Week 45 :: How to Use a Clipping Mask Tip Share

One of my favorite things about Photoshop is using a clipping mask. What’s a clipping mask? It’s when you mesh two or more layers together; the top layer(s) then takes the shape of the bottom layer.

This is awesome when you have a specific layout you want your photos to fall into, or if you’d like to make a specific background, photo, or digital paper into a particular shape. Here’s what I’m talking about:

Let’s say I want this scalloped circle to have a canvas texture. Rather than struggle to cut the shape out of the canvas photo itself, I can do this easily with a clipping mask.

For some things, like square or rectangular boxes, or a mosaic, you can resize and cut and paste and move it all into place, but honestly, that’s a lot of work. A clipping mask adds the background/paper into the shape for you, and you can then make adjustments to the size of each photo within the frame you’ve set up. Clipping masks are also non-destructive to both layers, so you can switch out the background till you’re satisfied without having to make the shape each time.

Here’s how you do it.

You’ll need:
* Photoshop Elements
* A background image
* A shape image (psst… there’s a freebie or two at the bottom)

I’m going to assume you’re semi-familiar with Elements, so I’m going to skip a few basic descriptions. If you need more help, let me know and I’ll walk you through it. If you need to, you can click the photos to see them larger.

Step 1: Open both your images in Elements.

Step 2: Copy your background image onto your shape image.
Good tip – you want to make sure is that your background image is as large or larger than the shape you’ll be clipping it onto. You can check the size of both files by going to Edit > Resize or hitting ALT + CTRL + I.

Step 3: Arrange the layers in the Layers Panel.
If it’s not on top, click and drag the background image layer on top of the shape layer. This is important because clipping masks combine down, not up. You also want to make sure the two layers you’re working with are directly on top of each other; there shouldn’t be any random layers in between.

Step 4: Create your clipping mask.
Hold down the ALT button (Option on Macs), then move your mouse over the dividing line between the layers. The pointer will turn into a double circle icon; once it does, click and it will create a clipping mask. You’ll know it worked when the top background layer indents in and shows an arrow pointing down next to the thumbnail.

If ALT + a mouse click doesn’t work, click on the background layer, then hit CTRL + G (Command + G for Macs) to create the clipping mask. You can also create a clipping mask by clicking on the background layer, then going up to the Layers button along the top bar, then choosing “Create Clipping Mask” from the drop down menu.

Step 5: Resize the background image
Click on the background image layer, then using the Move tool, move and resize your image to taste.

Step 6: If you’re working with more than 1 background image… OPTIONAL
If you have another background image you want to work with, now’s the time to add it to the mix. Paste it onto the other layers, drag it up to the top, the clip it to the current clipping mask. Move it around till it’s where you want it to be.

If background image B blocks or covers background image A, you can always drag that layer underneath the first. The layer on the top is the layer that will show first or show on top.

This is also a good time to add in any text you’d like.

Step 7: Merge visible
If you’re going to use this on another file, you want to be able to copy and paste all of the layers exactly as you see it. So, once you’re happy with the way the layers look, hit Shift + CTRL + E to merge all visible layers. You can also access that by going up to Layers > Merge Visible or Layers > Flatten Image. Then you can simply copy and paste this newly flattened image onto a larger file.

If this is the final image, you don’t really have to merge or flatten the layers; saving it as a JPEG or PNG file will do that for you.

Final result!

I hope this helps you play with Elements! There are tons of uses for this; digital scrapbooking comes to mind, but I also use this for my blog. For example, I simply made one mosaic template that I used over and over for my Crafty Holiday blog post last week.

So, where do you get “shapes” to use? You can use anything really; any image or even a font can be used as a shape to clip to. But if you’d like some help, I’ve got a few free files for you to download and play with. Enjoy!

Clipping Mask Shape A, 148K
Clipping Mask Shape B, 161 K
Clipping Mask Shape C, 131 K
Clipping Mask Shape D, 131 K

Like the background image? You can grab it from Lost & Taken.


9 Responses to Week 45 :: How to Use a Clipping Mask Tip Share

  1. I did it!
    You are awesome Brandi, thanks so much for sharing this!

    Do you have any more info on how to make shapes?

  2. Nice!! For some reason I never utilize clipping masks and I will now use them everysingleday. So useful!! Thanks for the tip!!! Pattern fonts are my favorite thing ever and I will be playing with that now!! xo

  3. I noticed this post about two weeks ago and finally sat down to try it. I love it! I love how fun it is and that I could do it. I always try to present stuff well, like newsletters and what not for work. Photoshop is something I'm learning in my own time at home. It's been a bit frustrating not know how it all works beyond the basics. This just made it plain easy. Thank you!!!!

  4. Wow,
    Thank you so much, please post more tutorials like this. I have been searching for help like this for ages x

  5. Thank you thank you thank you !!! Finally a tutorial about this that is super easy to understand, love the ‘alt’-trick!!

  6. Thank you for the tip (and the frebbies) i am new with the photoshop and it’s great to learn about it.