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Clipping masks

In Illustrator, a clipping mask works like a picture frame or mat. While it is in effect, it hides (clips) parts of an illustration that fall outside its borders; only parts of objects within the confines of the masking object will be visible. Masked objects can be moved, restacked, reshaped, or repainted.

To create a clipping mask:

Arrange the object or objects to be masked . They can be grouped or ungrouped. To avoid a printing error, don't use very intricate objects.

Figure 1. The original objects: A standard type character on top of a placed bitmap image.

Put the masking object, which we call the “clipping path,” in front of the objects it will be masking. If you need to restack it, on the Layers palette, drag its name upward on the list. The clipping path can be an open path or closed path. It can have a brush stroke, but remember, the path itself—not the brush stroke—will be used as the clipping path. You can use type as a clipping path without having to convert it to outlines, and you can use a compound path as a clipping path.

Choose the Selection tool (V).

Select the clipping path and the object or objects behind it to be masked.

Choose Object > Clipping Mask > Make (Cmd-7/Ctrl-7) . The clipping path will now have a stroke and fill of None, and all the objects will remain selected. The words “<Clipping Path>” (underlined) will appear on the Layers palette (unless text was used as the clipping path, in which case the text character[s] will be underlined instead). Also, the clipping path and masked objects will be moved into a <Group> in the top-level layer of the original clipping path.

Figure 2. After selecting both objects and applying Object > Clipping Mask > Make

Note: To recolor the stroke or fill of a clipping path, see page 345.

  • Don't let the inconsistency between the command name (“Clipping Mask > Make”) and the listing on the Layers palette (“Clipping Path”) confuse you. They refer to the same thing.



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