I have a problem with pathfinder cutout in Illustrator and I would be really grateful if you can help me with it. Every time that I want to cut out the letter shape from background the letter becomes thinner. This effect can be seen on monitor and on print sheet as well, but mathematically it's still the same width.

Thank you for your help in advance!!

Upper letters are only outlined, the bottom ones are cutout from background

Upper letters are only outlined, the bottom ones are outlined and cutout from background

This is a bigger picture, where the problem is not so clearly visible. But the problem is really pronounced when you have a bit smaller text.

enter image description here

  • Your screenshot is really small, can't really see what's going on there. Do the letters on top have a stroke added?
    – Luciano
    Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 12:42
  • Yes its because the coverage calculation is not done in linear space. Once you make something transparent things change a wee bit.
    – joojaa
    Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 12:58
  • Does the box have a stroke? If so, it may add the stroke to the letters when the pathfinder is made.
    – ispaany
    Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 13:42
  • Thank you for you answers. There is no stroke added to the upper image.
    – user74089
    Commented Aug 10, 2016 at 15:19

2 Answers 2


Anti-aliasing and font-hinting is most likely the issue.

Live type anti-aliases differently than other objects. And positive objects anti-alias different than counters or negative objects.

Here's what I merely suspect is taking place....

  • White type on black background: the type is anti-aliased outward. So you get white anti-aliasing to a black background. This visually makes the white appear a tad heavier at its edges. If the type is small, 12pt or less, the live type also may benefit from font hinting within the font file itself. Hinting tells the app how to draw the character at smaller sizes. The hinting issue is a guess, you haven't indicated what size you are working at.
  • Outlined type on a black background. Now you have a white object on a black object. So, the anti-aliasing works both ways. The app attempts to "blend" the edges of the top object, so you get more "grey" in the anti-aliasing. This will result in visually the white looking less "heavy".
  • Counters, or cutouts on the black. At this point the anti-aliasing is now black and outward. So, for counters, or holes, you get black anti-aliasing outward filling in the "hole" a bit. There's no more white in play, it's all black and shades of grey. This means the counters appear even less heavy.

What to do.....

  • Work larger. An easy solution is to work larger then reduce. If you start with larger type sizes you may not notice the anti-aliasing as much. This will let you disregard how it may be altering the visual a bit. Then reducing to necessary size will still do the same thing for anti-aliasing, but it should be consistent across objects.

  • You could turn off anti-aliasing in Illustrator. Of course, then you'll get stair-step curves and the art won't be as smooth visually, but you won't see any changes due to anti-aliasing.

  • Ignore it. If each image will ultimately be the same size and configuration, then just pass over the variation and set up all your images. In the end if they are all configured the same and constructed similarly, they should all appear the same. Because they will all be affected the same by anti-aliasing.
  • Upgrade your monitor. Yeah, this is a bit ridiculous, but the reality is the more resolution/depth your monitor has the less you'll see anti-aliasing. Things like a 4K or retina displays won't show the same variation with anti-aliasing as a standard monitor will. It will still be there, you just wouldn't see it as much.

This is all just my "best guess" without seeing the file itself.

My immediate inclination is that the type may be very small in your file and that is why you are seeing such a wide range in this. Setting 24pt type, outlining it, subtracting it from a background and then reducing it almost always results in a very slight difference opposed to starting with 6pt type and doing the same procedure. And some fonts themselves may have more of this issue than others, especially if font hinting is in play.

The easiest solution is to work larger and reduce to final size in most cases.

  • Thank you @Scott for your answer! I've tried your solution but sadly it doesn't help. The same problem occurs when I'm printing the file on inkjet printer. Do you know if the problem will disappear if I print it on offset printer?
    – user74089
    Commented Aug 11, 2016 at 8:01
  • Does your inkjet printer have a postscript RIP? If not, or if you aren't sure, save to PDF, then print the PDF from Acrobat or Reader and see if results are better. (Acrobat is a software RIP) -- offset printing uses a hardware RIP (so do laser printers in most cases). Most end-user inkjets do not have a postscript RIP and printing from Illustrator specifically directly to an inkjet can result in odd issues due to absence of a RIP.
    – Scott
    Commented Aug 11, 2016 at 8:46
  • Thank you again @Scott! I tried suggested option - printing directly from PDF, but the problem is still there.
    – user74089
    Commented Aug 11, 2016 at 10:32

I am having the same issue, I believe it has something to do with the stroke of the lettering, pathfinder seems to be ignoring the stroke when it punches out the letter, and the stroke takes on the same color of the shape. In my case white, in your case it looks to be black.

Update: You have to outline your stroke first before you utilize pathfinder.

  • Pathfinder often ignores strokes.
    – Scott
    Commented Dec 22, 2022 at 20:23

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