Illustrator CS4 Beyond the Basics
Illustration by Richard Downs

Creating opacity masks


Illustrator CS4 Beyond the Basics

with Mordy Golding

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Video: Creating opacity masks

In Illustrator, we know that we can clip the contents inside of a vector path by using a mask. However, we are always dealing with a vector path that becomes that mask. As such, your masks will always have clean sharp edges which you might expect out of a vector application, but there may be times when you want to create a mask that has a soft edge to it; either a feathered edge or you want to create some kind of effect like a vignette, for example. In those cases, the vector clipping mask just won't cut it. Well, besides the clipping mask and a layer clipping mask inside of Illustrator, there is also a third type of mask called an opacity mask. In fact, an opacity mask in Illustrator works the exact same way that alpha channels work inside of Photoshop.
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  1. 2m 4s
    1. Welcome
      1m 41s
    2. Using the exercise files
  2. 33m 20s
    1. Introducing Live Paint
    2. Drawing in Illustrator
      4m 21s
    3. Creating a Live Paint group
      2m 54s
    4. Using the Live Paint Bucket tool
      3m 17s
    5. Using Live Paint with open paths
      2m 29s
    6. Detecting gaps in Live Paint groups
      4m 17s
    7. Adding paths to a Live Paint group
      3m 41s
    8. Using the Live Paint Selection tool
      5m 44s
    9. Releasing and expanding Live Paint groups
      2m 55s
    10. Understanding how Live Paint groups work
      3m 4s
  3. 49m 35s
    1. Introducing the trace options
    2. Setting expectations: Live Trace
      2m 26s
    3. Using the Live Trace feature
      1m 51s
    4. Understanding how Live Trace works
      5m 41s
    5. Making raster-based adjustments
      5m 52s
    6. Tracing with fills, strokes, or both
      2m 55s
    7. Making vector-based adjustments
      6m 12s
    8. Adjusting colors in Live Trace
      4m 39s
    9. Using Photoshop with Live Trace
      5m 22s
    10. Releasing and expanding Live Trace artwork
      2m 57s
    11. Saving and exporting Live Trace presets
      2m 36s
    12. Tracing in Batch mode with Adobe Bridge
      1m 35s
    13. Turning an image into mosaic tiles
      2m 28s
    14. Tracing an image manually
      4m 22s
  4. 1h 24m
    1. Introducing 3D
    2. Setting expectations: 3D in Illustrator
      2m 53s
    3. How fills and strokes affect 3D artwork
      4m 43s
    4. Applying the 3D Extrude & Bevel effect
      6m 25s
    5. Applying a bevel
      5m 40s
    6. Showing the hidden faces of a 3D object
      4m 49s
    7. Applying the 3D Revolve effect
      5m 22s
    8. Visualizing the revolve axis
      3m 5s
    9. Applying the 3D Rotate effect
      1m 35s
    10. Adjusting surface settings
      9m 33s
    11. Understanding the importance of 3D and groups
      3m 24s
    12. Preparing art for mapping
      10m 19s
    13. Mapping artwork to a 3D surface
      14m 21s
    14. Hiding geometry with 3D artwork mapping
      4m 0s
    15. Extending the use of 3D in Illustrator
      8m 7s
  5. 44m 37s
    1. Introducing transformations and effects
    2. Using the Transform panel
      12m 37s
    3. Repeating transformations
      5m 23s
    4. Using the Transform Each function
      3m 48s
    5. Using the Convert to Shape effects
      5m 49s
    6. Using the Distort & Transform effects
      5m 12s
    7. Using the Path effects
      6m 58s
    8. Using the Pathfinder effects
      4m 18s
  6. 28m 24s
    1. Introducing graphic styles
    2. Applying graphic styles
      10m 8s
    3. Defining graphic styles
      8m 47s
    4. Previewing graphic styles
      2m 10s
    5. Modifying graphic styles
      3m 30s
    6. Understanding graphic styles for text
      3m 16s
  7. 22m 49s
    1. Introducing advanced masking techniques
    2. Understanding clipping masks
      7m 15s
    3. Using layer clipping masks
      6m 30s
    4. Creating opacity masks
      8m 32s
  8. 1h 6m
    1. Introducing color
    2. Considering three types of color swatches
      7m 7s
    3. Managing color groups
      2m 58s
    4. Understanding the HSB color wheel
      3m 57s
    5. Understanding color harmonies
      2m 58s
    6. Using the color guide
      3m 54s
    7. Limiting the color guide
      3m 17s
    8. Modifying color with the Recolor Artwork feature
      6m 25s
    9. Using the Edit tab to adjust color
      5m 44s
    10. Using the Assign tab to replace colors
      8m 37s
    11. Making global color adjustments
      2m 17s
    12. Using Recolor options
      7m 3s
    13. Converting artwork to grayscale
      3m 23s
    14. Simulating artwork on different devices
      3m 18s
    15. Accessing Kuler directly from Illustrator
      2m 7s
    16. Ensuring high contrast for color-blind people
      2m 42s
  9. 53m 19s
    1. Introducing transparency
    2. Understanding transparency flattening
      2m 31s
    3. Exercising the two rules of transparency flattening
      10m 53s
    4. Understanding complex regions in transparency flattening
      4m 50s
    5. Exploring the transparency flattener settings
      8m 37s
    6. Using transparency flattening and object stacking order
      6m 39s
    7. Using the Flattener Preview panel
      6m 31s
    8. Creating and sharing Transparency Flattener presets
      2m 25s
    9. Working within an EPS workflow
      5m 3s
    10. Understanding the Illustrator and InDesign workflow
      5m 10s
  10. 50m 1s
    1. Introducing prepress and output
    2. Understanding resolutions
      8m 27s
    3. Discovering RGB and CMYK "gotchas"
      5m 42s
    4. Using Overprints and Overprint Preview
      7m 43s
    5. Understanding "book color" and proofing spot colors
      8m 1s
    6. Collecting vital information with Document Info
      2m 28s
    7. Previewing color separations onscreen
      1m 12s
    8. Making 3D artwork look good
      2m 16s
    9. Seeing white lines and knowing what to do about them
      2m 41s
    10. Creating "bulletproof" press-ready PDF files
      3m 45s
    11. Protecting content with secure PDFs
      2m 48s
    12. Using PDF presets
      2m 47s
    13. Moving forward: The Adobe PDF Print Engine
      1m 48s
  11. 35m 44s
    1. Introducing distortions
    2. Using the Warp effect
      4m 20s
    3. The Warp effect vs. envelope distortion
      3m 48s
    4. Applying the Make with Warp envelope distortion
      2m 45s
    5. Applying the Make with Mesh envelope distortion
      2m 41s
    6. Applying the Make with Top Object envelope distortion
      3m 45s
    7. Editing envelopes
      5m 0s
    8. Adjusting envelope settings
      4m 2s
    9. Releasing and expanding envelope distortions
      1m 45s
    10. Applying envelope distortions to text
      1m 27s
    11. Using the liquify distortion tools
      3m 5s
    12. Customizing the liquify tools
      2m 39s
  12. 28m 56s
    1. Introducing blends
    2. Blending two objects
      6m 18s
    3. Adjusting blend options
      5m 47s
    4. Blending three or more objects
      2m 9s
    5. Blending anchor points
      5m 36s
    6. Replacing the spine of a blend
      4m 32s
    7. Reversing the direction of a blend
      2m 15s
    8. Releasing and expanding a blend
      1m 47s
  13. 46m 56s
    1. Introducing charts and graphs
    2. Setting expectations: Graphs in Illustrator
      3m 19s
    3. Creating a chart
      8m 2s
    4. Importing data
      3m 34s
    5. Formatting data
      5m 1s
    6. Customizing a chart
      10m 22s
    7. Combining chart types
      2m 40s
    8. Creating graph designs
      6m 0s
    9. Styling and updating graphs
      5m 33s
    10. Ungrouping graphs
      1m 49s
  14. 26m 36s
    1. Introducing Gradient Mesh
    2. Understanding the Gradient Mesh feature
      9m 34s
    3. Using Gradient Mesh to add contoured shading
      6m 14s
    4. Using Gradient Mesh to create photorealistic effects
      10m 25s
  15. 8m 18s
    1. Introducing flare effects
    2. Drawing a lens flare
      3m 28s
    3. Modifying a lens flare
      1m 27s
    4. Using a mask with lens flares
      2m 58s
  16. 29s
    1. Goodbye

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Watch the Online Video Course Illustrator CS4 Beyond the Basics
9h 42m Intermediate Apr 03, 2009

Viewers: in countries Watching now:

Covering a wide range of topics, from advanced masking to chart creation, Illustrator CS4 Beyond the Basics reveals a whole new level of power, creativity, and efficiency with Illustrator. Instructor Mordy Golding explores how to work with Live Paint groups, get the most out of the Live Trace feature, and take advantage of Illustrator’s wide range of effects. He also discusses advanced transformation techniques, powerful 3D functionality, and important color concepts. Exercise files accompany the course.

Topics include:
  • Tracing artwork both automatically and manually
  • Mapping artwork to complex 3D surfaces
  • Using pressure-sensitive distortion tools
  • Recoloring artwork across a document
  • Using Excel data to create charts and graphs
  • Understanding how transparency really works
  • Creating high-quality, press-ready PDFs
  • Building efficient files with graphic styles
Mordy Golding

Creating opacity masks

In Illustrator, we know that we can clip the contents inside of a vector path by using a mask. However, we are always dealing with a vector path that becomes that mask. As such, your masks will always have clean sharp edges which you might expect out of a vector application, but there may be times when you want to create a mask that has a soft edge to it; either a feathered edge or you want to create some kind of effect like a vignette, for example. In those cases, the vector clipping mask just won't cut it. Well, besides the clipping mask and a layer clipping mask inside of Illustrator, there is also a third type of mask called an opacity mask. In fact, an opacity mask in Illustrator works the exact same way that alpha channels work inside of Photoshop.

So before we actually see the feature here of an opacity mask inside of Illustrator, let's hop over to Photoshop for a second and see exactly what an alpha channel is. Now I have a photograph here inside of Photoshop and I have a layer, which is currently set to Layer 0, meaning that this layer can contain transparency inside of it. It's not a background layer. Well, I know that I can go over here to the bottom of the Layers panel and turn on a mask for that particular layer. I can then choose the Gradient tool here inside of Photoshop and then simply click-and-drag the final gradient. Right now, I'm working inside of the mask itself. So I'm now using that gradient as a mask, but you can see really what happened here.

Photoshop is using this artwork here as a mask for the photograph but because this image itself is actually a channel inside of Photoshop, it supports 256 levels of gray. So unlike the clipping mask, which is either white or black, meaning I can have two distinct modes. Either I see artwork or I don't see it. An alpha channel, which support for the shades of gray, allows me to have pixels that are somewhat see-through or transparent. That's what allows me to have these gray bearded effects as masks. Of course, the benefit of working in this way is that as a mask, I can still continue to edit the contents out of the mask or I can edit the mask itself.

For example, I'll hold down the Shift key and I'll click on the mask itself to disable the mask and I can see that the image is still there. I haven't deleted any of the contents of that mask; I have simply hidden a portion of it. Shift-clicking on the mask again makes it active. So now that we see that, let's go back into Illustrator and apply that same concept here using an opacity mask. Now one of the great things about opacity mask in Illustrator is how powerful they are. The downside is that Adobe did a really good job hiding this feature, but don't worry, I'll tell exactly where it is and how to take advantage of its power.

So let's take an example here. So I'm going to use the regular Ellipse tool inside of Illustrator to create a mask for this photograph. I'm going to hold down the Option key or the Alt key on Windows to actually click-and-drag out to define the shape from its center and let's make a shape just about over there. Now right now, I could use this as a mask but my mask will actually get clipped to this hard edge, but I want to create a soft edge here. So I'm going to go to the Effect menu, I want to apply a feather. So I'm going to choose Stylize > Feather. Let's go ahead and click on the Preview button and let's this being a little bit softer, maybe around 30 points. Now I have a nice soft transition here. I'll click OK.

Now here is the thing; if I were to go ahead now and click on the actual image in the background, so now I have both the oval that I have created here that has the feather effect on it and the image behind it selected. If I were to create a regular clipping mask right now, Illustrator will use the path itself. Even though right now I have a feather effect, that gets ignored because the path itself becomes the mask. Instead, I want the appearance of the path to become the mask. I want the actual path with the feather to define the mask for the photograph. So to do so, I'm going to use an opacity mask. Once the objects are selected, I'm going to go over here to the Transparency panel and you will notice over here that I have a thumbnail, not much different than the thumbnail that I see inside of a layer inside of Photoshop. Right now, the area that appears just to divide it, this is blank, but that's going to change in a moment.

I am now going to over here to the flyout menu or the panel menu of the Transparency panel and I'll click to actually access its feature called Make Opacity Mask. So this feature really does not appear anywhere else, not inside of a menu. There is no tools for it. It's simply accessible only through the panel menu of the Transparency panel. I'll now choose Make Opacity Mask. You could see now that anything that was white allows me to see the image through it and because the mask itself is using an alpha channel or the values of the actual effect that I have applied to that object, that becomes the mask.

So my mask now has a soft transition, not a hard edge. Now for a moment here, let's take a look at our Transparency panel. I now have the artwork that I basically had created before, which is the image. Plus, you can see now that I have a new icon here which is, again, very similar to what I have seen inside of Photoshop. Photoshop displays the mask just to the right of the piece of artwork inside of the layer. Now that I have actually created my opacity mask, there are a few things that I can do to edit that. First of all, you will notice that right now, there is a thick black line around this piece of artwork right here but not around this edge over here. That means that right now my artwork is the part of the mask that's selected, but if I click over here on this part of the mask, notice now the black line switches to this side. Now, I can actually edit the mask itself.

So with a regular clipping mask, I had the two icons that appear in the control panel over here. Those actually now are replaced by these two by clicking or toggling between these two squares or thumbnails in the Transparency panel. For example, if I wanted my mask to have more of a feather effect, I can simply click on the mask itself. Now my oval is selected, the path itself. Notice that in my Layers panel, it says right now, Opacity Mask. I don't even see anything else in my file. The image is not even currently available right now. I'm only working or you can think about an isolated just the mask itself.

So I can click on the Feather effect to edit it and basically adjust it, maybe I want to do 50 points. Now I can adjust that feather at any time. Now I'll go back to the image here and I'm working with the artwork, I can move the artwork around, but notice that the mask and the image moves together. If I want to reposition the artwork inside of a mask, I can simply un-click this Lock icon here and that allows me to move the actual photograph around but notice that the mask is staying still. Likewise, if I now click on the mask itself, I can move the circle around but now the photo doesn't move. The photo remains stationary as I move the mask around. As soon as I'm happy with the positioning, I'll go ahead and I'll click on the artwork and toggle that Lock icon back again. This way the artwork and the mask will always move together.

Now there is one thing that I do want to point out about opacity masks. Sometimes when you are working inside of Illustrator, it may be difficult to find out where these opacity masks exist. Well, if you look at your Layers panel, you will see that over here, this wave rider image has a dash line that appears underneath it. Now we already know that a solid line, an underline inside of the Layers panel indicates a mask. Well, anytime you see an entry in the Layers panel with a dashed line underneath it that indicates that object currently has an opacity mask applied to it. You will also notice that in the Appearance panel, the group here also appears with a dash line underneath it, indicating the opacity mask.

At any time if you want to release the mask, go back to the Transparency panel and choose Release Opacity Mask. So on review, it's really important to understand that as opposed to a clipping mask, which uses the actual vector path as the mask itself, an opacity mask uses the appearance of that path to define its mask. Now it's important to understand that because at the end of the day, you can use anything in Illustrator as an opacity mask, even a photograph. So let me zoom out here for a second. I'll delete this shape that I have created here and I just have the photograph itself. I'm going to use my regular Rectangular tool. I'm going to draw a rectangle of the exact same size as the image here and I'm going to color it, let's say, this purple color right here.

Now I'm going to take this color, I'm going to send it to the back of my stacking order. So now if I look over here, I have an image in the front and I have this purple color in the background. Let me press Undo to move that back. I'm going to simply click-and-drag to select both elements. So if I were to create a mask right now, remember that the mask is always made out of the topmost object. So if I were to choose to create a mask right now, what becomes the mask? The purple rectangle or the photograph? The answer is that the photograph becomes the mask and a photograph, of course, has pixels inside of it. Rather than using the overall shape of the image, an opacity mask will use the luminosity values of each pixel in the file to define its mask. Because my background image is purple, my result is basically going to be a variety of different shades of that purple.

So again, I have both objects selected: a purple rectangle and the image on top of it. I'll go to the Transparency panel flyout menu and I'll choose Make Opacity Mask. Here I'll choose to actually invert my mask and now I can see that I have kind of created this monotone effect. What I actually have selected in Illustrator, right now is a regular plain vector path. However, that path is masked by a photograph. Again, think about that photograph right now which is acting as an alpha channel to mask the rectangle itself. So you can see easily see that there is a tremendous amount of power hidden inside of these opacity masks.

Now that you know how to use them, you could bring some of the power that exists inside of Photoshop right here inside of Illustrator.

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