So we know that when we create a clipping mask inside of Illustrator, the topmost object becomes the mask for all the selected artwork that appears beneath it. The Illustrator accomplishes this by taking all the objects and putting them into a single group and then turning the topmost object in that group to become the mask. Now the problem is that that starts to break down when you start to have layers in your document. For example, take a look at what I have here in this file. It's called layer_masks. I have several layers that already exist. I have a layer for the Logo type. I have a layer for the Palm Tree that's here, for the Border, and for the Rays that appear in the background.
Now I want to use this object here in this Mask layer which is the shape right here, but if I were to simply select now all of my artwork and remember, all this artwork lives on separate layers, Illustrator will create a group of all these objects, and because the way that groups work, you cannot have objects within a single group that live on different layers. So if I choose now to go to Object > Clipping Mask and choose, Make, you will note that right now all of these layers have been emptied. There is nothing that appears in the Logo Type layer, the Palm Tree layer, the Border layer or the Rays layer; everything has been moved up now into this new group that was created and all of this artwork now lives here.
So what I have basically done is I have lost my entire layer structure in my document. Now depending on the artwork that I'm working with, that may either be catastrophic or it may not mean much at all. But for example, if you are a map maker and you have maybe hundreds of layers inside of your document and now you need to clip a particular part of that map in a certain area, if you were to blow away all of your layers, well that could be days and days of work. So for these types of tasks, where we are dealing specifically with trying to preserve our layer structure, we'll start to employ a different type of mask inside of Illustrator, something called a layer clipping mask, not just the regular clipping mask. So I'm going to press Undo, I want to undo that aspect now.
All my layers are back to the way they were before and we are going to try something a little bit different here. Let me go ahead and expand my Layer panel just a little bit over here so we could see the contents that I have here. Inside of my Mask layer, I have a path that exists. There is nothing else in that Mask layer right now and of course I have four additional layers here with the artwork inside of it. So let me de- select everything right now because I want to show you that when you are working with layer clipping mask, you don't even need to access or touch any of your artwork on the page; it all happens directly to the Layers panel itself. Now the same overall concept of masking applies; the topmost object in our selection is going to become the mask for everything else that appears beneath it.
However, until now when we work with the regular clipping mask, we know that Illustrator creates a group and the topmost object in that group becomes the mask for everything else inside of that group. Well, what a layer clipping mask is, is where you have a layer and the topmost object in that layer becomes a mask for everything else inside of that layer. The reason why this is important to know is because in Illustrator, we can have sub-layers, we can have layers that live within other layers. So if we build our file correctly, we can actually create a structure where we don't lose our layers inside of our file.
So let's see how we do that. I'm actually going to go ahead and click over here in the Layers panel to select a Logo Type layer. I'm now going to hold down the Shift key and click on the Rays layer to select all of these four layers. Now they are all highlighted here, select is really kind of a bad word because we think about selections of artwork on the artboard itself. I haven't selected any objects, what I have done is I have actually selected just the layers in the Layers panel. So now I refer to this as just highlighting those layers instead of saying select it, just to avoid that confusion. What I'll do is I'll take these four layers right now and click and drag them so that they appear inside the Mask layer. See how that line now appears right now. What I'm doing is I'm simply dragging it into the Mask layer, so that it appears beneath the path.
So if we take a look now, my document now has one overall layer. Inside of that Mask layer, I have the path and I have four additional layers. So my layer structure still exists. I still have the Rays on their own layer; the Border is on its own layer. The same for the Palm Tree and the Logo Type as well, but the paths fit to the topmost part of the Mask layer itself. So now what I'm going to do is I'm going to tell Illustrator to turn this path into a mask for everything else inside of the Mask layer. Again, I don't need to select any artwork on the artboard itself, this is actually pretty cool when it comes to working with layer mask simply because I don't have to worry about accidentally selecting things or having to lock or unlock objects in my artboard. I can do all this directly through the Layers panel itself.
So I'm going to go ahead and I'm going to highlight the Mask layer itself. Remember the layer clipping mask is actually an attribute of the layer itself. So by highlighting the layer here, I'm basically identifying to Illustrator that I want to work with that particular layer. Now I'll move to the bottom of the Layers panel, there is a button here called Make/Release Clipping Mask. By clicking on that button, I'm basically telling that particular layer to turn on its mask. So let me first identify exactly what I mean by that, before I actually apply it. Every single layer inside of Illustrator has a mask attribute. It means basically like a light switch; I can turn the mask on and off for any layer at any time. In doing so, the layer simply identifies the topmost object in that layer and makes that the mask for everything else that lives inside that layer.
So think of it as a toggle. At any time, you can highlight a layer and turn its mask on and off. So again, with the Mask layer highlighted, I'm now going to click on this button called Make/ Release Clipping Mask, basically telling that layer to turn its mask on. Now look what happens. The path that I had at the topmost part of my particular layer now has become a clipping path; you can see that it's underlined. And this mask now has clipped all the layers that exist inside of that layer. But I haven't lost my layer structure here; it still exists inside of this layer. What's great about working with layer clipping mask is that they are easy to turn on and off, because they are just a toggle. So at any time, without even having to select any artwork on my page, I could just come down here and click that on and off to just see how that mask is applied to that artwork.
Now remember, every single layer in Illustrator has a mask attribute. That means that I could have any of these particular sub-layers also have their own masks. One important thing to know though is that inside of Illustrator, there is a bug. That is if you have nested masks, inside of your layers structure, inside of Illustrator, by going ahead and toggling the overall mask, the topmost mask in your document, all of the other masks will get turned off as well. So you may have to reapply those masks if you went ahead and you toggle that particular overall mask. For example, this Rays layer actually had a mask as well, by turning on its mask over here. By turning on or toggling this mask layer, this would also get turned off as well.
But in general, working with layer mask can really help you a lot, especially when you are trying to preserve layer structure in a document. They are easy to apply, they are easy to control, and they can save you a ton of work.
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