Looking to add personality to your typography? This simple clipping mask tutorial shows you how to create patterned type in just four easy steps.

Cover image via Rawpixel. Mask pattern via Anne Punch

A clipping mask acts as a vector frame; the solid shapes provide a boundary for images behind the layer to show through. It’s a unique and customizable way to crop your images or add patterns to vector shapes. You simply need access to Adobe Illustrator, and a patterned image or background. Let’s get started!


Step 1: Insert Text Elements

Start by uploading a Shutterstock font as a vector file, or by typing out a phrase with the Type Tool from Adobe Illustrator’s font library. Clipping masks can be applied to virtually any vector shape or type within Illustrator.

Shutterstock Fonts

Shutterstock has a vast selection of pre-designed fonts to choose from. These vector files allow you to string together phrases or manipulate and edit letterforms with Illustrator’s tools.

Download a thick weight font like this Retro Alphabet and follow these steps to create a title or phrase. When the letterforms are arranged, group them together with a Compound Path by hitting Command+8 or by selecting Object > Compound Path > Make. This is a key element to successful clipping masks with multiple shapes. Without a compound path, the separate letterforms will not register the background.

Tip: Keep clipping mask text to a few words. Multiple lines of text will be more difficult to read when a mask is applied. 

Add Character to Your Text with Patterned Clipping Masks – Shutterstock Fonts

Font Library

Clipping masks can also be applied to editable text from the Character Palette. With the Type Tool (T), type out a word or phrase in a bold style, like Arial Black at 270 pts. Bold text allows the pattern or background to show through while ensuring legibility in your design. Avoid thinner font styles when making a clipping mask. Don’t worry about making a compound path, as Illustrator registers the text as a grouped object.

Add Character to Your Text with Patterned Clipping Masks – Type Tool


Step 2: Search for a Pattern or Background

With Shutterstock’s Plugin for Creative Cloud, you can navigate and search through extensive selections of patterns and backgrounds directly from the Adobe Illustrator program. The Plugin even has featured collections of patterns, backgrounds, textures, and more to scroll through.

Add Character to Your Text with Patterned Clipping Masks – Adobe Illustrator Plugin

I licensed this forest seamless pattern to use in my design. Seamless designs allow for infinite tiling without distinct borders or separations. I recommend a darker pattern when using a light background, or vice versa, to guarantee legibility.


Step 3: Tile and Duplicate Pattern

Duplicate your image by clicking the image with the Selection Tool (V) and holding down the Option and Shift keys while click-dragging the image. Holding down the Shift key simplifies the tiling process by aligning the patterns perfectly for a smooth appearance.

Add Character to Your Text with Patterned Clipping Masks – Duplicate and Tile Pattern

Select the images and group them together with Command G or Object > Group. Arrange the patterns behind the text by hitting Shift+Command+[ or with Object > Arrange > Send to Back.


Step 4: Make Clipping Mask

With the Selection Tool (V), click both the background and the text and hit Command+7 or navigate to Object > Clipping Mask > Make.

Edit the pattern or move the background around with Object > Clipping Mask > Edit Contents. To remove the clipping mask, simply hit Option+Command+7 and delete the background layer.

Add Character to Your Text with Patterned Clipping Masks – Make Clipping Mask

Ta-da! Your finished mask should look something like this. You can use this handy tool to add emphasis or personality to your titles and designs in just a few steps.


Interested in expanding your typography skills and knowledge? Check out these essential design articles: