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!
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).
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.
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.
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.