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When working inside of Illustrator, there may be times when you want to hide portions of your artwork without physically deleting them from your file. That may be because you want to maybe adjust them later on or you only want to be able to see certain parts of a file right now, but at any point may want to readjust the positioning of it. The functions we use to accomplish this task is something called masking. Now in Illustrator, when you want to create a mask, you do so by creating a new vector shape and that particular shape then clips or basically decides which parts of the image can or cannot be seen. The most classic case of working with masks in Illustrator is when they're applied to photographs. For example, you can't really change or adjust the actual shape of a photograph. All photographs are rectangular in nature.
However, if you only want to see certain parts of a photograph, you would create a mask to go ahead and do that for you. For example, let's take a look at this file right here. I have a file here called clipping_masks and I have a photograph that's placed into this particular document. I'll zoom out a little bit here so we can see the actual boundaries of the photo and if I click on it, I see that right now I have this one image that's selected. Now I may want to crop or just come and close on this part of the photograph and I may not be interested in seeing the rest of the photograph here. Because you can actually edit pixels inside of Illustrator, what I need to do is basically define another shape that allows me to only see the pixels within a certain area.
For example, I'll choose my Rectangle tool and I'll simply draw a rectangle over this area of the photograph. With my regular Selection tool, and that particular rectangle selected, I'll now hold down the Shift key to also add the image to my selection. So now I have two objects selected, both the photograph and the rectangle. I can now go to the Object menu. I could choose Clipping Mask and then choose Make. Now, I only see the photograph inside of the boundaries of that rectangle. I'm going to press Undo twice to actually remove the rectangle from my file also.
I want to show you that there is another way that Illustrator also creates clipping mask in a very simple fashion. You'll notice that any time you have an image selected inside of Illustrator, there is a button in the control panel called Mask. Clicking on that button actually does two things; first of all, it creates a rectangle that's the exact same size of your photograph itself. Second, it uses that as a mask for the photograph. Now once I've gone ahead and I've adjusted that mask, I haven't deselected the image yet. I can now simply grab the corners here and adjust how that particular rectangle looks.
In doing so, I now have basically defined a mask and cropped my image the same way that I might crop an image, for example, inside of InDesign using a frame. Now the reason why that happened is because once I clicked on the Mask button, Illustrator not only created a rectangle and defined it as a mask, but it also adjusted these two buttons over here. Right now, I'm basically toggling between two modes. I have right now a mode called Edit Clipping Path, which is the rectangle that's used to define the mask and I have the ability to also change modes to go to edit the contents. In doing so, I'm now having the ability to actually edit the photograph or the contents that are inside of the mask.
For example, if I wanted to make the picture a little bit smaller, but I want to leave it the rectangle of the size that it was, now that I'm editing the contents or the image itself, I can now scale this down in size and the photograph adjusts inside of that particular shape. Now I'm going to press Undo a few times; I want to go back to my original part where I basically just have the image inside of my file. Notice that I see the Mask button is now active, but I want to show you yet another way that we could actually work with the actual mask or the contents of the mask, independently of each other. At the same time, I also want to use a technique to show you how you could use another shape such as anything other than a rectangle to use that as a mask.
For example, maybe I want this to fit into a different type of shape. If I go here to my Layers panel, I'll see that inside the Image layer I have a path here that I've created. If I go ahead and I turn that path on, I could see that it's this kind of a shape that's right over here. Maybe I want the photograph to be masked inside of this shape. So what I'll do is I'll click on that particular shape to select it. I'll also hold down the Shift key to select the image itself. So now I have two objects selected; I can now go to the Object menu, I can choose Clipping Mask and Make and now I've made a mask using an image that's not rectangular in shape but any custom at all. It's important to realize when you create a mask, the object that's at the topmost of your stacking order is the object that becomes the mask.
So you'll notice that here when I selected my artwork, I have the image underneath that particular object. But let's also take a closer look at exactly what Illustrator did here. If I look at my layer right now, I can see that in the image layer, whereas before I had an image and a path, I now have a group that was created and the image and the path were put inside of that group. The topmost object which was the path here now became a clipping path and you can easily identify clipping paths in the Layers panel because they always appear with an underline. So now let's take a look at how to actually edit or work with the objects on my artboard.
Now, I'm going to de-select this right now. If I want to move the mask around, I could simply click on it and move it and notice that the image and the mask both move together. You'll see that both of these elements here are gray, but now watch what happens when I go ahead and I double-click on it. I've now entered Isolation mode. Remember, we're dealing with a group here. So I've now isolated the group as you can see here with the breadcrumbs at the top of my document window. So now I have the ability to click over here and now I'm selecting the image that's inside of the group. Because I've isolated the group, I'm inside the group right now, I can move this image around independently of the mask.
By clicking on it, I can now move the picture and center it just where I want it. I can scale to make a little bit smaller and basically position the image just where I need it to be. Likewise, they can also click on just the mask itself and move the mask around without moving the picture around. When I'm done with my editing, I'll go ahead and I'll double-click to exit Isolation Mode. Now in these examples, we're using an image and of course a vector shape to define the mask for that image. But masks don't have to be used specifically on images; masking can be done on any kind of object inside of Illustrator including vectors. So let's take a look at such an example.
I'm going to go ahead and I'm going to hide the Image layer in my document here. I'm going to turn on this layer called Logo. Inside of this particular layer, you can see that I have a Path and I have a Group, which is basically meant for how much of different rays. I want to clip these rays inside of this particular shape. So the first thing I'll do is I'll just simply adjust the position exactly where I want this shape to be right on top of the rays that are right here. Remember, the mask itself needs to be at the top of the stacking order of the objects that are going to appear inside of the mask and now I can simply click and drag to select all the elements here. I'll go to the Object menu and I'll choose Clipping Mask > Make. The keyboard shortcut is Command+7 on a Mac or Ctrl+ 7 on Windows. Now you can see that the artwork that I've created, which is vector artwork, has now been clipped successfully inside of that path. Just as before, I can double-click on this to isolate it and be able to see all the artwork that's here as well. Let me go over here and click on the arrow here to exit Isolation mode.
If you want to release the mask, what you can simply do is go ahead and click over here on this particular mask itself. Go to the Object menu and choose Clipping Mask > Release. In doing so, I'm now back to my regular shapes as before. One thing that's interesting to note is that once you turn a path into a mask, it loses all of its attribute. So any fill or stroke that was there suddenly becomes set to None. But as you can see here in the Layers panel, my path is still there. So whether you're working with images or artwork itself inside of Illustrator, if you ever want to hide portions of a particular piece of artwork, using a mask is the best way to do so as it's nondestructive. Meaning, at any time, if you want to reposition that artwork or you want to extend some of the areas, you can do so without worrying about actually cutting the paths themselves.
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