Why Can’t I Erase in Adobe Illustrator

There are several ways to erase in Adobe Illustrator: cut, clipping mask, etc. But let me guess, you’re talking about the Eraser Tool? I feel you. The Eraser Tool in Illustrator doesn’t work the same as the Eraser Tool in Photoshop. 

In Photoshop, the Eraser Tool can do a lot, from cleaning up sketch lines to removing image backgrounds. I’m not saying that the Eraser Tool in Illustrator is not as good, it just has a different focus, more vector design-oriented. 

When you use the Eraser Tool to remove something in Illustrator, the area that you clean will become separate paths or shapes. In other words, you can also consider its function as dividing paths/shapes. 

It can sound a bit confusing without examples. Don’t worry. In this article, you’ll find five reasons why you can’t erase and how to solve this problem with some common examples. 

Before looking for the solutions, let’s find out the reasons! 

The Can’t Erase Issue in Adobe Illustrator

When you select the Eraser Tool ready to erase something, when you move the cursor on top of the object you want to erase, if you see this little icon here, Uh-Oh! Not good. 

The reason why you can’t erase in Adobe Illustrator can be the following. You’ll find a corresponding solution under each reason. 

Note: the screenshots are taken from Adobe Illustrator CC 2021 Mac version. Windows or other versions can look different. 

Reason #1: You Are Trying to Erase Something on a Raster Image

Unlike in Photoshop, you can erase an image background or anything on an image, the Eraser Tool in Illustrator doesn’t work the same. You can’t erase on a raster image. 

Solution: Clipping Mask or Photoshop

The ideal and best solution is to go to Photoshop and erase the area of the image that you want to get rid of because Illustrator doesn’t have a tool for removing pixels from raster images. 

Not a Photoshop user? You can use the Pen Tool to select the area that you want to keep and then create a clipping mask to remove the unwanted area. It works fine for removing image background, but if you want to keep multiple objects on the image, it can get complicated. 

Quick example. I want to erase that half apple and keep the rest. So the first step is to use the pen tool to select the rest of the apples that I’m going to keep. 

The next step is to make a clipping mask. The half apple is gone, but the other area that I didn’t select is all gone as well. 

That’s why I said, it can be complicated. If you have a simple background like this, simply create a rectangle (for the background) and use the eyedropper tool to select the same color for the background. 

Reason #2: You Didn’t Create a Text Outline

This is probably what you’re seeing when you use the Type Tool to add text without outlining the text. 

You won’t be able to use the Eraser Tool to edit it because you cannot erase live text in Illustrator. 

Solution: Create a Text Outline

You can either delete the text directly or outline it and then use the Eraser Tool. If you simply want to delete a certain character, the easiest way to do it is to use the Type Tool to select and delete it directly from the live text box. 

If you insist on using the Eraser Tool or trying to erase part of the text instead of an entire one, you can create a text outline first and then select the Eraser Tool to remove unwanted text areas. When you select the Eraser Tool with outlined text, you’ll see the eraser and anchor points on the text. 

Actually, it’s a good way to make special text effects because you can edit the anchor points freely. 

Reason #3: You Didn’t Embed the (Vector) Image

If you download stock vectors online, make sure you embed the image when you place them in Illustrator. Any images that aren’t originally created in Adobe Illustrator are considered embedded images (files). 

Image Credit: Vecteezy

When you place a file in Illustrator, you’ll see it has two cross lines on the bounding box. If you see this box with a cross, you won’t be able to use the Eraser Tool.

Solution: Embed the (Vector) Image

You’ll only be able to edit the image if it’s a vector and it’s embedded. That’s why you need to embed the image when you place it into Illustrator. You’ll see the Embed option on the Properties panel > Quick Actions > Embed

Do this action, select the Eraser Tool again and you’ll be able to erase it. 

Reason #4: Your Object is Locked

I assume you already know that locked objects cannot be edited. The same rule applies to erasing. You basically can’t do anything to a locked object. 

Solution: Unlock the Object

Go to the overhead menu and select Object > Unlock All. Now you can use the Eraser Tool to erase, but the object must be a vector. The areas (paths) you remove, will separate the original shape but you can still edit the anchor points of the new shapes.  

Reason #5: You Are Trying to Edit a Symbol

Apparently, you can’t erase a symbol either, not even the symbols from Illustrator itself. I know I said you couldn’t edit images directly that weren’t created in Illustrator, but this is from Illustrator.  

I feel you because I thought about the same thing when I first tried to edit a symbol. Luckily, you can make it happen with one simple action. 

Solution: Make It a Vector

First of all, check if the object is a symbol. Open the Symbols panel from the overhead menu Window > Symbols. If it is a symbol, lucky you, simply right-click on it and select Break Link to Symbol and you can edit it. 

Conclusion

It seems like the Eraser Tool in Adobe Illustrator almost only works well when the object has anchor points. Saw that pattern? So when you run into this problem again, the first thing to do is to check if the object you’re erasing is a vector. 

I hope the solutions I listed above solve your erasing problem. If you have any new findings and solutions, feel free to share:) 

About June Escalada
Graduated from Creative Advertising major, worked more than eight years as a graphic designer focusing in branding and Illustration. Yes, Adobe Illustrator is my best friend and I’m passionate about art and design.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *