Say I had a silhouette and a circle

(Gradient is just for to be able to understand better)

enter image description here

Now, I wanted the silhouette cut-out of the circle, to look like

enter image description here

After seeing this question, I realized that there were two possible ways to go about doing this.

You can either use Pathfinder or Make Compound Path.

I'm wondering what would be the benefits of using either tool - since the result is (seemingly) identical.

In this situation or any other practical/common situations.

Would there be any scenario where one would be preferred over the other? If so, why?

  • 3
    If you would just have used Make Compound Path, it would have been obvious to you immediately, the overlap would stay and reverse colors. Pathfinder's "Minus Front" works like a punch.
    – AAGD
    Commented Nov 9, 2017 at 16:19
  • 1
    Yes. Make Compound Path doesn't touch the path structure, it just connects the paths, and this can be reversed. Pathfinder's "Minus Front" result is identical as long as the paths don't intersect. If they do the process is destructive, meaning the two original paths are gone.
    – AAGD
    Commented Nov 9, 2017 at 16:26
  • 1
    @AAGD you can change the winding rule of the object to change how the compound path behaves. So you can do even minus front when they exercise pathfinder just does this for you. And expands the result (or not if you hold alt)
    – joojaa
    Commented Nov 9, 2017 at 18:00
  • @joojaa I know that path direction influences the appearance of compound paths, but I never found a way to access path direction in Illustrator (at least not without a plugin). IIRC it was available in FreeHand.
    – AAGD
    Commented Nov 10, 2017 at 9:08
  • 1
    @AAGD Window -> Attributes, then majke sure yoiu have shw all in the hamburger menu. You can then affect the direction of path and winding and the winding rule. Or you can just use pen tool to change direction
    – joojaa
    Commented Nov 10, 2017 at 10:50

2 Answers 2


Both options do not always produce the same results.

Pathfinder allows much greater control over how the paths are combined. As you can see below, I've made two hexagons to demonstrate the Shape modes in the Pathfinder Window.

The Pathfinder window has both Shape Modes and Pathfinders, but I'm just going to focus on Shape Modes

enter image description here

If I am to simply make a compound path from these ( + 8), it treats the paths as though I've used the Exclude mode of Pathfinder.

enter image description here

Depending on what you're trying to achieve, this may be fine, but there are several other ways in which the pathfinder can control the combination of paths (in their panel order from left to right):


enter image description here

Minus Front

enter image description here


enter image description here


enter image description here

My workflow is as follows:

  1. Select paths I wish to combine
  2. Choose how I want them combined (Pathfinder method)
  3. Make Compound Path after using Pathfinder
  • In the above situation, would there be any benefit to choose one over the other?
    – Welz
    Commented Nov 9, 2017 at 16:13
  • @WELZ The pathfinder options you choose will depend on your desired result. There's no right or wrong.
    – Manly
    Commented Nov 9, 2017 at 16:14
  • 1
    @Manly Note that in your example the result of Pathfinder's Exclude is different than if you just do Make Compound Path. They look the same but the paths change in Pathfinder. If you ungroup them, you get two unconnected shapes, while Make Compound Path will keep the original paths.
    – AAGD
    Commented Nov 9, 2017 at 16:42

Pathfinder actually generates compound paths when best suited. So they are really one in the same.

The Pathfinder Panel applies the selected (clicked) operation to the selected objects then expands the artwork (as if you choose Expand from the Object Menu). Altering the original object paths.

If you are seeking to maintain the original paths, in other words keep the appearance "live", there are options.

  • Using the Pathfinder effects from the Effects menu will retain the original paths (unexpanded artwork)
  • Holding down the Option/Alt key while clicking on a button in the Pathfinder Panel will not expand the result, similar to the menu effect.

Compound paths are essentially the Pathfinder Exclude operation unexpanded. If one object is completely encompassed by another object, then the results of a Compound Path would be along the lines of the Minus Front/Back Pathfinder operations, unexpanded.

There's no "best" use anywhere. Both compound paths and pathfinder have different uses overall and either can be correct to use. There's also no "downfall" for using either. So you really can't go wrong with either if it gets you the results you want.

This question may be additionally helpful: In Pathfinder window, what is the difference between a shape mode and a pathfinder?

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.