Clipping Mask Technique: Why Using the Layers Panel is Important

Happy December!!! Last week I showed you on Adobe Illustrator how I use a Clipping Mask to put texture on text. What I didn’t show you is the importance of layers when using a Clipping Mask.

The Layers Panel is a wonderful way to keep your artwork organized. It lets you move parts of art to the front of the artboard (or the back) as well as hiding aspects of the art to work on other aspects. Pretend your artwork is like you are stacking a sandwich. The bread is the top layer, the cheese meat and other aspects of the sandwich are in the middle and then the bottom piece of bread is on the bottom. What if you want the order of your sandwich to be “Bread, Mayo, Mustard, Cheese, Meat, Lettuce, Bread” but it’s “Bread, Cheese, Meat, Mayo, Mustard, Lettuce, Bread”. With the Layers Panel, you can drag the “Mayo” layer and the “Mustard” Layer in front of the “Cheese” and “Meat” layer to get the order you want… speaking in sandwich term. The same goes with artwork.

Why is the Layers Panel so important when using a Clipping Mask? Well I’m about to show you.

1. The Starting Artwork


Here is the beginning artwork. With Christmas being a week away (less than a week actually…starts breathing heavily) and recently having a “Ugly” Sweater weekend at work, I went for a Christmas Sweater for this art.

2. Opening up the Layers Panel


Before doing any changes to my sweater I want to look at my layers to see where everything is at. If the Layers panel icon (it looks like two squares stacked on each other) isn’t already on your tools panel, to open up the Layers Panel go to Window > Layers. As you can see, the “Rudolf” Layer is first followed by “Sweater” layer. So that means the “Rudolf” layer is on top of the art board. If the “Sweater” layer was on top, you wouldn’t be able to see the “Rudolf” layer because it is under the “Sweater”.

3. Hiding Layers You Do not Want to edit


Let’s say you decide that just having the white sweater isn’t enough, and you want to use the Clipping Mask technique to add a texture to the sweater. Before creating the Clipping Mask, you want to make sure that the only aspect of the art board showing is the one you want to add the Clipping Mask on. In order to do that, click on the eyeball icon next to the “Rudolf” layer to hide it so it doesn’t get touched when messing with the “Sweater” layer.

4. Creating Clipping Mask


After that, you are ready to create the Clipping Mask! If you read my last blog post, you already know how to create the Clipping Mask, just this time you are creating one on a shape instead of text.

5. Clipping Mask in Layers


And now you have texture on your sweater! If you look at your layers panel you will notice it will say until you change it to the desired name, in this case I changed it back to “Sweater.” If you click the drop icon (the triangle) it will show the Sweater shape on one sublayer and the image you chose in another.

6. Finishing Art


Now you can unhide the “Rudolf” layer in the Layers Panel and you have your finished sweater! I went ahead and finished my artboard by adding more Clipping Masks, one to add a plaid texture to the background and another to add the same gold texture to text!

Without using Layers

Now what would have happened if you didn’t hide the “Rudolf” Layer before creating the Clipping Mask? Well let’s see what happens…


Just like before, I made sure to select everything and then using Object > Clipping Mask > Create, I created my Clipping Mask.


But instead of creating a Clipping Mask on the “Sweater” layer like I wanted to, when I created the Clipping Mask it was put on the “Rudolf” layer and didn’t even show the texture! So what happened??


Remember when I said that in the layers panel whatever is first in the layers is the layer on top? Well knowing that is very important. Why the Clipping Mask Technique is called a Clipping Mask is because whatever is on the front asks as a “mask”. The Mask is the base shape and when created, it takes the texture of the artwork or image behind and clips it to the “mask’s” shape. Looking at the Layers panel again you see that the “Rudolf” Layer is on top, so without hiding the “Rudolf” Layer it acts as the mask instead of the “Sweater” acting as the mask.

Why not move the “Sweater” layer to the top instead of having the “Rudolf” layer in front? Well if the “Sweater” layer is in front, when finished Clipping mask or not, it covers the “Rudolf” layer. So by just hiding it keeps the “Rudolf” layer in front when finished, but hides it while making changes to the “Sweater” layer.


So there you have it! Now you know why the Layers Panel is important in making Clipping Masks!

If you want to see more of these or have any ideas for blog posts let me know! With Christmas being this Sunday and I’ve been posting blog posts on Sundays/Mondays, I’m not sure if next week’s blog post is going to be earlier or after Christmas. I will keep you guys updated though!

But until then, hope you all are enjoying your holiday season! Hopefully you are done with school for break (I just got out for my winter break) and the weather isn’t too cold! See you all in the next blog post!



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