How to Make a Clipping Mask in Adobe Illustrator

How to Make a Clipping Mask

How to Make a Clipping Mask

Clipping masks are something that not a lot of people know much about – but they can take your designs to an entirely different level. They can spice up a simple piece of text, add beautiful patterns to a standard vector, and add a little umph to almost any shape.

What is a clipping mask?

A clipping mask is 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.

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

Step 1

Create the image that you want to clip from. This could be a photograph or a pattern you found on google, or even a pattern that you created yourself. It just has to be an image. It’s as simple as copying it and pasting it onto the artboard (what you call the workspace in Adobe Illustrator).

Step 2

Create the image that you want to clip to. If this 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 (you need to make the text an image since you can’t create a clipping mask from editable text). Just go to the menu Type > Create Outlines. Then you need to make the type a compound path (basically making 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 the image you are clipping to is just a shape, then you do not need to create outlines (since the image is already an outline). However, if the image is a group of images, you still need to make a compound path so that they appear as one large image. Just select all the shapes and press 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 pattern only where the front shape was.

Step 4

You are done. 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.

Have you used clipping masks on your site or in your designs?

25 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! :)

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