Clipping Masks in Photoshop Tutorial

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By Andrew Buckle, Updated : 2022


How to use clipping masks in Photoshop, using editable vector shapes as a great way to modify the layer, you can use the clipping masks in combo with effects and more



1. Where is the clipping mask command in Photoshop

You can find the create clipping mask option in the layer menu but before using it, you need to set up the layers so you have a design to use as the clipping mask.


2. Basic set up of clipping mask

You can use any vector shape as a clipping mask in Photoshop. There are, as always, with Photoshop many ways to do this. Open an image, duplicate that image via the layer menu and duplicate and then go to the shape tools (or pen tool etc) and select the shape option in the top left and then draw that design above the two layers. Once you have finished creating the vector shape, drag the vector shape down below the duplicated layer. Select the duplicated layer (now the top layer in the document) and turn the layer into a smart object via the layer menu and smart objects and convert to smart object.


Once you have your smart object, apply a smart filter such as the Gaussian blur or any of the other effects and then go to the layer menu and select the create clipping mask and you now have your clipping mask and the effect is only applied to the area that is covered by the clipping mask.

3. Moving it

Go to the layers panel and select the layer entry for the clipping mask and then use the bounding box to slightly re-size to trigger a transformation and then you can shift the clipping mask around and re-position it over another part of the image and the blurring effect (or any of the other effects or not apply any effects at all) will be applied to that and then press return. To move it again, repeat


4. Move the contents of the clipping mask

You can move the clipping mask but the actual contents can also be moved, simply click on the clipping mask and drag (without the bounding box to transform etc) appearing and you can then move the contents of the clipping mask and re-position the underlying design.


5. Adding layer effects to the clipping mask in Photoshop

The clipping mask is a vector layer and if you select the vector layer, you can go to the layer menu and select the layer styles and add a bevel as well as drop shadow etc to the clipping mask to create all kinds of unique designs.


6. Modifying the clipping mask

The mask is a vector and as such you can edit it using a variety of tools such as the settings in the properties panel if the current selected shape is a rectangle say then you can change the corner settings for the design. You can also tweak the shape of the clipping path by using the direct selection tool and you can select the points and drag the design in all kinds of directions to create all kinds of unique shapes for your clipping mask.


7. Duplicate the clipping mask and image

You can also quickly add the same clipping mask (as well as edit it later if you wish) by select both the top level image and the clipping mask and converting them into a group via the layer menu and group layers and then use the duplicate layers command and you now have two clipping masks and they can be re-positioned across the artwork


8. Adding a stroke around the clipping mask

You can also select the shape and add a stroke to the design. As you are using a vector shape, go to the properties panel or select one of the vector tools and then change the stroke color to black and give it a width of 10pt say as well as adding stroke options such as dashes to your mask.


9. Clipping masks made of multiple designs

You don't have to add just a single path as a clipping path, you can add multiple designs all over the place by holding down the shift key as you add the paths as they will be added to the current shape and they will in turn be used as the clipping mask.


Select the top layer and apply the create clipping mask command found in the layer menu. Add a blur or another effect (if you want an effect, it is not essential) to the top level as well as going back to the shape layer and going to the layer menu and layer style and adding a bevel or shadow etc


10. Transparent Background

The tutorial has had a background, you don't need a background. You can use the clipping mask and top level without the need for any underlying image, all that will happen is that you will see the background or the transparency