By Ana Mireles on | No Comments
Do you want to learn how to use clipping masks in Photoshop or just wondering how they can help your Photoshop editing? If you said yes to either of those questions, you have come to the right place!
Clipping masks allow you to link two layers together. For instance, you can create a shape or text and then link a photo to fit within the parameters of that shape or text. You can also use a clipping mask to make selective adjustments to a single layer of your document. This may sound complicated, but it's not!
Keep reading, and you will see how easy and helpful clipping masks can be.
Since clipping masks are a tool that allows you to control layers, let’s start by reviewing what layers are in Photoshop.
Imagine you have a printed photo or a piece of paper. If you place a sheet of transparent paper on top, you can add new things without changing anything on the original. Layers work the same way in Photoshop.
There are different types of layers:
Each layer can interact with the other layers in different ways. To do so, you can change the blending mode or add different types of masks. All of these tools allow you to work on an image non-destructively.
A clipping mask links one or more layers together according to its content and transparency.
All the layers with a clipping mask are subordinated to the base layer of the clipping mask. Remember that this isn’t always the bottom-most layer of the entire document. The base layer is the layer that the other layers are "clipped" to.
To avoid confusion when working with layers in Photoshop, the name of the base layer of a clipping mask will be underlined.
Another thing to remember is that not all the layers above the base layer of the clipping mask will be affected - only the ones belonging to the clipping mask. To identify these layers, you will see that they are indented and have a down arrow/clipping mask icon next to them.
Now, let's take a look at how to create a clipping mask:
There are several ways to create clipping masks in Photoshop. They all give you the same result, so feel free to choose the method that is easiest for you. Do keep in mind that you will need at least two layers, or none of these methods will have any effect on your document.
Clipping masks work with more than one layer. The only rule is that the layers have to be next to each other. For example, if you have four layers - you can have the bottom-most layer as the base of the clipping mask and include layers two, three, and four.
However, you can’t have the bottom-most layer as the base of the clipping mask and only include layers two and four. If layer three is not included, layer four won't be able to be included with the clipping mask either.
If you add a new layer WITHIN the clipping mask layers, it will automatically be included as part of the clipping mask. However, if you add a new layer at the TOP of your layers - it will NOT be included as part of the clipping mask. The same goes for layers added BELOW the base layer of the clipping mask - they won't be included.
You can include new layers at any time using the four methods previously described in the "How to Create a Clipping Mask" section.
If you decide that you don’t want one of the layers to be INSIDE of the clipping mask, there are a few ways to remove it:
Suppose, instead of removing a single layer from a clipping mask, you want to remove the clipping mask altogether. In that case, you can use any of the methods mentioned above to remove each layer included in the clipping mask.
Or you can click on the base layer and drag it to the top or below a layer that doesn’t belong to the clipping mask.
Once the base layer is out of the group, all the subordinated layers will be released automatically. After doing this, you can reorder the layers back to how they were previously, and they will no longer be included in the clipping mask.
Now you know how clipping masks work, you might be wondering how to use them. Here are a couple of the most common uses for clipping masks:
You can do this very quickly using a clipping mask. By the way, you can follow the exact same steps using a shape instead of text.
Start by opening a new document in Photoshop. This will be your background - so you can use a solid color, a gradient, or an image.
Enable the Text tool and type your message in the document. I recommend keeping it short, maybe one or two words.
Make sure the font size and type are wide enough to show a good amount of the image - otherwise, the effect may not be very noticeable. For this example, I used a font called Impact.
Next, we will open and add the image that will be inside the text. You can do this by going to the menu and selecting File>Place Embedded. This will take you to a dialog box where you can choose the image you want to show within your text.
You can also just open an image and use the move tool to drag it into the document with the text.
Once the image is added to the document, we will add a clipping mask so that it ONLY shows within the text. To do this, you can use any of the methods described above. Again, I prefer using the keyboard shortcut "Ctrl + Alt + G" (PC users) or "Cmd + Opt + G" (Mac users).
Grab the Move tool and reposition the image within the text to your liking. You can also use the transform tool if desired - none of this will affect the text.
Note: Since all the layers are independent, you can go back and change the background color, text size, font, position, etc., to get the final result you are happy with!
Let’s say you’re working on a photo composite or replacing a sky in Photoshop. Both types of edits require multiple layers, and often you will only want to apply certain adjustments to a specific layer - this can be done with a clipping mask.
Start by opening your composited document. The document can have any number of layers, with one or more layers that need adjustments. To keep it simple, I will use a photo that needs a sky overlay added. This will require two basic layers - a subject layer and a sky layer. I can then fine-tune those layers with additional adjustment layers.
To work non-destructively, you must ensure your adjustments are on separate layers. To do so, we will add and place an Adjustment Layer directly above the layer you want to fix, which in this case is directly above the sky layer. To add an Adjustment Layer, go to Layer>New Adjustment Layer and choose the one you need to add for your particular photo.
In this example, I want the adjustment layers to help the sky layer match and blend better with the subject layer. To do this, I will start by copying the sky layer and then blur it using gaussian blur to make the sky match better with my subject layer's background blur. Next, I will add a Solid Color adjustment layer to fade the sky and make it look more realistic. Then I will add two Levels Adjustment layers - one to brighten the sky and one to warm it.
Add a clipping mask to the adjustment layer using any of the methods described above. Once again, I prefer using the keyboard shortcut "Ctrl + Alt + G" (PC users) or "Cmd + Opt + G" (Mac users).
If you don't add a clipping mask to the Adjustment Layer, the adjustments will affect ALL the layers below. In my example, if I don't add a clipping mask, not only would the foreground layer be darker, but the background "sky layer" would be darker too.
So, by using a clipping mask with the adjustment layer, only the subject in the foreground will get darker, and the sky will remain untouched.
Here is the final image with the adjustments I described:
As you can see, clipping masks have many applications and are an integral part of editing in Photoshop. And you will find them especially useful if you work with photo composites or graphics.
To see some additional examples of how clipping masks are used in Photoshop, here are some of our FAVORITE TUTORIALS, including this VERY POPULAR POST on how to create a photo grid in Photoshop:
Do you have any questions or comments about Using Clipping Masks in Photoshop? Leave us a comment below - we would LOVE to hear from you! And PLEASE SHARE our tutorial using the social sharing buttons (we really appreciate it)!
Ana Mireles is a Mexican photographer and researcher with a passion for writing and teaching. She’s collaborated in artistic and cultural projects in Mexico, Italy, and the Netherlands.