How to use the knife tool in Adobe Illustrator

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How to use the knife tool in Adobe Illustrator
How to use the knife tool in Adobe Illustrator (Adobe Systems Incorporated)

Although it can be hard to understand how it works at first glance, the Knife tool in Adobe Illustrator can be extremely useful. With it, you can cut any shape in your document into two or more along a straight or curved line. The resulting shapes fit together seamlessly to form the original one, but can also be moved away from each other to create a more interesting look. The Knife tool works slightly differently depending on whether or not you hold down a modifier key.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy


  1. 1

    Launch Adobe Illustrator and open a file that contains shapes. Alternatively, if you just want to experiment, create a new file and draw a few shapes. Click and hold the "Eraser" tool in the Tools palette and select the "Knife" tool from the drop-down menu that appears.

  2. 2

    Click and drag across a shape with the tool to cut it along a freehand line. The cut can begin and end either inside or outside the shape you are cutting; its path can intersect itself, so you can slice one shape into many with just one cut.

  3. 3

    Hold "Alt" if you are using Windows, or "Option" if you are using a Mac, to cut a shape along a straight line. Hold "Shift" while doing this to force the straight line to snap to the closest angle that is a multiple of 45 degrees. Straight cuts can also begin and end either inside or outside a shape. Unlike freehand cuts, however, you can only make a straight cut in one direction at a time, so the cut can't intersect itself and you can only get two shapes out of each shape you cut.

Tips and warnings

  • Slicing with the tool across multiple shapes will cut them all, whether they overlap or not. To cut only specific shapes, use the "Selection" tool to select them before you cut.

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