I am having a constant fight when building up complex shapes in Adobe Illustrator. I work out some piece of my shape, and to get it to look right, I put it in some sort of container clipping mask. Gives me nice sharp edges. I may build several of these, like pieces of a puzzle. Then I set the clipping masks next to each other. Visually, the whole thing looks the way I want it to look, but now I need to weld all of those clipped shapes into one shape. But I can't because the clip masks are in the way.

What I've been doing lately is I then take apart my clip masks and instead use Shape Builder tool with whatever shape previously was my clip mask in order to create trimmed pieces of my shape. Then I delete the clip mask object.

This is a real pain -- something that is so simple using a clip mask becomes quite frustrating with shape builder. Is there anyway to automate the process? What I'd really like is some key that says: 1) Select an current clipping mask object with objects inside it. (START) 2) Divide all of those contained objects into separate objects at the edge of the clipping mask so the parts being clipped are separate objects from the parts visible inside the mask. 3) Release the clipping mask. 4) Delete the clipping mask and all the severed objects that were previously hidden inside the mask. (MID) This gives me the original object now trimmed so I can use it with shape builder (END).

Is there anyway to do this quickly and precisely?

The best sequence of steps I have at the moment is this:

  1. Select the clip mask.
  2. Release the clipping mask... both objects will now be selected0
  3. Reorder the layers so the clipping mask is on the bottom. (if you use the layers pane to do this, both objects will still be selected.)
  4. Open the Pathfinder tools (Winows >> Pathfinder)
  5. Click the Intersect button.
  6. If I have multiple items in the same clip mask, use copy/paste-in-place to create enough copies of the clipping mask object so I can use one copy for each intersection.

Example of what I'm looking for

1 Answer 1


It's difficult to answer definitively without seeing some specific artwork.

However, generally...

  1. Object >Expand Appearance
  2. Object > Expand
  3. Pathfinder Panel > Merge Button
  4. Draw a no-fill, no-stroke rectangle, then....
  5. Select > Same > Fill and Stroke
  6. Hit the Delete to remove all the hollow objects created by the Merge command.

If objects are the same colors the Merge button may not be the best option. Trim may work better.

Again, this is just guessing without seeing any actual artwork.

  • I added artwork.
    – SRM
    Commented Aug 30, 2015 at 19:16
  • When I select the clipping mask, the "Object >> Expand Appearance" option is grayed out. I can choose "Object >> Expand..." I hit OK there... it did not appear to do anything.
    – SRM
    Commented Aug 30, 2015 at 19:17
  • Thanks.. the steps above should work fine for you. Expand Appearance may or may not be available, it all depends on how the art is set up. If it's not available, then don't worry about it. And Expand will change your strokes to actual shapes. It's necessary if you want the stroke to remain in the final appearance.
    – Scott
    Commented Aug 30, 2015 at 19:21
  • You may do better to not use strokes on the initial artwork and apply the stroke after things are united.
    – Scott
    Commented Aug 30, 2015 at 19:24
  • I only include the strokes so you could see the separation between objects in the screenshots. I am not trying to maintain the strokes during this process. Thanks.
    – SRM
    Commented Aug 30, 2015 at 20:47

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