Creating Non Standard Vector Shapes - Tutorial

In this tutorial we will be briefly looking at creating non standard vector shapes (shapes that don't come on the tool menu.). These shapes are essential to master if a designer wishes to create unusual designs and styles. I manly use these techniques for logo marks. I hope to show that by a few simple tricks two boring circles can turn themselves into a sophisticated shape.

We will be working with Adobe Illustrator which is my preference but the process would be very similar in any other vector software. So here we go...

01 - Two Boring Red Circles

Hit the hot key "L" and the ellipse tool will be selected. Drag out a circle using shift (to constrain equal proportions) and alt (to make the circle start from the point which you started from). Then press "v" for the selection tool and drag the circle whilst holding down "alt". This will duplicate the first circle. Resize it using shift and alt if required. You should get something like this:

start with 2 red circles

02 - Two Black Circles

Create two other circles using the same technique. These two will serve as "cut out" areas. See below:
add 2 black circles

03 - Blue Circle

Now we are going to create a blue circle which will eventually become simply a "fill in" shape. Draw this circle on the top of the others. Like this:

add a blue filler circle

We then need to send this blue circle to the back of the other circles. You can do this by looking at the layers pallet but I prefer the hot keys which are "option", "shift" and "[" the effect of which should look like this:
send to back

04 - The Subtract or Knock Out "KO"!

Now we are going to use one of the black circles as a knock out shape. Press "V" for the selection tool. Select both the blue and the black circles by holding down the shift key and clicking each one separately. Like this:

select the right shapes

Bring up the path finder palette by hitting "shift" and "F9". The path finder pallet is defiantly worth experimenting with if you are unfamiliar with it. It is one of the most powerful tools of a vector package as it allows you to add to and take away combinations of shapes. We are going to use two of its features in this tutorial. Select the "subtract" option - second from the left as indicated below. Note: this will only work if the two shapes are selected and the one that need to be subtracted is on top.

pathfinder tool

The result should look like this:

demonstration of half knocked out circle

Now hit the Expand button to the right of the pallet which subtracts the shape.

knock out

Do the same to the other black circle but remember to send the blue shape to the back otherwise the blue shape will be subtracted instead of the black.

05 - Final Touches

We should now have something like this:
blue shape needs to join the two red circles

Now we are going to join all he remaining 3 shapes to be one. Select the three shapes and go to the pathfinder pallet again. This time select the first shape mode with is "add to shape".
final funky shape
This will create a vector shape which combines all of them together.

final funky shape
So we now have a complete shape which could be used for a number of purposes. Its very modern and yet very simple and could not have been created without a little thought and the techniques we have just used. In my view a shape like this shows that a designer is familiar with vector packages and is therefore technically advanced in his/her abilities. Leering techniques like this can only add to the ability and creativity of a designer and I think it is worth getting really familiar with the pathfinder pallet for this reason.

06 - Putting It In Context

So we created a shape. Whoopy-do!!. What use is a shape if not put into context I ask myself. So I decided to show it in context. Here in three steps I used this shape to create a simple yet effective logo concept (Note: for more information on logo design why not check out my Guide to Logo Design)
logo in context stage 1

logo in context stage 2

logo in context stage 3

So there we have it. A few simple techniques used to create a logo in a matter of 10 minuets. I would be interested to see how people found this tutorial - too simple, too complex. Was it easy to follow and most of all was it useful?

So master the pathfinder tool and get creating. Enjoy...


Cool tut.

Hi there,

In step 4 you could combine the whole knockout procedure into one move by selecting all three objects before selecting "subtract".

Also I would be inclined to create this using the new "Live Paint" feature in CS2 as it allows for more freedom to tweak and perfect the join of the three main circles.

It is however a good tutorial and will hopefully lead to people plaing with the pathfinder options more...

Chris :o)

That this is so freaking difficult in Illustrator is why I'm so sad that Freehand is no more. This could be done in seconds with Freehand. Thanks for the tutorial though. I've been putting off learning Illustrator simply because I think in terms of Freehand still and just get frustrated. Sorry for venting. :)

Excellent tutorial for a budding Illustrator (or vector) user.



Great Tut. I'm looking for tutorials like this. I never was taught anything about vectors, so I've been curious! Thanks.

Hey, just wanted to let you know, you can also make non-standard shapes in photoshop too, with the shape tool.

Make sure the shape tool (or even just the pen tool) is set to be a vector shape and not just a path or a rastor shape. Then once you draw one shape, you'll see a bunch of other shape options activate in the toolbar to the right of all the default shape symbols.

With these new options, you can add to or subtract from the shape areas, intersect shape areas, or exclude overlapping shape areas. This makes it really easy to get the sort of shape you want.

There's no need to think in terms of Adobe all the time. :)

This could easily be achieved in an open source vector proggie like Inkscape.

As I say - any vector package can do this - good point Calophi, we tend to only think of Illustrator or Freehand when it comes to vector but Photoshop does it as well.

Vixus - what is Inkscape like to use? I have never heard of it before if I'm honest. I have just had a quick look on google and I have found that you can download it from these places:

Mac Download

PC Download

I'm going to take a look at it when I get time. (Note: Attitude Design does not take responsibility for copywrite, licensing or distribution of this product - it is solely your responsibility if you install this software)

Also nobody has mentioned Corel Draw which I assume will do the same.

My preference is Illustrator because I work alot in Photoshop and Indesign and these 3 are highly compatible when transferring elements between them. Also all the hot-keys are virtually the same. Only downside is the expense. There really isn't a right or wrong way to create graphics though and as long as the result is good I don't suppose it matters...

Wow, thats life saving. Excellent job on the tutorial, you rescued me from three or four frustrating and jaw clenching hours.

Wouldn't it be great if someone could give you a "to do" list when you were ready to start your company that would guarantee your success? Even better, what about a "to don't" list of things to avoid at all costs? Through experience, I've found there are no shortcuts to launching a business--you have to do your homework to understand your customers, competitors, market conditions and risks. But there are some principles I've found to be very effective for growing both my company and my clients' businesses whether they are startups or Fortune 500 corporations, whether they sell consumer products, professional services or technology products. What to do as a start-up?

This tutorial is such a life-saver for me. It might be the simplest thing out there, but I've been looking for it for the long time. You've rescued my assignment. Thank you so much. I'll definitely come back here regularly!


Its a great tutorial. Thanks for sharing again! Love your blog...

A very good Tutorial.

It is very easy to create a unique Logo, but sometimes we need the idea and the good tricks.