How To Use Clipping Masks In Photoshop (Complete Guide)

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In this tutorial, you’ll learn the different ways you can use clipping masks in Photoshop, and a helpful keyboard shortcut.

Clipping masks are one of many essential tools in Photoshop that help to control where a layer is actually visible. With the help of a clipping mask, you can mask multiple layers together to create any shape you want. Although this may seem like an uninteresting tool in Photoshop, clipping masks prove extremely useful.

Let’s get started!

Video Tutorial

What Is A Clipping Mask?

A clipping mask “crops” a layer into the layer directly below it. This means that the clipped layer will only be visible within the confines of the bottom layer. For example, after clipping an image to a text layer, the image is only visible in the shape of the text.

This can be used in countless scenarios when editing in Photoshop, particularly with spot adjustments. For example, you could apply a brightening adjustment to one layer while leaving the others untouched.

How To Create A Clipping Mask In Photoshop

Step 1: Select The Layer You Want To Clip

Click on the layer you want to clip, ensuring it is directly above the layer you want to clip it to.

Step 2: Right-Click And Select Create Clipping Mask

The most simple way of creating a clipping mask in Photoshop is to right-click on a layer and select Create Clipping Mask.

Note: You can also use a shortcut by holding Alt (Win) or Option (Mac) and clicking between the two layers you want to clip or simply press Control + Alt + G (Win) or Command + Option + G (Mac).

Step 3: Reposition The Clipped Content (Optional)

A clipping mask icon appears next to the clipped layer in the Layers Panel. You can also move the clipped content around if necessary until you are happy with how the result looks.

How To Release A Clipping Mask In Photoshop

If you want to remove a clipping mask so the top layer isn’t confined to the layer below it, you can release the clipping mask. To do this, right-click on the layer with the clipping mask in the Layers Panel and select Release Clipping Mask.

Adding Content To A Clipping Mask

Although clipping masks can be used in just about any situation, they do not work when clipping to a transparent layer.

To give you an example, I’ll apply a clipping mask from my image layer onto a transparent layer. Once the clipping mask is applied, my image goes invisible, even though the layer itself should be visible (indicated by the eyeball icon).

This is because there is nothing in the clipped layer to display the image. Since this underlying layer is full of transparent pixels, nothing actually happens besides making the clipped image transparent.

To add content back onto the canvas, select the Brush Tool (B) and paint on the transparent layer. Notice how the clipped image starts to become visible again.

A clipping mask will only allow a clipped layer to appear on visible pixels of the underlying layer.

That’s why clipping masks work exceptionally well for things like cropping images into a shape or filling text with an image.

How To Resize Content In A Clipping Mask In Photoshop

Unlike a layer mask, clipping masks can be moved and scaled independently from the layer it’s clipped to.

An easy way to see this in action is by cropping an image into a circle. I’ll start by selecting the Ellipse Tool and creating a circle shape.

Placing my image layer above the circle layer, I’ll use the keyboard shortcut Control + Alt + G (Win) or Command + Option + G (Mac) to create a clipping mask.

Now, the image is only visible inside of the circle, but it needs to be repositioned.

Grabbing the Move Tool (V) and clicking on the image layer, I can reposition it and scale it without any issues.

Since the image layer is on a completely separate layer from the shape, it can be adjusted freely. However, if you move the shape layer, it will change where the clipped image is visible.

That’s where layer masks and clipping masks are a bit different. A clipping mask connects two separate layers, while a layer mask is directly linked to one layer by default.

How To Use Clipping Masks In Photoshop

Option 1: Adding An Image To Text Using Clipping Masks

A creative effect you can make using clipping masks is adding an image to text. The result is a neat element for posters, website banners, and social media posts.

To add an image to text, first use the Type Tool (T) and add some text to the canvas.

Then, add your image to the existing document by dragging and dropping it over the canvas. Activate the Transform Tool using Control + T (Win) or Command + T (Mac), then resize and position the image.

Next, ensure the image layer is selected and above the text layer, then use the shortcut Control + Alt + G (Win) or Command + Option + G (Mac) to add a clipping mask.

The image will now be added to the text, and you can edit it as needed by moving or scaling the image again.

Option 2: Using Clipping Masks To Apply Adjustments To A Single Layer

Clipping masks are also extremely useful when blending multiple photos since they allow you to selectively adjust layers using adjustment layers.

For example, there is an image cut out on one layer and a new background on the other. If you want to only adjust the cutout you can use a clipping mask to apply any adjustment directly to the cut-out in one click.

Simply add the adjustment layer (ensure it’s directly above the cut-out layer), then use the shortcut Control + Alt + G (Win) or Command + Option + G (Mac) to add the clipping mask to the layer. That way, you can adjust your cutout while leaving the background totally untouched.

Using a clipping mask, the Curves Adjustment only affects the model.

In Photoshop, there isn’t a single best way to mask your images. Both layer masks and clipping masks are valuable tools. Rather than looking at them as this one or that, try to think of them as a masking duo. A team of tools to help you refine where a layer or adjustment is visible in your project!

Now that you know all about clipping masks, let’s go over Layer Masks In Photoshop for the ultimate control in spot adjustments!

Happy Masking,

Brendan 🙂

Photo of author
I'm a Canadian photographer and photo retoucher turned founder of bwillcreative.com. Around here I help you to decode the mystery of photo editing with no-fluff videos and written guides to help you achieve your creative goals. Outside of shooting photos and my passion for educating, you'll find me mountain biking or on the trails with my dog, Sunny!

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