How to Create Interlocking Shapes in Adobe Illustrator CC 2015

Creating interlocking rings, such as the Olympic logo, is a technique students find fascinating. The interesting thing about this technique is, if you can create interlocking rings, you can create complex Celtic drawings, interesting text effects or practically anything else that requires one object to be interlocked with another. In this “How To” we are going use a few tools in Illustrator CC 2015 to create the effect and, as you will discover, it isn’t as difficult as it first appears. 

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How to Create a Perfect Circle In Illustrator

A red circle with a red 10 pixel stroke is shown on the Illustrator canvas as is the appearance panel.
Master modifier keys and you master Illustrator.

Screenshot by author 

When you open a new document, select the Ellipse tools and, holding down the Option/Alt and Shift keys, draw a circle. By pressing those modifier keys when creating the circle, you actually draw a perfect circle from the center out. With the circle selected, set the Fill to None and the Stroke to Red. Make the stroke thicker by selecting 10 from the Stroke pop-down menu in the Options bar. Alternatively, you can select Window>Appearance to open the Appearance panel and change the stroke width and color in the Appearance panel.

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How to Convert A Shape to an Object In Adobe Illustrator CC 2015

The three colored shapes are shown on the Canvas and in the Layers panel.The shapes are aligned using the open Alig panel.
The Outline stroke otion is what creates the compound shapes and the Align panel ensures they are properly aligned.

 Screenshot by author 

Now that we have a rather fat red circle, we need to convert from a shape to an object. With the circle selected choose Object>Path>Outline Stroke. When you release the mouse, you will notice your circle seems to consist of two objects: A solid red circle with and white one above it. Not quite. Your circle has been converted to a Compound Path which means the white circle is actually a “hole”. You can see this if you open the Layers panel.

Select your compound shape and, with the Option/Alt and Shift keys held down drag out a copy of the circle. Repeat this to create a third copy. The Option/Alt-Shift-Drag technique is a quick way of copying a selection and is common to many of the Adobe applications, including Photoshop.

Select your two new rings and change their colors to green and blue. Name your layers.

Teacher Trick:

Even though you have made exact copies of the rings you might want to ensure they are properly aligned with each other. Select the three rings and then select Window>Align to open the Align Panel. Click the Vertical Align Center and Horizontal Distribute Center buttons to align them with each other.

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How to Create Interlocking Rings in Illustrator CC 2015

The Diviude button in the Pathfinder panel is highlighted.
The Pathfinder panel reduces complexity to a simple mouse click.

Screenshot by author 

The interlocking effect involves a couple of steps. The first step is to select Window>Pathfinder and to click the Divide button. What this does is to “cut up” the rings where they overlap each other.

The next step is to simply Ungroup the objects by selecting Object>Ungroup or pressing the Command/Ctrl-Shift-G keys. This actually releases all the overlap shapes.

Next switch to the Subselection Tool- the Hollow White arrow – and click on one of the overlap areas to select it. Select the eyedropper tool and click on the intersecting color. The overlap changes color and looks link the ring is interlocked with another. With the subselection tool, select other colors and change its color with the eyedropper tool.