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I know the question is simple, but had no luck finding existing solutions online.

I have a background rectangle with a fill color. The layer on top has closed paths (only strokes, no fill). How can I remove the background inside the closed paths, so it just goes around them?

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  1. Select the closed path and make a copy of it to the clipboard, if you need it later. Then select the background shape (=light brown), too.

  2. Goto the Pathfinder panel (Window > Pathfinder) and click Minus; It's the 2nd from the left in the upper row in this Illustrator version.

  3. Paste in place the closed path, if needed.

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