How to Make a Clipping Path in Illustrator

Adobe Illustrator makes it easy to show or hide certain sections of an image, without actually deleting any objects. This allows you to go back and tweak the image at any point in the creative process. To do this, you'll need to learn how to make a clipping path in Illustrator, so you can have total control over your workflow. Whether you need the flexibility to make edits based on the whims of an unpredictable client, or just want a fail-safe option to change your work, clipping paths are an extremely useful tool.

So what is a clipping path, and how does it affect your project? Let's say you have a simple black-and-white path in the shape of a crescent moon. Currently, the main layer in your project is a cool floral wallpaper, which fills the entire background in a square shape. However, you want to apply the moon-shaped path to the wallpaper like a cookie cutter, so that you end up with a floral moon. This is made possible with clipping paths.

Below, we've shared how to make a clipping path in Illustrator, using any path and layer that you like.

  1. First, launch an Illustrator project and select the layer that you want to edit. For our hypothetical example, we'll continue with the floral wallpaper and crescent moon project. 
  2. The floral wallpaper should be your background layer, and the crescent moon can be a separate black-and-white image, or you can just draw it yourself. Either way, your moon shape needs to be placed in its own layer, and it needs to be located above the floral wallpaper in the Layers palette. 
  3. Now, you're going to use the moon shape to create a clipping path. Just click on the "Make/Release Clipping Mask" button at the bottom of the Layers palette (the icon looks like a tiny rectangle and circle). This will cut a moon-shaped path into your floral wallpaper layer, leaving the rest of the canvas blank.  
  4. The beauty of this technique is that you can change it whenever you like! For example, you can adjust the position of your moon path, and it will still clip the background layer. If you drew the moon, it's also possible to edit the shape itself by tweaking the control points. Finally, if you want to undo the clipping path, just select the path layer in the Layers palette, and click the "Make/Release Clipping Mask" button again. 
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