About clipping masks

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. The clipping mask and the objects that are masked are called a clipping set. You can make a clipping set from a selection of two or more objects or from all objects in a group or layer.

Object-level clipping sets are combined as a group in the Layers panel. If you create layer-level clipping sets, the object on top of the layer clips all of the objects below it. All operations that you perform on an object-level clipping set, such as transformations and alignment, are based on the clipping mask’s boundary, not the unmasked boundary. Once you have created an object-level clipping mask, you can only select the clipped content by using the Layers panel, the Direct Selection tool, or by isolating the clipping set.

Clipping masks in Illustrator
Before masking (left) compared to after masking (right)

The following guidelines apply to creating clipping masks:

  • The objects that you mask are moved into the clipping mask’s group in the Layers panel if they don’t already reside there.

  • Only vector objects can be clipping masks; however, any artwork can be masked.

  • If you use a layer or group to create a clipping mask, the first object in the layer or group masks everything that is a subset of the layer or group.

  • Regardless of its previous attributes, a clipping mask changes to an object with no fill or stroke.

    Tip: To create a semitransparent mask, use the Transparency panel to create an opacity mask.

Video tutorial: Create a basic clipping mask

Video tutorial: Create a basic clipping mask
Infinite skills

Hide parts of objects with a clipping mask

  1. Create the object you want to use as the mask.

    This object is called the clipping path. Only vector objects can be clipping paths.

  2. Move the clipping path above the objects you want to mask in the stacking order.
  3. Select the clipping path and the objects you want to mask.
  4. Choose Object > Clipping Mask > Make.

    Note:

    To create a clipping path from the area where two or more objects overlap, group the objects first.

Create a clipping mask for a group or layer

  1. Create the object you want to use as the mask.

    This object is called the clipping path. Only vector objects can be clipping paths.

  2. Move the clipping path and the objects you want to mask into a layer or group.
  3. In the Layers panel, make sure that the masking object is at the top of the group or layer, and then click the name of the layer or group.
  4. Click the Make/Release Clipping Masks button at the bottom of the Layers panel or select Make Clipping Mask from the Layers panel menu.

Edit a clipping mask

  1. In the Layers panel, select and target the clipping path. Or, select the clipping set and choose Object > Clipping Mask > Edit Mask.
  2. Do any of the following:
    • Move the clipping path by dragging the object’s center reference point with the Direct Selection tool.
    • Reshape the clipping path using the Direct Selection tool.
    • Apply a fill and stroke to a clipping path.

    Note:

    To select all clipping paths in a document, deselect all artwork. Then choose Select > Object > Clipping Masks.

Edit paths within a clipping set

To edit portions of a path that fall outside of the clipping mask, you must first select the specific path within in the clipping mask boundary, and then edit the path.

  1. Do one of the following:
    • Target the path in the Layers panel.
    • Position the Direct Selection tool over a portion of the path that appears within the mask. When the path’s outline appears, click it.

    Note:

    To select a clipped path by clicking it, you must click the portion of it that appears inside the mask.

  2. Edit the path.

Add or remove an object from masked artwork

  • In the Layers panel, drag the object into or out of the group or layer that contains the clipping path.

Release objects from a clipping mask

  • Do one of the following:
    • Select the group that contains the clipping mask, and choose Object > Clipping Mask > Release.
    • In the Layers panel, click the name of the group or layer that contains the clipping mask. Click the Make/Release Clipping Masks button at the bottom of the panel, or select Release Clipping Mask from the panel menu.

    Because the clipping mask was assigned a fill and stroke value of None, it is now not visible unless you select it or assign it new paint attributes.

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