Introduction: How to Use Clipping Masks in Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator

Almost everyone uses an Adobe program at least once. There are endless things you can do in these programs. One of many features is masking. Masking can be helpful in changing the appearance of an image or object you have created. There are several different types of masks, but the one I am going to show you how to use is the clipping mask, which is one of the more popular masks.

For this project, you simply need access to Adobe Photoshop and/or Illustrator, as I will be showing you how to use this mask in both programs. You will also need an image. Any image will work.

Step 1: Photoshop

Choose an image and open it in Photoshop.

This will automatically be a Background layer, which is locked by default. Go ahead and unlock the layer by clicking the lock icon next to the name of the layer.

Now, the layer is unlocked for editing and will be renamed to “Layer 0.”

For this example, we will keep it as “Layer 0,” but feel free to rename it if you’d like by double‑clicking the layer name.

Step 2: Photoshop

Create a new layer. You can do this by clicking the button to the left of the trash can icon in the bottom-right corner. The appearance may vary depending on which version of Photoshop you are using. For example, the 2020 version has a plus sign, while the 2019 version has a paper with the bottom-left corner folded.

This layer will be used to make the shape of our mask, and will default to the name of “Layer 1.” New layers will be blank with a transparent background by default. What we will do here is create some kind of shape. Any shape will do, but let’s just create a basic circle. To do this, you can either use the Elliptical Marquee tool or you can use the Ellipse Tool.

If you proceed with using the Ellipse Tool, however, you will need to rasterize the shape. To do this, right-click the layer, and select Rasterize Layer. This will be necessary for our next step.

Step 3: Photoshop

Once you have created the circle, we should fill it with a color. There are a couple of ways to fill a shape. The simpler way is to use the Paint Bucket tool, as shown below.

With the Paint Bucket tool selected, ensure that a color is shown in the palette at the bottom. Let’s go with black.

If there is no color shown in the palette, double-click on the top square and a pop‑up box will appear where you can select any color you desire.

After the color is selected, click the shape, and it should be filled with the black we had shown in the palette.

There is another way to fill. Go to Edit at the top and then click on Fill. A dialogue box will pop up with some options. Ensure that Contents is set to Black and leave the Blending options as is (by default, they should have a Mode of Normal and an Opacity of 100%). If you are able to, uncheck the Preserve Transparency box. Sometimes this is locked, and that is okay. Now, the shape should be filled.

Step 4: Photoshop

Now that you have created a black circle, it is time to make the mask. Drag the Shape layer (Layer 1) below the layer with the image (Layer 0).

After doing that, ensure Layer 0 is selected, then go to Layer > Create Clipping Mask. You can also use the shortcut, Alt+Ctrl+G (Win) or Cmd+Opt+G (Mac).

Now you have a clipping mask!

You are also able to move the image around in the shape, or, you can move the shape around the image. Just select whichever layer you want to move.

Step 5: Illustrator

Rather than using an image, I am going to use a set of shapes. In my example, I used two different sets of shapes. For my shapes, I used the Rounded Rectangle tool, the Rectangle tool, and the Ellipse tool. Go ahead and make some shapes however you’d like.

You can also make shapes using the Pen tool if you’d like.

Step 6: Illustrator

Now that you have the shapes created, overlap them in some way. It doesn’t matter how you do it; once we create the mask, you’ll have a better idea of how the shapes should be overlapped for what kind of end result you’re looking for. I already overlapped my shapes when I created them, as shown in the previous step. Also, note that whichever shape you have at the top will be the shape the other ones will clip into.

Step 7: Illustrator

Let’s go ahead and make the clipping mask. Ensure all of your shapes are selected…

…then go to Object > Clipping Mask > Make.

Your shapes should have changed in a unique way! You can also move the shapes around using the Direct Selection Tool.

Step 8: Conclusion

And that is how you create clipping masks in Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. They can definitely be useful for a variety of things, and they are quite easy to use! I use them often for a lot of my projects and will continue to do so. If anything was unclear or if you want more information, you can watch these short but informative YouTube videos:



Thank you for taking the time to go through this tutorial! I hope it was helpful. Now, go make a ton of clipping masks and have fun with them!