How to Fill Compound Paths in Illustrator

By Elizabeth Mott

A compound path preserves the open areas in letters such as
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When creating vector artwork in Adobe Illustrator to add information graphics or drawings to a design project for your company or one of its clients, you can use compound paths to produce complex multi-element shapes with unfilled overlapping areas. Compound paths also make up the shapes of type that you convert to outlines, enabling you to preserve the open area within letters such as "O," "E" and "A." Fill compound paths with color using the same steps and processes you use to fill simple shapes.

Open the "Window" menu and choose "Swatches" to reveal the Swatches panel so you can fill the compound path with a color that's saved with your Adobe Illustrator document. Choose "Color" from the "Window" menu so you can mix a shade by selecting its color components.

Press "V" to activate the Selection tool. Click on a compound object to select it.

Click on the "Fill" swatch in the Illustrator toolbox so the color you select will apply as a fill. Click on a swatch in the Swatches panel to apply it. Any changes you make to a color formula in the Color panel apply immediately to the selected object whose color you're editing.


Use the Direct Selection tool to select a subpath within a compound path made up of more than two paths, so you can use the Reverse Path Direction button in the Attributes panel to change whether the subpath appears filled or open where it intersects or overlaps other subpaths. This technique applies only to compound paths that use the Non-Zero Winding Rule form of path interpretation. You can tell whether the compound path uses this rule or the Even-Odd Fill Rule by looking at the state of the two Attributes panel buttons that represent them.

The Non-Zero Winding Rule interprets subpaths based on mathematical formulas that determine what's inside or outside a compound path. The simpler Even-Odd Fill Rule also relies on math, but designates every other subpath as filled or open, producing predictable results.

All subpaths within a compound path use the same fill and stroke attributes. If you change a compound path's fill while you've selected only one of its subpaths, the entire compound path changes color.

If you apply a gradient fill to a compound path, it fills all the subpaths as if they defined one shape, rather than applying it to each subpath individually.


If you release a compound path, all its subpaths become filled.

Information in this article applies to Adobe Illustrator CS6. It may differ slightly or significantly with other versions or products.