Clipping Masks provide us with a helpful way to add style, texture, and variety to our vector graphics. In this tutorial, I will teach you the fundamentals of applying, using and editing Clipping Masks.

First, let’s find out what a Clipping Mask is.
A Clipping Mask is any shape used to hide or reveal parts of other shapes.
Here are some important facts about clipping masks:

  • Any shape can be a clipping mask. Keep in mind that only vectors can serve as masks. Though, you can mask any image, graphic, vector, etc.
  • When an object is clipped, the areas within the object remain visible.
  • When two objects are clipped they are called a Clipping Set.
  • Once a Clipped Mask is created, you can only select the clipped shapes at the LAYERS palette.
  • The addition of Clipping Masks changes the objects fill and sets the stroke color to none.

STEP ONE:

Now that we know the basics of creating a Clipping Mask, let’s create a Clipping Mask of two simple shapes.
Open Illustrator CS5 and create a New Document of any size. With the Rectangle Tool (M) draw a square (object to be masked) and apply any color to it with a black stroke. Then, with the Ellipse Tool (L) draw a circle (masking object) on top of the rectangle and apply a different color with a black stroke.
Step One A

Next, select the two objects, right-click and select Make Clipping Mask, or go to Object > Clipping Mask > Make.
The result should look similar to the image below:
Step One B
Notice, that our blue circle acquired the color of our square with no stroke.

STEP TWO:

It is time to create a clipping mask of a textured image using a start shape.
Download any texture from the web. The image that I used is located within the downloadable file at the end of this tutorial.
Place the texture inside your Illustrator file and draw any shape on top of it. This time I drew a white star with the Star Tool.
Step Two A
Texture image provided by www.cgtextures.com.

Select the two objects, right-click and select Make Clipping Mask, or go to Object > Clipping Mask > Make.
The result should look similar to the image below:
Step Two B
Our texture was incorporated inside of our star shape.

STEP THREE:

Next, let’s create a mask of grouped objects.
Draw diverse shapes like shown below:
Step Three A
Select them all and go to Object > Group or press (Mac: Command + G / PC: Control + G).

Now, draw any shape on top of the grouped shapes:
Step Three B

Select the new shape with the grouped shapes, right-click and select Make Clipping Mask, or go to Object > Clipping Mask > Make.
Step Three C Step Three D 
Notice that only the overlapping shapes are now visible.

STEP FOUR:

If you need to edit or move any shape that was masked there are different ways to do it:

  • Select the Direct Selection Tool (A), click the shape, and move it or edit it as you wish.
    Step Four A
  • Double-click it to get inside the masked group. All the objects that were masked will appear.
    Step Four B
  • Right-click the masked shape and select Release Clipping Mask.
    Step Four C
  • Select it and go to Object > Clipping Mask > Release, or
  • Select it and press Mac: Alt + Command + 7 / PC: Alt + Control + 7, or
  • Select it and go to Object > Clipping Mask > Edit Contents.
    Step Four D

Now that you know how a Clipping Mask works experiment with more shapes and have fun! testing

Download Source Files