Clipping masks are a powerful tool if you use photo editing or design software. I promise you, it’s worth investing the energy in learning the basics of clipping masks. Have you noticed all those nicely aligned collages and round photos that are populating the blogosphere? They’re both a snap to create if you know how to use clipping masks in Photoshop. (Note: I believe clipping masks work the same in Elements, but I can’t promise because I’ve never used it.) Once you understand the basic principle, you can play around with photos and text for endless effects.
This tutorial is going to introduce the basic process, step-by-step, and will be followed up with two posts on how I created specific graphics. My goal is for beginners–those of you teaching yourself Photoshop like I have been for the past few years–to be able to easily learn new skills. I can’t promise that this is the official, most-efficient-way-ever to do this, but it’s simple and it works.
1. Open Photoshop and create a new file.
File –> New. This box will pop up where you can set the size, background, and name of the project (among other things). I made mine 500 x 500 pixels, but you can choose what works for you. My background is set to white, but you can choose to make the background transparent if needed.
The screenshot below is what you’ll be looking at after clicking “okay.”
2. Next, open your photo. File –> Open. Your photo will open in a new window. Go ahead and perform any needed edits. At this point, I resize my image to something appropriate for the project. There are ways to do this later, but it is easiest to get it right at this point. I resized this image to 450 x 390 so it would fit nicely within my background.
Now you’re going to copy and paste the photo into your project. I use the keyboard shortcuts –> Command+A (Select All) and Command+C (Copy). You can also use the Edit menu in the toolbar.
3. Now, click back over to your project. Before pasting your photo, you need to create a new layer. Keeping everything on its own layer in Photoshop is essential to easy editing. There are a few ways to do this: using the layer menu in the toolbar, using the keyboard shortcut, or using the layers panel. The screenshot below shows you how to add a new layer with one click of the mouse using the layers panel.
Click the icon, and a new layer will appear above your background layer.
4. Paste your photo onto your top layer using the Edit menu or the keyboard shortcut Command+V.
5. It’s time to create the shape for your clipping mask. In this case, we’re going to create a circle to give the photo a round appearance. First, create a new layer using the same steps as above. Select your shape tool from the toolbar on the left. Yours may look like a rectangle rather than an ellipse, but that’s easy to change.
You can edit your preferences, including changing to the ellipse shape, across the top now.
I have the ellipse shape selected, default style, and white color.
With your ellipse tool active, you’re going to drag out a circle on your photo.
See how I covered the part of the photo I want to see with the shape? Don’t worry if it’s not quite right the first time! You can always undo (Edit–>Undo or Command+z) and retry.
6. The next step is to reorder your shape and photo layers. With your shape layer selected (indicated by it being highlighted in the layers panel), just drag it down below the photo layer.
See how the layers are stacked now on the right? Your photo should pop back to the front as well.
7. Finally, create your clipping mask. Select your photo layer, which is now on the top of the layers panel, as shown in the screenshot below.
Right click to open a menu.
Select “Create Clipping Mask.” You photo should quickly be shaped by the layer below it.
There you go. That’s the basics of clipping masks in Photoshop. With your photo layer selected, you can move the image around inside the frame to adjust.
If you have any questions, please leave them in the comments below and I’ll be happy to answer them. Next, I’ll be posting a tutorial on how I used multiple clipping masks (and an additional tool) to create a precise collage.