Clipping Masks are very useful in Illustrator, but can get complicated really fast for a beginner, which is why I don’t teach them in my 101 class. But if you feel you’re ready, here is what they are and what they do!
WHAT ARE THEY?
“A clipping mask is an object whose shape masks other artwork so that only areas that lie within the shape are visible—in effect, clipping the artwork to the shape of the mask.” — Illustrator Help
Let me show you what that means. Here are some examples! (In the above example, I drew the outline of my son’s face with the pen tool, and used it as a clipping path on his photo so that I could put his face in the balloon-shaped O.)
HOW DO YOU DO IT?
- Place an object on top of the artwork you’d like to clip. (In the above examples, the heart and the hexagon.)
- Select that object along with all the artwork underneath.
- Go to Object > Clipping Mask > Make. (I do this every day, so I use the shortcut: cmd/ctrl 7.)
- (If you need to release your clipping mask, go to Object > Clipping Mask > Release.)
Now your artwork is clipped! A few things to consider:
- The object you want to use as your mask MUST be the top-most object. Please note that your artwork will now be at the same layer level as your clipping object. (So in the heart example above, if my heart shape were IN FRONT of the banner, after I clip the photo, the heart-shaped photo will be IN FRONT of my banner as well. I’d just have to move it behind the banner if that occurred.)
- A clipping mask does not CROP artwork. So all your artwork, and all your photo are still INSIDE the clipping mask. They can be accessed, moved around, edited, etc. The clipping mask is just HIDING the parts of your artwork that you don’t want to see.
- The fill and stroke of your clipping mask will disappear. So when I make a clipping mask, I actually don’t really worry about the appearance of my top-most object. As soon as I make it into the clipping mask, the fill and stroke will both be set to none.
- You can’t make a clipping mask from a group. So for example, you wouldn’t be able to use a clipping mask to use words to mask off in a photo, as I demonstrate in this tutorial on how to show an image inside text.
WHY DID YOU SAY THEY CAN BE COMPLICATED?
Don’t worry. They don’t get SUPER complicated. But there are some things…
- When you use a clipping mask, your artwork has now been grouped within the clipping mask. So if you’re not confident working with groups, this might get tricky for you. To move objects INSIDE your clipping mask you have a few options: 1) Use the Direct Selection Tool (I use this method most often with photos, where it is easy to just click the photo with the Direct Selection Tool, then switch to the Selection Tool to resize or rotate my photo). 2) Release the clipping mask (Object > Clipping Mask > Release), change your objects, then create the clipping mask again. 3) Double click in the clipping mask to enter ISOLATION MODE, which grays everything out except for the group you’re focusing on. While your items remain a group, you can now move them around independently of one another. Then double click anywhere that is not an object to exit isolation mode. (This is my preferred method!)
- It can be a pain to resize the mask itself. If you want your mask to be smaller, for example, without your artwork also resizing. You would need to use isolation mode (as described above) and then select the INVISIBLE OBJECT that is your clipping mask and then alter it, or you would need to click on the top left-most button in your control panel (“edit clipping path”) to be able to resize/move the clipping path without affecting the clipped artwork. (And, BTW, that button isn’t working for me properly now that I’ve upgraded to CS6, so I’m waiting for them to fix that.)
- It can also be a pain to give your clipping mask a fill or stroke. Again, you would want to use isolation mode or the “edit clipping path” button to do this.
I hope that helps you understand clipping masks a little bit! Try them out, and if you run into problems, please leave a comment on this post! I’ll answer any questions, and update the post as necessary! Good luck, and if you make something cool, I’d love to see it! You can always upload anything you’re working on to our Facebook page. We love to see what you’re up to!