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I have a complex illustrator object, with many of overlapping sections hidden behind one another. I want to simplify it down to just its visible parts. How do I do this?

Why: I need to pass that to a laser cutter to cut the shape out. To make that work, I need to reduce the object to only the visible strokes that outline it. If I can collapse it down to just the visible parts, getting it down to just strokes from there is trivial, and a known good way of generating a file that will cut on the laser properly.

Note 1: None of the pathfinder operations accomplish this on their own. All of them change the object so that hidden parts appear or visible parts vanish.

Note 2: The object has too many parts to do by a process that involves doing the different parts one at a time/manually.

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If Pathfinder > Merge does not work...or Object > Flatten Transparency does not work... or a combination of the two.... you are left no other options but to processes objects in sections/pieces. There's no other solution I'm aware of.

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I think Scott is right. I have a feeling you'll be able to do what you're after with judicious application of the Merge command. You'll need to expand the effect to see the result you want. This is one of the many instances where exceedingly careful layer structure will spare you much pain and suffering. – plainclothes Jan 31 '13 at 0:05
Unfortunately, I'm inheriting art other people made. I have no control over the layer construction. I have to render it into a form the laser can cut out. – baudot Jan 31 '13 at 7:17

If it is purely a simple silhouette you need, you might export it as a sufficiently high-resolution raster image, fuss with it in a raster editor so that it is a black shape, then place that in a new document, and run a trace on it.

obvious cons: imprecise tracing.

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If doing image trace, select method = abutting instead of overlapping--at least in illustrator cc2015. Problem solved.

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the OP mentions that has no control over the artwork (it's somebody else's design) so this won't work. – Luciano May 19 at 8:18

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