark the cutline’s start.

Next, we move to the anchor point directly below the first one and click on it.

setting a cutline with the scissors tool in adobe illustrator

Click on the lower anchor point to set the cutline’s end.

We now have two perfect halves of our original object, cut in a straight line.

selecting part of a cut shape in adobe illustrator

We can edit both halves after the cut with the scissors tool

This is a basic example, for you to learn how the tool works. We can make diverse cuts from an object by selecting and combining different anchor points. The more we practice this tool, the better we understand it and make use of its full potential.

Now, let’s see how the Knife tool can help us with strokes, or open paths.

I’ve duplicated the shape we’ve cut with the Knife tool and switched it from white Fill to  white Stroke. You can do this from the left toolbar or by using the shortcut Shift + X on both PC and Mac.

selecting two curved stroke paths in adobe illustrator

The Scissors tool works great on open paths and strokes.

When we are working with open paths, we focus on a line segment. To make a cut from these, we can use the existing path anchor points, like we just did above.

But now let’s try something different:

We can ignore the anchor points and set our own cutting points on a path. We want to  cut a part of the right path to, let’s say, create a white space effect. It’s easy! We start by showing Illustrator where we want the first slice to happen, by clicking on a specific point on the line segment’s path.

setting a cut point on a line segment in adobe illustrator

In this example, we click on the segment to set the first cutting point.

Then, we define where we need the second slice to take place. We move along the path and click on a new point to cut.

cutting a line segment in adobe illustrator

When we click on another point of the line segment, we determine the second cutting point.

And it’s done! We can now select the new cut path and move it away from the first or simply delete it, if that fits the idea we have for our design.

moving a new segment cut from the original line path in adobe illustrator

We now have a separate segment that we can edit or remove, depending on what we have planned for our design.

Remember that this technique also works with closed paths, and you can combine existing anchor points with new cut points to try out impressive cutting effects and surprise anyone that takes a look at your portfolio.

Let’s wrap this up with the pros and cons for the Knife tool.

 

The good stuff:

  • Splits paths at anchor points or along a segment, with high precision.

  • New anchor points set from the Scissor tool cut are editable, to fine tune shapes.

  • We can divide a line or stroke with a single click.

 

The not-so-good stuff:

  • We are limited to working with anchor points and paths.

  • It won’t work inside an object’s Fill area.

  • The Scissor tool doesn’t work on live text objects, we have to outline the text first (this one is also not-so-good for the Eraser and Knife tools.

And there we have it!

Now we know how to cut and divide shapes and lines in Illustrator. Each of these tools has its own purpose and effect so, understand them all, know the best moment to choose one or to combine them all and have full control of your designs.

 

What 's Next?

To go deeper with Illustrator, join BYOL and you will gain access to my Illustrator Essentials and Advanced courses as well as my 30+ additional courses on Figma, PhotoshopLightroom, Premiere Pro, Webflow, and more. As a BYOL member you will also enjoy personalized support, earn certificates, and tackle exciting community challenges. Get started here. 

See you in class! – Dan