It seems impossible to distribute space between paths in a compound path. If I shift select all the paths in compound path isolation mode and choose a distribute spacing option, nothing happens. But if I cut and paste the paths outside the compound path I can align them as normal and then cut and paste them back into the compound path. Obviously this is not a pleasant workflow. Why can't I just distribute space between paths within the compound path?

Similarly, ungrouping seems completely broken inside compound paths. I can group paths but ungrouping does nothing. I must cut the group outside the compound path, ungroup the paths and then cut and paste them back in. Why is compound path editing mode so seemingly broken?

  • 1
    You can not ungroup compound paths beecause they are not groups but you can use the object menu to release them and mske them which is mostly the same thing.
    – joojaa
    Commented Jul 28, 2020 at 3:30
  • I am not trying to ungroup a compound path, I am trying to ungroup paths whilst within the compound path editing mode. It is indefensible that I can group the paths inside the compound path but the only way to ungroup them is to hit undo; the ungroup option is literally broken. Ungroup should always be the inverse operation of group, for the same set of editable objects. Commented Jul 28, 2020 at 8:56
  • The bug is that you can group not that you can ungroup. Try exitting the mode and going back and see if they still are grouped.
    – joojaa
    Commented Jul 28, 2020 at 9:39
  • Exiting and re-entering compound editing mode shows they are still grouped. They are grouped for eternity unless there are enough undo operations in the history buffer and you're happy to restore to that point in time before they were ever grouped. Commented Jul 28, 2020 at 11:10

2 Answers 2


Ok the reason is that the compound path object can not have structure. So it seems that being able to group at all is a bug caused by unpacking the compound path for editing. So technically you shouldnt, most probably, be able to do this at all.

Reason for this is that the compound path object does not have internal structure that would allow grouping. They would need to change the primitive to allow this. This would have some deep comsequences.

  1. Currently compound path mimics the structure in both SVG and PDF specification. Which also dont allow structure in the compound path.
  2. This would neccesitate building a wrapper class on top of the engine. This would also mean that you would need a mechanism to expand this layer.
  3. For all intents and purposes this interdiction layer does exsist in the form of live boolan operations (holding alt, option or somesuch in pathfinder for live operations just release and do live boolean). Its support for grouping is a bit limited though.
  4. It would make illustrator harder to use. All of the indirect tools on top of illustrator are badly understood by users who in general just want direct modeling (but with all the benefits of the indirect modeling).
  5. Point 4 in turn would mean re engineering illustrator. Since if you go indirect route then there is no good reason to preserve compound path object at all. It would be asy to design so that neither clipping paths, nor compound path objects are needed as first class objects. Doing this would make alpha masking, knockout geometry etc fit better in the overall design.

Anyway, since Adobe is trying to reengineer the system for better indirect support it may be that what you are asking is a effort towards that and this may in fact be a implementation oversight. But just as likely you should not be able to group at all.

  • I appreciate that you would assert grouping inside compound paths is a bug. It certainly seems that way to me. But I still want to know how to edit compound shapes that allow me to do space distribution and grouping operations. These seem like absolutely basic drawing operations and I am prohibited from doing any of them with compound paths. My conclusion: compound paths are absolutely useless for drawing workflows. Therefore, what should I be using instead? Commented Jul 28, 2020 at 11:12
  • 1
    @QuolonelQuestions as said in the answer release the compound path and make it a live boolean. Or just release edit and then redo the compound path
    – joojaa
    Commented Jul 28, 2020 at 11:42
  • Also note my illustrator does not allow me to group in compound paths.
    – joojaa
    Commented Jul 28, 2020 at 12:27
  • @joojaa after looking into this behaviour more, I think you're right. It looks like a bug (although Adobe might call it "a feature"), since the group is not showing up in illustrator's layer structure. For what it's worth, exiting isolation mode, releasing the compound path, then selecting the group and ungrouping it seems to work to get rid of the phantom group. I can reproduce this in Illustrator CC (22.1, Windows 10). It could very well be version/platform specific.
    – Billy Kerr
    Commented Jul 28, 2020 at 12:34
  • @joojaa Thanks, it wasn't immediately clear what the answer was from your original answer. Creating a compound shape instead of a compound path seems to be the ticket, except grouping is still unavailable, giving on ominous "Can't group the objects" error. At this point I have to wonder if Illustrator is just not fit for purpose and I should be using some different software. The issues I'm facing aren't even Googleable, as if I'm the only one to ever experience them, but as far as difficulties in Illustrator go, I just can't seem to avoid them despite being very competent with Photoshop. Commented Jul 28, 2020 at 18:47

A compound path by definition creates one single path from separate individual paths. The distribute option, even in Isolation mode, is trying to distribute one path- which does nothing- you are correct.

As for the grouping- you can think you are grouping the various separate paths that make up your compound path- but in fact you are creating a group which holds only the single compound path itself and not a group of its various component paths. If you look inside the group in the layers panel it will show only the compound path- a single item.

It seems you might start off just grouping all the separate component paths so you can easily select them and they can be manipulated and moved together easily. Then after you have them distributed and laid out properly make them into a compound path.

  • No but you can release and make compound paths just as easily as groups.
    – joojaa
    Commented Jul 28, 2020 at 3:31
  • Since I started out with a compound path (because that's how the SVG was imported), how can I adjust my workflow to more comfortably do normal operations like space distribution and grouping, whilst still having the various paths that comprise the shape punch holes in each other where they intersect, as they do in a compound path? Commented Jul 28, 2020 at 9:14

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