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In Illustrator CS5 Essential Training, author Mordy Golding explains the core concepts and techniques that apply to any workflow in Illustrator, whether designing for print, the web, or assets for other applications. This course includes a detailed explanation of the elements that make up vector graphics—paths, strokes, and fills—and shows how to use each of Illustrator's drawing tools. Also demonstrated are techniques for combining and cleaning up paths, organizing paths into groups and layers, text editing, working with color, effects, and much more. Exercise files accompany the course.
We already know that when you're working inside of Illustrator, it's a good idea to create layers inside of your document, as the structure only seems to help you. Well, I'm going to show you a feature now, specifically in the area of masks, where using layers can be very, very helpful. I'm going to move over to this dock over here, and open up my Layers panel. In fact, I'm going to bring the Layers panel out over here, so we can take a better look at it. Notice that right now inside of this document, I have three layers. I have this image on one layer, and I have a background, and I've also designed this gift card.
If I reveal the contents of the gift card layer, I'll see that I have several groups here, which make up the different elements, but I also have a path, and this path basically determines the boundary of this card. When I'm looking at the card, I have to actually bleed or create extra artwork space that goes beyond the border of the card, but I really don't want to see it right now. So what I could do is actually create a mask using that credit card outline shape, so that all that other artwork is clipped within that shape. If I use a regular clipping mask, Illustrator is now going to also group all that together.
In addition, I really have so many other groups and objects going on here that I might want to take advantage of something in Illustrator called the Layer Clipping mask. Let's see how that works. Notice that right now inside of the Gift Card layer, the topmost object in that layer is this path. I can click over here to actually select it on the artboard. Every single layer inside of Illustrator automatically has a Mask attribute applied to it. In fact, think of it kind of as a light switch. I have the ability, at any time, to turn that light switch on and turn on a layer's mask.
What actually defines the mask for a layer? Well, the answer is that the topmost object inside of that layer will become the mask when I turn that light switch on. In other words, right now, I have a layer called Gift Card. I have four groups inside of that layer, and I also have a path on top. If I were to turn on the mask for the Gift Card layer, this path would now become the mask for everything else inside of that layer. So, to see how that works, I'm actually going to deselect everything, because the feature I'm about to show you is actually an attribute of the layer itself, and has nothing really to do with the artwork on the artboard.
So I don't need to make a selection on the artboard, what I need to do is make a selection in the Layers panel, by clicking or highlighting the layer that I want to work with. In this case, you can clearly see that the Gift Card layer is highlighted. I'm now going to come to the bottom of the Layers panel and click on this button, which says, Make/Release Clipping Mask. Notice what happens when I click on this button. Immediately, the path that was over here now becomes a clipping path. And the artwork now is only visible within the boundaries of that path. Without having to create any extraneous groups, Illustrator was able to maintain my layer structure, and it gives me the results that I'm looking for.
In fact, I can easily tell, by looking at the Layers panel, where a mask has been applied, because masks always appear with an underline. On top of that, any artwork that's currently clipped within that mask shows up with a dotted line. As I'm working, I can continue to click on this button to turn that switch on and off. So now, I can view the artwork without the mask or with the mask activated. Working with Layer Clipping masks can really help reduce confusion when working with very large or complex files. However, in order to take advantage of this feature, you really have to be careful about structuring your document using layers.
Again, this is just yet another reason why working with layers is so important inside of Illustrator.
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