How to Make a Clipping Mask in Adobe Illustrator

Clipping Mask is another designer’s must-know tool in Adobe Illustrator. Creating text with background, showing the image in shapes, all these cool and fun designs are created by making a clipping mask. 

I have been working with Adobe Illustrator for more than eight years, and let me tell you, Make Clipping Mask is a tool that you will use quite often as a graphic designer. From simple things like clipping your portfolio photo to brilliant poster design. 

In this tutorial, I will show you four ways to make a clipping mask along with some useful tips.  

Let’s dive in! 

What is a Clipping Mask 

Nothing complicated. You can understand a clipping mask as a shape called a clipping path that goes on top of objects like images and drawings. When you make a clipping mask, you can only see the under part object within the clipping path area. 

For example, you have a full-body picture (the under part object), but you only want to show your headshot, then you create a shape (clipping path) on top of the picture to clip only the head part of the picture. 

Still confused? Visuals will help explain better. Keep reading to see visual examples.

4 Ways to Make a Clipping Mask 

Note: Screenshots below are taken on Mac, the Windows version might look slightly different. 

There are four different ways to make a clipping mask. Keep in mind that in all methods, the clipping path must be on top of the object you wish to clip. 

For example, I want to show only the headshot of this image. 

Step 1: Create a clipping path. I used the pen tool to create this path. 

Step 2: Place it on top of the object you wish to clip. You can also fill the path with color to see clearly where the path is. Because sometimes when you deselect the path, it’s hard to see the outline.

Step 3: Select both the clipping path and the object. 

Step 4: You have four options. You can make a clipping mask using the shortcut, right-click, from the overhead menu or in the Layer panel. 

1. Shortcut 

Command 7 (for Mac users) is the shortcut for making a clipping mask. If you’re on Windows, it’s Control 7.

2. Overhead Menu 

If you are not a shortcut person, you can also make Object > Clipping Mask > Make.

3. Right-click 

Another way is to right-click on the mouse and then click Make Clipping Mask

4. Layer Panel 

You can also make a clipping mask at the bottom of the Layer panel. Remember, the clipped objects must be in the same layer or group.

There you go! 

FAQs 

You might also want to know the answers to these questions that your designer friends have. 

Why is the clipping mask in Illustrator not working? 

Keep in mind that a clipping path must be a vector. For example, If you want to add an image in the text background, you must outline the text first and then make a clipping mask. 

How can I edit a clipping mask in Illustrator? 

Not happy with the clipping area? You can go to Object > Clipping Mask > Edit Content, and you will be able to move around the image below to show the area you like. 

Can I undo the clipping mask in Adobe Illustrator? 

You can use the shortcut (control/command 7) to release the clipping mask, or you can right-click > Release Clipping Mask.

What is a compound clipping mask in Illustrator?

You can understand compound clipping paths as object outlines. And you can group objects into one compound path to make a clipping mask.

Wrapping Up 

There are many cool things you can do with the clipping mask tool in Adobe Illustrator. Remember the tips I mention in the article and you will master this tool in no time. 

Can’t wait to see what you are going to make!

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.

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  • Phil B

    Hello June,
    I read your article and I have a question for you. I have an 2″x6″ object with three 2″x2″ images. The 6″ length is vertical, and there is white space between the three images with no content. I’m trying to move the center image vertically downward by 0.25″ and leave the other two images in the same location. Can I do this with a simple clipping mask or is there an extra step? When I make my clipping mask of the center 2″ square image the other images disappear. Do you have any advice? Thanks.
    Phil

  • June Escalada

    Hi Phil,

    When you make a clipping mask, only the mask area will show and the original image will disappear. In your case, you can make 2 copies of the original image, clip the three images one by one, and then align them together.