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Targeting key objects while cutting and transforming in Affinity Designer

Documentation manager Andy takes a look at key objects, an innovative new feature introduced in our recent Affinity V2 updates.

Before looking at their use, a few words are needed about what key objects are and how you make an object a key object.

A key object is a nominated object from which cutting and transforming operations are performed against (instead of the lowest object in the z-order or the selection bounds).

It is targeted by simply pressing the alt key on your hardware keyboard (or your iPad app’s Command Controller) as you select an object in a multi-object selection—it is identified as having a strong blue* outline.

Targeted key object shown with blue outline

Some important points:

  • You must always have a multi-object selection in place first.
  • A key object is only temporarily assigned, and only exists while the selection remains active.
  • * The key object colour is actually the layer colour, which can be changed from blue to any colour you choose via the Layers panel.

Here’s a quick roundup of what key objects can do for you while using some popular vector design techniques.

For subtraction (Boolean operations)

The Subtract Boolean operation normally removes object areas that overlap the bottommost object along with other non-overlapping ‘upper’ objects, leaving the left over areas of the lower object. However, alt-clicking (tapping) on a key object lets you subtract from the key object, instead of from the lowest object, to give a different result.

Object multi-selection showing text in front of a shapes group (A), subtraction from bottommost object gives unwanted results (B), subtract using 'text' key object subtracts as required (C)

The key advantage here is that you don’t have to reorder your objects, i.e. make the subtracting object the bottommost object (text in the example), just to allow the operation to work correctly.

For desktop apps, try this via Toolbar; for iPad apps, use the Geometry pop-up menu.

For cutting out

Use Layer>Geometry>Cut Curves with Key Object to cut into curves and shapes using a targeted key object. For example, you could use a shape to cut into underlying vector content.

Vector logo (A), logo (as a key object in blue) placed over a shape (B), Targeted logo cuts into the shape using Cut Curves with Key Object (C)

For alignment

Usually you align objects within a multi-object selection to the edges of the topmost, bottommost, leftmost or rightmost object within the selection bounds. Instead, you can designate any object as a key object, which means alignment is made in relation the edges of just that object.

Object multi-selection (A), Align Bottom to bottommost ruby object (B), Align Bottom to white diamond key object (C)

For desktop apps, try this via Toolbar>Alignment; for iPad apps, use the Alignment pop-up menu.

For spacing

Newly introduced into the Affinity 2.4 release (February 2024), you can evenly space out a selection of objects using the distance between the targeted key object and leftmost or rightmost object in the selection. This is instead of the spacing being calculated evenly between the selection bounds.

Object multi-selection (A), spacing evenly between selection bounds (B), spacing evenly using leftmost object and white diamond key object (C), spacing evenly using rightmost object and white diamond key object (D)

For desktop apps, try this via Toolbar>Alignment; for iPad apps, use the Alignment pop-up menu.

For resizing objects to same

Sometimes there’s a need to make all objects the same size as a targeted object. This is possible using the Make Same feature after you’ve targeted a key object within a multi-object selection.

Object multi-selection with red diamond as key object (A), Result of Make Same for resizing (B)

For desktop apps, try resizing and rotating via Toolbar>Alignment; for iPad apps, use the Transform panel (Alignment Options).

Learn more tips for aligning and distributing layers and unifying their properties, such as width, height and rotation in this short video.

In summary

Key objects let you modify cutting and transforming behaviour so you can achieve very different results compared to standard usage. Why not try out key objects next time you perform cutting and transforming operations in your work?