Using Clipping Masks


Clipping masks are a handy dandy tool that you can use in Photoshop or Photoshop Elements. In digital scrapping, they most often come in the form of some kind of template like full blown layout templates or shape templates like Ru’s Random Masks:

Clipping masks are often also included in a stitching pack like this one as a way to clip your background paper to the right size to match the stitch border:

and there’s always clipping masks in a lot of Pocket Scrapbooking templates as well, like this one Pocket Addict templates by Wendy!

Clipping masks can often be daunting and confusing to the new scrapper, but if you only knew how easy they are to use and how easy they can make your scrapping! So let’s start from the beginning.

First of all, what IS a Clipping Mask?

According to Adobe’s site:

clipping mask is an object whose shape masks other artwork so that only areas that lie within the shape are visible—in effect, clipping the artwork to the shape of the mask.

For an example, check out this visual:

Sweet Shoppe Designs Clipping Mask Tutorial

On the left, I have my photo with a guideline around where I’d like it cropped. On the right, the photo is clipped to that shape.

Benefits to using Clipping Masks

  1. You never CROP your photo, therefore it remains fully intact and editable.  Let’s say that I change my mind about the photo above, because the photo is just clipped to a mask, rather than “cut out”, All I have to do is release the clipping mask and my photo is back in it’s original form. You can see that in this visual of my layers palette:
    Sweet Shoppe Designs Clipping Mask Tutorial
  2. Clip multiple objects to one shape. This is an especially fun feature when you want to create clusters  of flat objects like a photo with a ribbon over it or if you’re using my Slip Ins, you’ll want everything that is under the “plastic” to be clipped to the mask for realism..can’t have objects that span the gaps between closed pockets!  Check out my example below:
    Sweet Shoppe Designs Clipping Mask Tutorial
    As you can see in this first example, everything is clipped nice and neat to the clipping mask below it and nothing bridges the negative space between the pocket area.
    Sweet Shoppe Designs Clipping Mask Tutorial
    In this example, however, if you look on the far right, the burst element is not clipped to the clipping mask and it’s “poking out” from beneath the Slip In, which doesn’t make much logical sense.

So now the question is: How do you use a clipping mask?

You’ll be relieved to hear that clipping masks aren’t that hard to use at all! There are keyboard shortcuts to make your life easier and I’ll be putting those in parenthesis after the instruction (where applicable).

  1. Layer your object to be clipped (such as a photo) directly over the clipping mask layer in your layers palette and your top layer is selected. In this instance, I used a simple shape as my clipping mask:
    Sweet Shoppe Designs Clipping Mask Tutorial
  2. Move your cursor directly in between the two layers on the layers palette and hold down alt (option) and when this funky little symbol comes up, click! (Alternatively, ctrl+alt+g on a PC and cmd+opt+g on a MAC in Photoshop or just ctrl+g and cmd+g in Photoshop Elements does the trick as well)
    Sweet Shoppe Designs Clipping Mask Tutorial
  3. Voila! Your object is now clipped to it’s mask. If the masking needs adjustment, just use your arrow keys to nudge it over until you like the placement.
    Sweet Shoppe Designs Clipping Mask Tutorial
  4. Lock the layers together by highlighting both in your layers palette and clicking on the little chain link at the bottom of the palette. You can now click on your photo and drag both the photo and layer mask together without messing up the alignment.
    Sweet Shoppe Designs Clipping Mask Tutorial
  5. To release the lock, just highlight the layers again and click the lock again.
  6. To release the clipping mask, just hold alt and click between the layers on the layers palette again or you can use the same keyboard shortcuts as before as well (ctrl+alt+g on a PC and cmd+opt+g on a MAC in Photoshop or just ctrl+g and cmd+g in Photoshop Elements)

I hope that helps clear up some of the confusion about layer masks! If you have any questions, leave me a comment on this article!





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