How to Clip and Crop Illustrations for Your Infographics

By Justin Beegel, MBA, The Infographic World Team

Illustrator, like Photoshop, allows you to mask elements of your design which will help you create stunning infograhpics. Illustrator has two types of masks: clipping and opacity.

The Clipping mask allows you to mask any shape with any other shape simply by selecting them all (hold down Shift to select multiple items) and then choosing Object→Clipping Mask→Make. The object on the top (the other shapes are behind it) becomes the mask, or window, through which the bottom layers are seen.

For example, make a red rectangle. Then for a little excitement, put some white stripes across the top of that rectangle. Draw a white line, make it nice and thick (say, 10pt). While holding down Option/Alt, drag the line down a little ways. (If you hold Shift down as well, the movement is constrained to a single direction.)

Now you should have two lines.

Press Cmd+D/Ctrl+D to get a third line evenly spaced from the second. Do this a couple more times, and you’ll have a bunch of stripes.

Now draw another shape on top. It could be a circle, a star, or even just the word “stripes.”

It doesn’t matter what color that object is because the color won’t show. It’s just important that this last shape be on top of the others. Select all those elements and choose Object→Clipping Mask→Make or press Cmd+7/Ctrl+7. (See the figure.)

You should have a masked version of your stripes now. You can choose Object→Clipping Mask→Release to undo the mask at any point, and use the Direct Selection tool to select and move any masked object, leaving everything else untouched.

Experimenting with the clipping mask.

Experimenting with the clipping mask.

The Opacity mask works basically the same way but uses tones to establish what shows through and what doesn’t. This allows for a more subtle transition between visible and not visible.

Give it a try:

  1. Take the same red rectangle and stripes and draw a new shape on top.

  2. Fill that shape with a gradient fill: say, a black and white gradient.

    It doesn’t matter whether you choose a radial or linear style of fill. Either will work.

  3. With all the shapes selected, choose Window→Transparency.

  4. Click the Make Mask button in the Transparency dialog box.

    What you masked shows through in the white parts and less so where the gradient was darker.

    If you select the Invert Mask box, the opposite happens: The lighter parts will be hidden, and the darker parts will show through.

Here’s another example. Draw another shape and fill it with a color — say, black — and then move it behind your image (choose Object→Arrange→Send to Back). You can see that the edges of your image really are being masked in a gradual way.

You can use either technique to mask vector shapes, text, and photographs. Illustrator also allows you to create masks within masks, allowing you to create complex designs very quickly.