Clipping Mask Tutorial

A clipping mask allows you to frame, or “mask” a picture within a defined shape.

Here is an example of a clipping mask used in the Narrative Graphic Collage assignment:

The pictures fit inside the mickey mouse shape.
The pictures fit inside the mickey mouse shape.

Interested in using this technique in your project? Follow these steps:

Step 1: Select Your Shape

First, decide what shape you want to use to frame your image. These are two ways to create a well-defined shape to use as a clipping mask:

  1. The easiest is to create the shape with the polygon or custom shape tool.
  2. The other option is to use the quick selection tool on a picture with a shape with well-defined edge and copy and paste that shape as its own layer.

Step 2: Pick Your Photo(s) and Arrange

Now, you should decide which images to place inside your shape. Arrange them on a separate layer (or layers) so they overlap your new shape. Resize as needed and remember to hold shift to keep the same dimensions of your pictures.To help see where the photos will be cut off by the shape, I typically put the shape layer on top and lower the opacity.

Once your pictures fill the shape and are arranged how you like them, merge all the photo layers. Do this by holding ctrl and selecting all the photo layers, then right-click on the layer, and select the Merge layers option. Remember, don’t select your shape layer when you do this, or it will be merged too!

Step 3: Create the Clipping Mask

Now it is time to create your clipping mask. Move the shape layer so it is immediately below the merged pictures layer. Then in the menus along the top of the screen, select Layer -> Create clipping mask. Your photos will now be bounded by the shape!

Step 4: Adjust Positioning

If your photos don’t line up perfectly within the shape as you envisioned, select the shape layer and use the arrow keys to move the shape as needed to get the image inside the shape exactly how you want it. Be mindful of the edges of the shape. If you move it too much you might not have a portion of picture to fit into it, thus creating an empty spot in your shape.

Step 5: Merge

To make it easier to work with your newly created image within a shape, you can merge the shape layer and image layer. This way they will always move together and share the same layer options panel. Double click on the layer for these options. Adding a stroke can often make the new shape pop and seem more well-defined. Play with these settings until you get the effect you want.

More Help

If you want a more in-depth tutorial for clipping masks, a good one exists here: http://www.photoshopessentials.com/basics/clipping-masks-essentials/.

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