Been lurking awhile but this is my first post. a

I've always wondered what this effect is called and I'm almost certain there's an easier way to doing it than how I do it. I'm talking about the "empty" stroke around overlapping parts of icons.

In this case I would put a stroke that's the color of the background around the first character. I know this is bad practice for many reasons, but I haven't found a way to use the pathfinder to do this.

I'm looking for a way to do it that would effectively cut away the shapes smoothly in a X amount of pixels around a certain shape instead of covering it up so I can save the icon and use it over whatever colored background I want to.

I'm guessing I'm not the first person to ask this but I have no earthly clue how this effect is called so my research has returned nothing relevant.


2 Answers 2


This is most effectively achieved by offsetting the path of the front shape, and subtracting the resulting shape from all the shapes in the back, using the Pathfinder.

As an example, say I'd like to do the outlining with the blue shape as my front shape:

example shapes

  • Select the blue shape with the Move tool (V);
  • Choose Object > Path > Offset Path...;
  • Key in an amount. The preview option will help you with this.

example shapes offset

This will leave you with just the enlarged version of your object selected, so you can continue:

  • Edit > Copy the currently selected (enlarged) shape. Ctrl/Option+C works too of course;
  • Edit > Paste in Front (Ctrl / Option+F) as many times as you have objects in the back you need to trim;
  • Select one of the copies and one of your background object (use Shift+Click to add to a selection), then Subtract in the Pathfinder palette (second option);

pathfinder subtract

  • Repeat for all objects in the background;
  • You should be left with one instance of your enlarged shape. You can delete it, but I like to hide it, so I can re-use it later in case some more objects get added to the background.



  • Thank you! That is just what I was looking for! Does this type of graphic effect (empty outline between shapes) have a name? Commented Sep 16, 2014 at 14:30
  • Any time. And... None that I know. I just call it 'offset border', but that's probably incorrect.
    – Vincent
    Commented Sep 16, 2014 at 14:33
  • Alright well thanks anyways, that was very helpful. Cheers! Commented Sep 16, 2014 at 14:42

Another way...

  • Add an odd colored stroke to the primary object
  • Choose Object > Expand Appearance (if available) and Object > Expand
  • Select the primary object and all objects to be "trimmed".
  • Hit the Merge Button on the Pathfinder Panel
  • Click the odd colored stroke (which is now a shape) and hit delete

enter image description here
the blue rectangle is locked in this animation

This method does rely on the fact that objects which will be trimmed are merely simple, flat shapes. Complex background objects present other issues which may not work with this method.

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