Layer Clipping Masks – saving layer structure

A clipping mask is a shape that is used to mask other artwork, only artwork covered by the clipping mask remains visible. The beauty of using a clipping mask is that it is non-destructive, which means you can always release the clipping mask to see all your original artwork again. So lets see how they work…

Creating layer clipping masks

Below we can see the original artwork. Different parts of the artwork have been placed on different layers, so keeping the artwork organised and easy to arrange and edit.

The clipping mask will be created on a new layer, so preserving the content of the existing layers.

First I will select the Grass layer, this will ensure that my new layer will be created above the Grass layer for the clipping mask. Order is important when creating a clipping mask, the clipping mask must be positioned above the artwork that it is going to mask. In the artwork shown, all layers will be masked, so the clipping mask will be placed on a new layer above all the existing layers. By the way, a clipping mask and the artwork that it masks is called a clipping set.

Alt-click on the Create New Layer button (indicated in red below) this will allow me to create a new layer. Holding down the alt key brings up the Layer Options panel so I can name it: Mask, then I pressed OK.

Next the shape of the mask needs to be drawn. Using the Rectangle Tool a rectangle was drawn over the artwork that I wanted to keep visible. The colour of the rectangle doesn’t matter, but the one I created is shown in orange below.

Next I need to select all the artwork on all the layers, going to Select > All is a quick way of doing this. Now lets create the clipping set by going to Object > Clipping Mask > Make. Great the artwork on all the layers below the Mask layer has been masked/clipped, but the layer structure has been lost as all the artwork has been moved to the Mask layer (see below). Lets undo that: Edit > Undo Make Clipping Mask. We need to create a Layer Clipping Mask, so masking multiple layers but keeping the layer structure.

Creating a layer clipping mask

To preserve the layer structure I will need to make the layers into sub layers of the Mask layer. Selecting the Grass, Boat, Land, Mountains and Sky layers I dragged them on top of the Mask layer. As sub layers they will be positioned slightly to the right as shown below. I dragged the sub layer containing the mask (orange rectangle) to the top of the sub layers to ensure the correct setup is achieved – mask at the top.

Next all the artwork needs selecting Select > All will do that. The Mask layer was then clicked on, as I want to mask all the contents of that layer, including its sub layers.

Clicking on the Making/Release Clipping Mask button at the bottom of the Layers panel (indicated in red above), will create a layer clipping mask.

Fantastic, all the contents of the sub layers has been preserved.

Fancy learning more techniques like this? Here’s the link: I want to learn more great Illustrator techniques.

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