How to Use the Knife Tool in Adobe Illustrator

The knife tool helps create custom shapes and text appearances by cutting through them.

You can activate the knife tool by going to the sidebar and click-holding the Eraser tool to select the knife tool and then draw through a selected object to make a cut.

Hi, my name is Rita. I have been using Adobe Illustrator for over five years. I often refer to the knife tool as the “cool cheat tool” because it allows new users like me to create fantastic shapes and text effects like expert users. 

This article will show you how to create cool effects using the knife tool.

Key Takeaways

  • Holding down the Alt (Windows) or Option (Mac) key while using the Knife Tool allows you to cut in freeform mode, which can be handy for more organic shapes.
  • To use the knife tool in Illustrator, you need first to have an object selected.
  • You can use the Knife Tool to cut through groups of objects, and it will divide the group into separate shapes.
  • Consider using the “Path Eraser” tool to clean up rough edges or unwanted segments for smoother cuts.

Note: All screenshots are from Adobe Illustrator CC Windows Version. Mac and other versions may appear different. 

How to Cut Shapes with the Knife Tool in Illustrator

You can easily cut a shape in Illustrator with the knife tool. Let’s see how this works in practice.

Step 1: Create a shape (This is the most critical step). Click on the shape tool to create your preferred shape. I’ll use the Ellipse tool to draw a circle.

Step 2: Activate the Knife tool. Go to the sidebar and select the Knife tool under the Eraser Tool

Step 3: Cut your shape. Draw through the shape to cut it. You can draw a freehand or straight path to cut your shape. 

Step 4: Select the shape and edit. You can move the shape around, delete a part, change color, or make any edit. I will move the shapes apart to reveal the white color of the artboard (I want to create a white-and-black effect).

How to Cut Text with the Knife Tool in Illustrator

Cutting text with the knife tool allows you to create unique designs with your text. You can play around with the colors and space and even distort the appearance of the text to suit your design needs.

Let’s cut the sample text below with the knife tool.

Step 1: Create your text. You can use the Type Tool to create text if you don’t already have one. Select the Type Tool from the sidebar or use the keyboard shortcut T.

Step 2: Outline the text. Use the keyboard shortcut Shift + Ctrl + O (for Windows) and Shift + Command + O (for Mac) or go to the overhead menu and select Object > Expand.

Note: You can’t cut a live text, you’ll need to first create a text outline to make the text editable. Outlining the text converts it to individual shapes you can edit like the regular shape.

Step 3: Ungroup text. Select the expanded/outlined text, right-click, and select Ungroup to ungroup text.

Note: When you outline text, the Illustrator program automatically puts the text (now individual shapes in a group, ungroup the text to edit each letter independently). 

Step 4: Draw across the text with the knife to make a straight or freeform cut. Select the cut path and make your edits accordingly.

I selected the cut path, then changed the color of the top to yellow and left the bottom as black. You can make edits that best suit your design needs. For example, you can create a space between the cut path or move them sideways.

It all depends on what you wish to achieve.

That’s it! You just learned how to use the knife tool to cut shapes and text.


No doubt, it’s easy to make beautiful edits in Illustrator with the Knife Tool. However, you may have other questions about using the knife tool in Illustrator.

What’s the Difference between the Knife and the Pathfinder Tool in Illustrator?

The significant difference between the Knife Tool and the Divide effect in the Pathfinder tool in Adobe Illustrator is how they create divisions in shapes or paths.

The Knife Tool is a manual and freeform cutting tool that provides more control over where and how you create divisions. In contrast, the Divide effect in the Pathfinder tool is an automated operation that precisely divides shapes at their intersections.

Why is the Knife tool not working in Illustrator?

There are a couple of reasons why the knife tool may not work. The knife tool may not work if you are trying to cut a raster image.  To cut a raster image with the knife tool, you must first trace and expand the image to make it a vector before cutting it with the knife tool.

Another reason for the knife tool not working in Illustrator is how you apply the knife to an object. If you cut within the object, you won’t see the effect of the knife tool. 

You must cut through the object from the outside (on both sides) for the knife tool to work.

What’s the Knife tool shortcut in Illustrator?

Illustrator Knife tool doesn’t have a shortcut, so you can only find it on the toolbar. 

How do you use the Knife tool in Illustrator on an image?

To use the knife tool on an image, you first have to convert the image to a vector. 

Final Thoughts

There are different methods for cutting an object in Illustrator, but the Knife tool does more than just cutting. You can use it to create awesome text effects as well (as shown above). 

Do you have any questions? Let us know in the comment section.

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