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Sometimes, you'll place an image into a layout inside of Illustrator, but you only want to see a portion of that image. Now in programs like Photoshop, there is a Crop tool that lets you actually remove pixels that you don't want inside of the image. However, in Illustrator, we can't edit pixels. We just treat the whole image as if it were one object. So, if we only want to see a portion of an image, while we can't actually remove any pixels, we can hide pixels from view. We do so by creating something called a Mask.
Imagine, for example, if I had this photograph in front of me, as I see right here, and I were to take a piece of paper, and I were to cut a hole out of the middle of the piece of paper, and then put that piece of paper on top of this photograph, I'd only be able to see the photograph through the hole that I've cut out. That's an essence what a mask is inside of Illustrator. Now it so happens to be that when you're working with images, Illustrator has a great little shortcut that lets you quickly create a mask and crop your photograph. So I'll start off in this Document by first selecting the image itself.
I have my Bounding Box turned on, so I can see the handles around the perimeter of my image. You can see that when I have an image selected, there is now a button that appears inside of the Control panel called Mask. I'm going to click on that button and what just happened now was Illustrator automatically created a mask, but it made the mask the exact same size of my photograph. So, I still see the whole photo. What I can now do is use my regular Selection tool to drag on these handles to control which part of the image I want to see. In doing so, I can now get that same result of cropping my image.
Although, if I go into Outline mode for a moment here, you'll see that the whole image is still here. I just now have a new rectangle, and Illustrator only allows me to see parts of the photograph that are on the inside of the rectangle. Anything that appears outside the boundaries of the rectangle is hidden from view. That's basically what the Mask does, inside of Illustrator.
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