How to Use the Knife Tool in Adobe Illustrator

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Did you know there is a knife tool in Illustrator? And just like in real life, it has similar traits, except you don’t have to worry about injuring yourself. 

There are many ways to divide and separate objects in Adobe Illustrator, but what I like about the Knife tool is it’s quick and fun. The cursor even looks like a knife you can move around and practice with. 

This tool will add cool effects to your artwork and even help you make awesome typography forms. 

In this tutorial, I will show you how to use the Knife tool to cut out objects and add a nice twist with the Envelope distortion option in the top menu bar. 

It’s very easy! 

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Where is the Knife tool?

Nested together with the Eraser tool and Scissors tool in the side menu (also helpful tools for editing shapes), the Knife tool doesn’t have a shortcut key. How about we start with a small text effect? 

1. Cool Text Effect

Start by opening a fresh document in Adobe Illustrator and selecting your preferred size document. There aren’t any specific document size values for this practice tutorial.

Using the Type tool, write the word “SLIDE” in big bold letters.  

Now, outline the word. Select the word with the selection tool > right-click and then select Create Outlines. You cannot use the Knife tool if you do not outline your text first. 

Change the color to any color of your liking and select the Knife tool from the side menu. In a quick motion, cut through the word. It will create a line showing where the cut is. 

There you go! You now have multiple separate objects. You can select the parts one by one using the selection tool (pressing Shift to add to your selection). Use the left arrow key to slide your selection slightly to the left.  

Pretty cool! It looks like a real-life knife cut through the letters in a slick, quick motion.

2. Typography Illustration

Draw another circle using again the Ellipse tool (L). Hold the Shift key to draw a perfect circle. 

Now, let’s add a cool effect to the circle and some nice typography. 

Draw another cut. Now, you can change the color of each section. 

Select the top section and move it a little bit to the top. In the same way, select the bottom part and move it downward. With the Type tool, write three words (any three words you like). Outline the text. Right-click > Select Create Outlines

Select both the first section and the first word. Position the layer of the section you want to use on top of the layer of the word. You will need to select Envelope Distort>Make with Top Object. 

Here you go! Think of how many other ways you can use the Knife Tool! 

More Pro Tips 

  • You cannot use the Knife tool if your text isn’t outlined or does not have a defined shape. 
  • The path you create with the Knife tool will determine the cut path/shape. 
  • If you want to cut a straight line, hold the Option/Alt key while you draw.  

Check out this tutorial on how to use the Shape Builder Tool.

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