Illustrator Eraser tool

02 Feb 2011

Like with any software, if you work in it for many years you develop certain habits and working methods. Sometimes because of this you tend to make the mistake to overlook, or simply neglect some of the new features, not realizing that certain actions can be done in less steps. To give you an example, the Eraser Tool in Illustrator is a tool I never used much, and so because of this, and because of this I never paid much attention to it. Big mistake! Here is why…

Eraser tool Settings

The Eraser tool actually works like a Brush. If you double click the tool in the Toolbox you can set the Brush diameter, angle and roundness, and if you have a pressure sensitive tablet you can take advantage of that too. I don't use one, but if you do a lot of illustration work I bet this is a cool addition.

Eraser Tool Settings window

What can and can't

One way to use the Eraser tool is by simply cutting a whole in one or more selected objects. The Eraser tool works upon selection. The Eraser will not work on images, text, symbols, graphs, and gradient meshes. To Erase text you'll need to create outlines first (Text > Create Outlines or Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + O). For symbols or graphs you'll need to expand them (Object > Expand).

When you hold down the shift key, you can erase straight lines. What I particularly like about this technique is that Illustrator automatically closes the paths for you.

Removing parts of the text using the Eraser tool holding down the shift key Paths are automaticalluy closed

Although I don't use the 3D effects very often, it seems the effect will remain after creating a whole in it. In the example below I'm using the Revolve effect on some text that I have created into outlines first.

Text with a 3D Revolve effect applied to it After erasing some parts, the 3D effect is reapplied to all separate parts

To erase parts of a stroke with a custom brush applied, you'll first need to expand its appearance (Object > Expand Appearance…).

A stroke with a custome Artbrush applied to it

Each segment of the path will have the brush reapplied. So by expanding its appearance, you turn the stroke into fill and things will be erased as expected.

After using the eraser tool each segment of the path has the brush reapplied Using the Eraser tool after expanding the stroke's appearance

Another example is when you use the new (CS5) stroke Width tool. You'll also need to expand the appearance first or you'll get weird results.

Applying the eraser tool on a stroke Unexpected result after applying the Eraser tool Using the Eraser tool after expanding the stroke's appearance

Smart way to erase areas

The way I use the Eraser tool mostly these days is whenever I have to erase a whole area. It often happens that certain parts of paths grow outside my composition area. In a lot of cases I will opt for a Layer Mask to hide these parts, as this is a flexible nondestructive solution, but a fast and easy option is simply to use the Eraser tool, and hold down both the Shift and Alt/Option keys while dragging over the area that you want to remove (see image below). It will be remove in now time, and Illustrator will close all my paths for me. You gotta love that. Simple, fast and clean.

Using the Eraser tool to remove unnecassary parts of an illustration


  1. 1 Sew Heidi 02 Feb 2011

    Just like you noted, I am so comfortable in my ways and know what tools to use to make the software do what I want, that I sometimes ignore the new features and never learn the other (often easier) ways to do things!  This is a great tool and I look forward to utilizing it in my work to save time!  Thanks for the great overview.

  2. 2 Mabel 03 Feb 2011

    Thanks for this! really useful tip with holding down the alt/shift-especially all the paths being closed for me-thanks you very much!

  3. 3 Kurt Cruse 03 Feb 2011

    Had no idea you could hold down shift for a straight line. Thanks!

  4. 4 George Probst 06 Feb 2011

    Didn’t know about the holding Shift + Alt/Option feature. I typically mask in those types of situations, as well, but I can think of some situations in which using the eraser instead of a mask could potentially be advantageous. Thanks for the tip!

  5. 5 Rob Cubbon 07 Feb 2011

    I’m the same, I’ve never used it before. Mostly because it’s not a helpful tool in Photoshop as layer masks is a better alternative. But after reading this, I’ll experiment with it in Illustrator. Cheers, Veerle.

  6. 6 MattS 27 Feb 2011

    In a lot of cases I will opt for a Layer Mask to hide these parts, as this is a flexible nondestructive solution

    Oh, how I would like Illustrator to have the same preview button as Indesign has. =]

  7. 7 anna_h 02 Mar 2011

    I can not agree more, I would love to see “Preview” option/button in Illustrator!!! I can not stand this masking method all the time, it is just taking way too long…