Using Expert Features of Illustrator: Glyphs and Pathfinder

By Esben

Alec's Version

This is a guest post by Esben Thomsen. I’m always looking for guest authors for Creative Curio!

Some time ago I saw Alec’s beautiful wallpaper artwork (shown above) on He has a big crush on Minion Pro–who doesn’t like stressed o’s? Another awesome feature of Minion Pro, is how many glyphs come with that typeface.

I noticed that he did a superb job aligning the heart ornament and the swashed M, but somehow it still feels like two different glyph instead of one combined object that flows naturally like this:

Esben's Version

In this Illustrator lesson, we are going to use more basic tools so that you will become familiar with the way they work, and hopefully see how you can use them in other situations. We will go over combining two different shapes and also manipulating the resulting path to make the combination look more natural.


Go ahead and download Alec’s wallpaper from Flickr and open a new document in Illustrator.

I don’t know exactly which font from Minion Pro Alec used, but since I have 128 different variations of Minion Pro, I’m not about to look through them all to find it. I just used Regular and Italic.

Take the Type tool, create an M and choose Minion Pro as your font.

Select the letter, like on the picture, change the font style to Italic and find that beautiful swashed M from the Glyph panel. You can bring up the Glyph panel from Type>Glyphs, and in the Show drop down menu at the top of the panel, select Alternates for Current Selection. If you can’t find the swashed M, make sure the font style is Italic.

Select the swashed M from the glyphs panel

Cmd/Ctrl + left click outside the type box (to deselect it) and move the mouse somewhere else on the artboard and click once again to create a new text box.

Find the heart ornament using the Glyphs panel. To make it even easier, from the Show drop down menu, select Ornaments.

Heart ornament in the glyphs panel

Go to your folder where you saved Alec’s wallpaper. Drag and drop the image into your current Illustrator document, or use File>Place and select the wallpaper from the dialog box. It’s okay to use a linked image, since we are only using it as a reference anyway.

Arrange>Send to Back

Right click Alec’s wallpaper and go to Arrange>Send to Back, or select the wallpaper and hit Cmd/Ctrl + Shift + [ (left bracket) to move it to the bottom of the layer stacking order.

Proper order of things

Now go to your Transparency panel and give it a 50% transparency. Then lock the image in the Layer panel (click the empty box next to the eyeball icon and a padlock icon should appear indicating the layer is locked).

Now arrange and scale your M and the heart ornament, so that it fits Alec’s somewhat. Make sure there is an overlap between the heart and the M!

50% transparency

Once this is done, go to the Layers panel and click the little eyeball next to the padlock, so Alec’s wallpaper disappears (don’t worry, it’s still there, we just turned off its visibility).

Select the M and the heart ornament, go to the Pathfinder panel and choose Add to Shape Layer and click Expand (also found in the Pathfinder panel, both of these buttons are highlighted in yellow below). Now the objects should be combined into one shape.

Using the pathfinder tools

The Selection Tool

Zoom into the area where the letter and ornament meet and use the Direct Selection tool (white arrow, shortcut is A) and start tweaking those anchor points and handles. It can be a bit difficult to select the anchors, since they are somewhat… ehm sensitive. Thankfully starting with CS2 they allow you to not show the error warning every time you mis-click.

What I’m looking for is that the curve becomes more natural and an s-shape is the most natural (it really depends on where you combined the objects in the last section).

You are probably not going to get the same result as me, but that’s all right. Of course when you master this technique, NASA is going to hire you, since the sky isn’t a limit anymore!

Before and After

This is the basic in manipulating path. You can now finish the wallpaper by adding the remaining glyphs or do something completely different. For some free textures, take a look at Flickr and remember to search under “creative commons.” Here are a couple places to get started:

Did you enjoy this Illustrator tutorial from Esben? Why not subscribe to Creative Curio to be updated when there is a new post? An email option is available, too!