Creating compound shape variants using Boolean operations

This article will explore how each Boolean operation works, and how Boolean operations can be used non-destructively, so you can alter the look of your shapes in as many different ways as you want to.

Combining shapes is simple. With multiple shapes selected, from the toolbar, you can choose from a variety of Boolean operations.

Multiple shapes selected.

The Add operation combines the selected shapes, adding the top object’s area to all objects below. This is the default mode.

Add operation applied to multiple selected shapes.

The Subtract operation reduces the compound by removing the object’s area from all objects below.

Subtract operation applied to selected shapes.

The Intersect operation modifies the compound by only showing overlapping areas of the selected object and objects below.

Intersect operation applied to selected shapes.

Xor modifies the compound by creating a composite shape, with transparent areas where object overlaps with objects below.

Xor operation applied to selected shapes.

With the Xor operation applied, you can add a background behind the transparent areas.

Xor operation with background.

Divide breaks the selected shapes and the intersection between them into separate shapes.

Divide operation applied to selected shapes.

These new shapes can all be moved independently of each other.

Divide operation with shapes adjusted.

Holding down ALT while selecting a Boolean operation creates a Compound layer, containing the shapes you originally selected, allowing you to edit the shapes non-destructively.

Compound layer.

Using this non-destructive approach, you can precisely adjust the look of your compound shapes, even after performing the operation, by selecting the layer in the Layers panel and moving or transforming its contents.

Transformed compound layer contents with Add operation performed.

You can also change the Boolean operation applied to shapes within a Compound layer by clicking on its icon in the Layers panel and selecting one of the available options.

Boolean operations displayed in the Layers panel.

You can separate the shapes contained in your Compound layer at any time via the Layer menu by selecting Layer > Release compound.

Using the various Boolean operations, you can create a range of complex compound shapes and designs from basic shapes.

Boolean operations applied to create a complex shape.
Boolean operations applied to create a complex shape.