Adobe CS5 Illustrator Clipping Masks - dummies

By Jennifer Smith, Christopher Smith, Fred Gerantabee

Adobe Creative Suite 5 (Adobe CS5) Illustrator includes the Clipping Mask functionality. Similar to peering through a hole in a piece of paper to the objects underneath it, a clipping mask allows a topmost object to define the selected shapes underneath it; with a clipping mask, however, the area around the defining shape is transparent.

Some items using the clipping mask feature.
Some items using the clipping mask feature.

You may recall what a film mask looks like — it’s black to block out the picture and clear where you want to view an image.

A conventional film mask.
A conventional film mask.

The clipping mask feature in Adobe CS5 Illustrator uses the same principle as the conventional film mask. It hides the area outside the mask area.

  1. Choose File→Place to place an image.

    Masks work with objects created in Illustrator and with objects placed (scanned or otherwise imported) there.

  2. Create the item you want to use as a mask by using the Pen tool to create a shape or a closed path.

    For example, the circle is the mask. (The photo underneath it is the placed image from Step 1.) The circle is placed where the mask will be created. The shape’s color, fill, and stroke values don’t matter because they automatically change to None when you create a mask.

    Note: When creating a clipping mask, make sure that the object to be used as a mask is a closed shape and is at the top of the stacking order.

    Position the mask shape over the object.
    Position the mask shape over the object.
  3. Use the Selection tool to select the placed image and the shape.

    Shift-click to add an object to the selection.

  4. Choose Object→Clipping Mask→Make.

    Alternatively, you can use the keyboard shortcut Ctrl+7 (Windows) or Command+7 (Mac) to create the clipping mask.

    Ta-da! You created the clipping mask. Masked items are grouped, but you can use the Direct Selection tool to move the image or mask individually.

  5. To turn off the clipping mask, choose Object→Clipping Mask→Release.

You can also use text as a clipping mask: Type a word and ensure that it’s positioned over an image or another Illustrator object (or objects). Then select both the text and the object and choose Object→Clipping Mask→Make.