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so basically I've done some poking around about this question, and while I plan on doing more and learning more about the program in general, it seemed like the most expeditious way to figure this out might be to just try asking.

So basically I need to be able to merge groups of objects in Illustrator that are parts of a logo I make, including text and stroked objects, into one object so that it is easily manipulatable by a printer so that it can be put on shirts, hats, etc.

My problem is using pathfinder > unite generally merges all objects in one color, while I need to maintain separate colors to maintain the logo as intended and to not just have say, a large gold circle instead of a badge. Trying to do other things like object > path > join throws an error about the objects included such as text elements, even if they've been converted to outlines.

I'm not even necessarily asking for a clear cut solution, I just know people must be able to do this in illustrator and I'd really appreciate anyone pointing me in the right direction like saying, "Oh that's all clipping masks go read about those and narrow your learning research to that for a bit".

Thanks sorry for maybe being a bit wordy, just trying to be thorough.

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    "Easily manipulable by a printer"—what does that mean? What type of export or file format are you trying to accomplish? – Wildcard Jun 27 '17 at 0:10
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For the purpose of screenprinting, you will avoid a lot of headaches with your file if you follow a few simple guidelines.

Since you were dealing with screenprinting designs, do not color your artwork with process colors. You will want to be working with the spot colors only. This is of course if you are not printing with the four color process method.

Create a new illustrator document and to set your art board size just slightly larger than your design size is going to be when it gets printed on the shirts. I say slightly larger just so it will give you a little room to work.

Next in you would want to do is go to your swatches panel and delete every single swatch out of there. Next assuming that you already know how many colors you need to make your design, create a new spot color in the swatches panel for every color you'll use in your design.

Just for purposes of this post, in my sample image, I added 4 spot colors to my swatches panel named Redd, Athletic Gold, Black, and white. Do this correctly and color all of your artwork with spot colors only…. Then automatically your design will be separated correctly for screenprinting.

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Keeping your artwork organized with different layers in your layers panel is good practice but not totally necessary. If you are working in the CMYK color mode, you can use your separations preview window to view what each color separation will look like.

This image has all of its artwork elements in one layer(which I normally don't do) but it was not necessary for me to have to use any Pathfinder tools or merging elements or whatever. This is because of the fact we are using spot colors which kind of separates everything and combines things together as necessary.

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One of the best parts of working with spot colors is that, double clicking on a swatch itself with no artwork selected, we can change the color of the swatch and all of that artwork will change color also to the new value of spot color adjusted

enter image description here

All of your text in your document needs to be converted to outlines. Before you convert your text to outlines, be sure to save copy of your file so that you can edit the text in the future if you need to. This is because once you convert your text to outlines, it is no longer editable.

Save this final version as a .eps and you should be good to go

Just as a side note, you may notice the original image has brown in the football. I did not add a brown spot channel in my swatches. I “simulated” the brown by using half tones of black and red and athletic gold. This can be achieved correctly by selecting the option to “overprint fill” in my attribute panel. Meaning I selected the red part of the football overprint on top of the black part of the football and the athletic gold part of the football to overprint the red and black as well. Those three colors blended give us brown

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I need to be able to merge groups of objects in Illustrator that are parts of a logo I make, including text and stroked objects, into one object so that it is easily manipulatable by a printer so that it can be put on shirts, hats, etc.

As pointed out by +Wildcard, your term easily manipulatable by a printer is quite ambiguous! You need to identify what type of formats the embroider accepts. If you meant creating an embroider ready file from within illustrator, well Adobe Illustrator does not "natively" produce an embroider ready file, even with all the merging and grouping.

I'm not even necessarily asking for a clear cut solution, I just know people must be able to do this in illustrator and I'd really appreciate anyone pointing me in the right direction

However with some plugins like Embroidery i2, you can edit your artwork at stitch level and export fully embroider ready files, see quick usage preview here. The downside of this plugin though is the pricey price tag of ~$3495 as of this writing, which might be a stretch if you are on a tight budget!!

You could also export your artwork in formats like EPS and PNGs which can be consumed by other digitizing programs(most provide wizards helping you generate the ready files). Examples include SewArt (SA) which inputs PNGs and JPGs, with detailed helpful instructions here. Embird, Digitizer Pro, Stitch Artist, Pre Design Studio. Most provide a 30 days trial, which is enough to finish the job. But later buy the app to support the devs if you are to use it more often.

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