How to Use the Live Paint Bucket Tool in Adobe Illustrator

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Whether you have just started using Adobe Illustrator or are already an expert, it’s very likely, you have come across a tool that looks like a bucket overlapping two squares in the side toolbar in Adobe Illustrator.

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What is the Paint Bucket Tool?

As a senior graphic designer but also an illustrator, you can guess how essential the Live Paint tool is for me. Whether I need to create simple logos or large-scale illustrations, the Paint Bucket tool is an intuitive brilliant way to color an artwork. 

All you need to do is lay out strokes on your artboard. With the Vector Pen or Brush tool, create a drawing. I recommend always starting by sketching your ideas, then tracing them in Adobe Illustrator

Nonetheless, this tool is not as easy as picking a colored pencil and scribbling on paper. Here is what you need to know about the Paint Bucket tool. I will also give you the best tips to make the most of this brilliant tool and create your next masterpiece. 

Where is the Live Paint Bucket Tool? 

The Live Paint tool is like a real-life paint bucket on top of two outlined squares. Nested under the shape builder tool, a much faster way to get to it is through (K) on your keyboard. 

How to use the Live Paint Bucket Tool?

Live Paint Bucket: Defined Shapes

Let’s create some shapes. The shapes must be overlapping.

Here are some overlapping circles. 

Now we want to color inside these lines.

Step 1

Select everything you want to color with the live paint tool. You’ll need to make a Live Paint group. You can do it from the overhead menu Object>Live Paint>Make or by clicking on the drawing after you hit (k).

Step 2

Now that your Live Paint group is ready to work on, you can start to fill in the shapes with any color of your liking. I recommend preparing a harmonious color palette beforehand.

Check out this tutorial on how to make clouds in Adobe Illustrator.

Choose any color from the Swatches panel. You can also place your colors next to your drawing for easy access. With the Paint Bucket tool selected, press ALT to pick the colors next to your drawing. Start painting!

Step 3

Click on any shape in the group with the Paint Bucket tool and fill it with a color. The chosen color is the one in the middle. Toggle between colors with the left/right arrows on your keyboard

Et voila! A beautiful artwork. 

Live Paint Bucket: Open Paths

In some cases, especially with more complicated drawings, the Live Bucket tool won’t allow you to paint because of gaps you’ve accidentally left behind while drawing. It happens to all of us. Do not worry. Thankfully, there is a solution! 

To fix this issue, go to Object>Live Paint>Gap Options 

The Gap Options tool lets you detect all kinds of gaps. From small to custom gaps, click Ok. Now, you’re able to fill in more shapes without any issues. 

The Gap Options tool also allows you to change the preview color that highlights where the gaps are and detects how many gaps there are in your drawings. What a lifesaver!

Now that the gaps are found and closed. We can color the whole drawing. 

The more detailed the drawing, the more you can play with nuanced colors! The possibilities are endless.

More Live Paint Bucket Tips

  • Toggle between colors by clicking the left-right, top-down arrows on your keyboard. Create a color palette in the Swatch panel. 
  • Expand the drawing Object>expand to get out of Live Paint Mode. You won’t lose any colors. All the separate elements will be in the layers panel.
  • “Hide edges” from the top menu bar View>Hide Edges to better define which closed paths you want to work on. 
  • Go to View>Outline to better view an outline version of your artwork. You’ll be able to see the gaps better. 
  • For patterns, apply the Live Paint Bucket before you turn your artwork into a pattern. 

Check out this article where I compare the Top Vector Graphics Software.