Clipping Masks In Photoshop

Updated on March 27, 2024 in Photo Editing by

Clipping Masks In Photoshop

Clipping masks are among the most professional and commonly used features in photo editing software. A clipping mask is like an object on canvas whose outline masks the visible area of another object within the image below.

It is a cover placed on top of a layer within tools like Photoshop for manipulating images. This functionality enables one to insert a portion of one object, such as a photograph, into another, like a shape or text.

The size and general form of the shape is created using by the clipping path. When using clipping masks, the order of objects relative to one another is of the utmost importance. 

So, whether you’re an experienced designer or just a beginner, you can significantly elevate your design proficiency and the quality of your projects. 

In this article, we explore the fundamentals of clipping masks and their benefits in Photoshop along with how it differs from layer masks. So, let’s get into detail.

Masking in Photoshop

The term “masking” is used in digital compositing to hide or partly hides elements from the viewer. Adobe Photoshop has two main types of masks: “layer masks” and “clipping masks.” Both clipping and layer masks do this job in a similar way, by showing or hiding pixels without damaging the original image but serve different purposes.

For instance, if you want to erase the sky from a photo, you can use tools like the magic wand or magic eraser. However, these tools would permanently delete those pixels. In many cases this would be fine but other times you’ll prefer to mask those pixels instead of delete them and that’s where masking service comes in handy.

In simple terms, layer masks give you better control over hiding or revealing pixels within one layer. Clipping masks, on the other hand, hide parts of a layer using pre-made selections or paths.

Photo editors prefer layer masks, while digital designers often use clipping masks. But there’s no strict rule to apply these techniques.

Let’s understand it better.

What is a Layer mask?

Layer Mask

A layer mask is created over the original image to hide a layer without erasing the original image. It creates transparency without needing a separate object underneath.

Layer masks create transparency based on a gradient from black to white, rather than using another object’s shape like clipping masks. Areas painted as white remain opaque, while black becomes fully transparent, and shades of grey provide semi-transparency. This gives more precision and flexibility compared to clipping masks.

It is excellent for making image composites, modifying background colors, and removing and cutting out objects so they affect only certain areas rather than the entire layer.

What are Clipping Masks?

Clipping Masks

A clipping mask is a feature to mask one layer using the transparency or shape of the layer below it. It is also non-destructive, granting the flexibility to adjust or relocate the masked content whenever necessary.

This mechanism works when the content of one layer called the “clipping layer” controls the visibility on another layer, the “base layer.”

The base layer is clipped to the shape of the “clipping layer“, showing only where the two layers overlap.

For example, you have a shape (let’s say a triangle) in the top layer and an image in the layer below it. In the clipping mask, you’ll see the outline of the triangle within which the image will be visible. Instead of simple shapes, you can also use text, the outlines of other images, and other design stencils

In simpler terms, it simplifies the process of generating intricate images and enables you to blend layers seamlessly, resulting in a polished and professional appearance of your photos.

What Does Clipping Masks Do?

Clipping masks can drastically improve your ability to work with layers in Photoshop. They are helpful for various tasks, such as applying adjustments to specific layers or altering the shape of an image.

One advantage is that you can clip multiple layers into a single mask.

For example, you want to create a window that appears to have two different textures on its surface. Unfortunately, applying them directly as separate layers would obscure the entire window. This is where creating a single clipping mask from multiple layers comes in.

First, prepare all three layers (window, grunge texture, crack texture) in the same document and stacked in the desired order (let’s say, window on bottom, textures above). Then, group the texture layers into one single unit and create a clipping mask by clicking between the grouped texture layer and the window layer.

This makes the window only show the areas where the textures have white pixels and leaving black areas transparent, revealing the original window image underneath.

Note: After clipping multiple objects into the desired shape, you can move them individually by selecting their layers. Moreover, they can be easily created, edited, and integrated with other Photoshop tools, making your design more flexible.

Is Clipping Mask the Same as Layer Mask? What’s the Difference?

Number of Layers Involved

A layer mask is not dependent on the other layer and is attached to a single image with a dedicated mask channel. In contrast, a clipping mask involves at least two layers. The bottom layer acts as the mask, defining the visible area.

The layer mask use black and white to show and hide different parts of the layer. While a clipping mask can be a shape, text, or even another image.

Linked Visibility

In layer masks, white areas are fully visible, black areas are entirely hidden, and greys create a gradual fade between visible and hidden.

Meanwhile, in clipping masks, the top layer’s visibility is directly linked to that of the bottom layer. The bottom layer, that is, the image, will be visible through the outline of the top layer.

You cannot edit the top layer independently while the clipping mask is active. But you can edit the mask and the image layer independently in layer masks.


Layer Masks are ideal for creating smooth fades, progressively revealing parts of an image, and selectively applying adjustments. On the other hand, Clipping Masks is ideal if you want an image to conform to a specific shape, create text with a custom outline, or isolate edits to specific areas defined by another layer.

Benefits Of Using Clipping Masks for Photo Editing

Clipping masks aren’t just useful for design tasks; they can also make your photo editing process much smoother. 

With clipping masks, you can easily edit or add effects to specific parts of a picture without affecting the rest. Here are some key benefits:

  1. Precision & Sharpness
  2. Non-Destructive Editing
  3. Control Visibility
  4. Selective Adjustments
  5. Efficiency & Repeatability
  6. Creative Flexibility with Complex Shapes

Let’s understand this through an example.

Let’s say you create a heart-shaped balloon using a clipping mask. For that, first draw a perfect heart shape, and then place a photo of a wrinkled balloon texture above it. Clipping the photo to the heart shape hides everything outside the heart, leaving a perfectly shaped balloon with realistic wrinkles from the texture layer.

Since they’re non-destructive, you can always restart and change the base layer without affecting the clipped layer. This gives you the flexibility to experiment until you achieve the desired results.

Final Words

Clipping mask is a powerful feature in Photoshop that can significantly improve your design abilities and elevate your projects. By grasping the fundamentals and exploring their diverse uses, you can create impressive designs.

When it comes to clipping masks, digital designers becomes the best fit for achieving the exact results you want. But if you need professional photo editing services, PixelPhant offers efficient solutions for e-commerce businesses and studios. Sign up for a free trial with no credit card required.

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