Suppose I've drawn a bunch of open curves like these:

enter image description here

Then I add a closed shape (circle) on top of them:

enter image description here

I know that I can use a clipping mask to only show the parts of the curves inside of the shape:

enter image description here

But I would like to "apply" this clipping mask, in the sense that I'd like to literal cut each curve by the outline of the closed shape and only keep the parts that remain inside. I can use the scissors tool to do this manually and then delete.

enter image description here

But is there an automatic way to do this?

I've tried all combinations of the pathfinder tools but cannot get this result.

(I'm also open to non Illustrator solutions so long as the output is a set of vector graphics curves).

Edit: I'd really like to do this on the strokes rather than resorting to outline/expanding the open curves first. In that case, I could use Outline Stroke, then Make Compound Path, then Intersect to get:

enter image description here

But this results in filled regions shaped according to the original width of the strokes. They're no longer editable as open strokes.

3 Answers 3


One method would be to just click the Outline button on the Pathfinder Panel, reapply the stroke, then remove unwanted pieces.

enter image description here

This keeps the strokes as strokes rather than expanding them. If you are okay with expanding the strokes, you can expand everything then Pathfinder -> Merge and then delete unwanted pieces. Or adjust pathfinder options to remove unpainted objects (In the panel menu), then expand and crop and reapply fills.

Or you could select it all and use the Shape Builder Tool with the Option/Alt key held down to drag across pieces you want removed.....enter image description here

  • 1
    I'm having a hard time repeating your result. If I select everything and then click PathFinder > Crop only the circle is left... Jul 10, 2017 at 22:34
  • Are you certain you're clicking the crop button? And crop after making the clipping mask. Or... have you changed the pathfinder options in the pathfinder panel menu? (If you have the first method here may not work).
    – Scott
    Jul 10, 2017 at 22:36
  • Meanwhile, the Shape Builder Tool worked! but still a lot of clicking and searching if the shape is more complicated than a circle. Jul 10, 2017 at 22:36
  • Yeah, unfortunately i don't think there's an easy 2-step processes. Anything is going to require several clicks to either select or delete things.
    – Scott
    Jul 10, 2017 at 22:38
  • 1
    @AlecJacobson My Fault I posted "Crop" button, but I meant the Outline button (and that is the button clicked in the animation above). I corrected the answer.
    – Scott
    Jul 10, 2017 at 22:49

The Shape Builder Tool (as demonstrated by Metis) does a pretty nice job... But what if you have an older version of AI which doesn't have Shaper?

Here is a dirty way to do this but it does the trick (if you don't need the circle 'crop' to be 100% perfect):

  • Lock the circle layer (we'll just use it as a guide) and select all of your loose paths

  • Hit Shift+E to activate the Eraser Tool and click+drag over the circle

  • Press the Q key to activate the Lasso Tool and drag a selection around those parts you wish to keep

  • Go to Select > Inverse and hit the Del key, then get rid of the circle

A demonstration:

Stupid Illustrator makes this way too hard

Or... if you have lots of room to play with – just make your Eraser bigger and wipe them out completely in one step:


~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~ ~~~~~~~~


I found another option for those without the Shape Builder Tool; an Illustrator plugin which can accomplish this with more precision, using just one tool:

The Hatchet Tool (available here)

Cutting Tools: Hatchet Tool description

Here it is in action:

Hatchet Tool demo


From your picture #2, if all squiggles are Grouped and on the same layer and the blue circle is a closed path, than select circle and squiggles and use Pathfinder>Outline.

Ungroup and remove whatever remains of the circle shape and squiggle tails that fell outside the circle and the result will be the portions of squiggles within the circle.

  • That gives me a different result: i.sstatic.net/3W21k.png I'd also like to avoid having to do tasks like "select everything inside the shape" since in general the shape will be very complex. Jul 10, 2017 at 22:21
  • I'm sorry, i should have studied it more (or at least tried it). Can the paths be expanded? I was able to accomplish it with Divide after expanding, but then the squiggle paths are no longer editable.
    – Webster
    Jul 10, 2017 at 22:34

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