Whenever I am working with Adobe Illustrator, I can't figure this out for the life of me so I end up doing all kinds of knifing to get it sort of the way I want it. I am posting this here so I can find out the actual way to do it once and for all.

Basically, in the below image (left), I want to trim the overlapping elements so nothing gets past the inside of the black border like the image on the right.

enter image description here

Do I select all three elements (the border and the two shades of ground) and use a tool in the pathfinder? How do I go about this?

5 Answers 5


Unless I'm misunderstanding the issue, the easiest solution is to move your frame in front of the other elements. Select the border, and from the main menu, choose Object > Arrange > Bring to front.

Or, for more precise control of the "stacking order" of your objects, for instance, if you don't want the frame to be the top-most object in your drawingbut still be in front of the overlapping objects, select the frame, which will be showing as "Selected Art" in the Layers panel, and move the frame in front of the objects. If you're not that familiar with the various indicators in the Layers panel in Illustrator, you can check out this short article: http://help.adobe.com/en_US/illustrator/cs/using/WS714a382cdf7d304e7e07d0100196cbc5f-62d8a.html

But if you want to actually trim the objects, the Shapebuilder tool (Shift + M), is a more intuitive way to work with Pathfinder operations. If you select the objects in question, the frame and the two other shapes, you can work with the Shapebuider to "merge" the overlapping pieces. There's a sweet video tutorial here that shows the use of this tool, which was introduced in CS5. http://tv.adobe.com/watch/learn-illustrator-cs5/creating-complex-art-with-the-shape-builder-tool-/


Use the Shape Builder Tool (CS5-6)
shape builder

You may need to draw a shape where you want the two objects to stop. Then select all 3 objects and Option/Alt-click any portion you do not want with the Shape Builder Tool.


There are several options. * Create a mask for your shapes. That'll hide every outside the mask. * Path interest the shapes. The border has to be a shape though. Delete the extra shapes.

  • Well, some elements will actually go outside of the border so I can't create a mask. The border is a shape. Is there no way I can select the border and the two shades of ground and just cut away the parts that flow over? Or is there some kind of simple select tool that I can use to select and cut away certain parts like in Photoshop?
    – Desi
    Apr 17, 2013 at 22:51
  • I've been doing this for the past couple hours and still haven't figured it out. I just resorted to using the knife tool again. Why do they make this program so goddamn different from Photoshop ffs!
    – Desi
    Apr 18, 2013 at 1:26

Select all shapes in question the click Pathfinder/Merge. If necessary, ungroup resultant shapes and delete those that are unwanted.


Save as PDF. Open the file in CorelDraw. Trim objects as desired. Re-open in Illustrator

  • uh what? why are you telling people to use CorelDraw for this?
    – Ryan
    Jun 22, 2015 at 21:46
  • 1
    While CorelDraw may be a decent application, there's little point in using it here when Illustrator has at least 3 methods to accomplish the task.
    – Scott
    Jun 22, 2015 at 22:02

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