How to Make a Clipping Mask in Adobe Illustrator

How to Make a Clipping Mask in Adobe Illustrator

How to Make a Clipping Mask in Adobe IllustratorA clipping mask is a design tool that not many people know about, but it has the potential to take your designs to the next level. It can spice up a simple piece of text, add beautiful patterns to a standard image, and add a little oomph to even the most basic shape. And the best part is that making a clipping mask is quick and simple.

So what exactly is a clipping mask? It’s an object that masks (or hides) other artwork, so that you can only see the artwork inside the shape. Essentially it is like taking a window and placing it in front of a scene, so that you can only see the scene through the window. This window can be in any form – text, hand drawn shapes, simple shapes, anything you can think of. And the scene can be anything – from a photograph to an interesting pattern. Below I’ve got a few different examples of clipping masks you can make.

Clipping Mask Demo

How do you make a clipping mask?

Now to the nitty gritty – how do you make a clipping mask in Adobe Illustrator? Though the finished product looks pretty complex and fancy, the process is actually really simple. Here are the steps on how to make a clipping mask. If you’d like to watch a video rather than reading through this tutorial you can scroll down and follow the steps in the video at the bottom of this post!

Step 1

The first step is to bring in the image that you want to clip from, or the background that you want to display. This could be a photograph or a pattern image, or even a pattern that you created yourself. Then just copy and paste it onto the artboard (the workspace in Adobe Illustrator).

Step 2

Create the image that you want to clip to. This is the text or shape that you want the background to show through.

If what you are clipping to is text, then type the text as you want it to appear. Then once you have it the way you want, you need to convert it to outlines. Go to the menu Type > Create Outlines. Then you need to make the type a compound path, which makes illustrator see all the separate letters as one big image. To do this you can press Command + 8 or go to Object > Compound Path > Make.

If what you are clipping to is a shape, then you do not need to create outlines, since the shape is already an outline. However, if the shape is a group of shapes, you still need to make a compound path so that they appear as one large shape. Just select all the shapes and press Command+8 or go to Object > Compound Path > Make.

If what you are clipping has a stroke, you first need to turn the stroke into a shape by clicking Object > Path > Outline Stroke. Then you need to make a compound path by pressing Command+8 or go to Object > Compound Path > Make.

Step 3

Now make the actual mask. First, make sure that the background image is in back, and the clipping is in the front. Then you select both and press Command + 7 or Object > Clipping Mask > Make. This will make the background shape disappear, and you will see that image only where the front shape was.

Step 4

That’s it! But, if for some reason you want to edit the mask – maybe the part of the pattern you loved isn’t showing through or the picture isn’t in the right place – you just go to Object > Clipping Mask > Edit Contents and then you can move the background image so that the exact part you want shows through the clipping.

This post was originally publishing on April 6, 2015 and has been updated to better serve you!

32 thoughts on “How to Make a Clipping Mask in Adobe Illustrator”

  1. Pingback: Blog | Pearltrees
    1. Hey Shelly! Unfortunately that image is one I created a long long time ago for my old blog and then just transferred the post to this one. But it would have been a pattern I found somewhere on Google image search if that helps at all!

  2. Hi Melissa thank you for this tutorial! Question – how do you do it in reverse? For example, the “How To” banner you have where the type is transparent on the background. Thank you so much!

    1. Hey Mariana, that’s a great question! So you would type the type, and then move it over a shape. Convert the type to outlines, and then use the pathfinder palette to minus the type from the shape. Then you will be left with one solid shape with the letters cut out from it. Then follow the tutorial steps. Let me know if that makes sense!

      1. Thank you Melissa! Just tried and it worked beautifully. So awesome and such an easy way to create a unique effect that sets designs apart. Wow, I wonder what else is possible?

        1. You’re welcome Mariana! Glad to hear it worked out for you. Adobe Illustrator has endless capabilities. I spend a tonne of time in there and I still don’t know all the things that are possible.

  3. I tried this in my design class today with my Prof. and these instructions would not work! We found that we had to select each letter as a shape and then needed to copy and paste the object the same number of times for the number of letters in the word. Ai would not allow us to use the full word as a shape even after making outlines etc. But the rest of the directions were amazing and I really learned a lot. Thank you!!!

    1. Hi Sabrina, Thanks for letting me know! I have made clipping masks of full words in the past and you need to make sure to group the letters and make a compound shape so that they are see as one full object. I’ll check back and see what might have been the problem next time I’m in illustrator. Glad to hear this tutorial was helpful for you otherwise! :)

  4. WOW thank you for such a helpful tutorial! I always thought the clipping mask topic is complicated, but now I finally understand. Thank you for explaining it so simple and clear!

  5. hi Melissa how you doing ! great post, I learned a lot from your post and hope you will keep up the great work ! I am a graphic designer and I also write blogs to help other designer, You can have a look at my blog if you like ;)

  6. HI Melissa, I love your post. It’s one of the best written tutorials I’ve red in years. I should know because in my daily work I use Illustrator mainly for text (some industrial labels printing). In rear occasions when my printer requires designing some details, I turn to tutorials and yours was exceptional. I now follow you on Pin. Keep up the good work!

    1. Hi Marina, thank you so much for your kind words! I’m so glad my post has helped you delve deeper into Illustrator! Thanks for the follow and thanks for reading! :)

  7. Hi Melissa, is there a way to use a brush effect on the stroke of a shape, and then use the clipping mask? I am relatively new to Illustrator. When I apply the brush to the stoke of a shape (example a polygon), the clipping mask only take effect on the shape itself leeving the brush effect… Hope I explain it in a way for you to understand. What else can U try?

    1. I found my answer! I needed to apply an outline to the stroke by going to Object – Path – Outline Stroke. Then make it a Compound Path, and then apply the Clipping Mask. Yay!

      1. I’m glad you found the answer Derina! That’s exactly it. In fact, I’ll add that to the post so that others will know what to do if they want to add a clipping mask to a stroke. Thanks for reading!

  8. I have been struggling with making clipping masks as sometimes it works exactly as I want it to and other times it doesn’t work or makes all of the color disappear so I found this tutorial very helpful. Thanks for all of the useful tips.

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