If you've never set up a clipping mask in Adobe Illustrator CS5, you may be unfamiliar with the steps involved in using an object to define the parts of your drawing that are and aren't visible. You don't have to hide objects or layers to accomplish this goal. In fact, simply hiding parts of your Illustrator file won't do the trick if what you want to do is reveal elements of your artwork through a masking shape that defines the extent of the visible artwork and the outline through which it's visible.
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Draw an object the size and shape of the part of your artwork you want to remain visible. You can use any of Adobe Illustrator's drawing tools to craft your mask or make a duplicate of an existing object that's the right size and shape. To duplicate an object and place the duplicate in exactly the same place as the original, choose "Paste In Front" from the "Edit" menu or press "Control" + "F" in Windows or "Command" + "F" on a Mac keyboard.
Isolate your mask and the objects you want it to reveal by placing them all on the same layer with the masking object at the top of the list of elements on that layer. You can open the "Layers" panel and rearrange artwork items by dragging them from one layer to another and within one layer to reorganise them.
Select all the objects including the mask by clicking on them with the selection tools or activating them in the "Layers" panel. You can click in the selection column for the entire layer of objects or for each object in turn. If you select objects one by one, hold down the "Shift" key to add objects to your active selection. Select only the objects you want to mask and the object you created to become your masking object.
Choose "Make Clipping Mask" from the flyout menu at the top-right corner of the "Layers" panel or click on the "Make/Release Clipping Masks" button located on the panel's lower edge. Adobe Illustrator turns the topmost object in your selection into the mask for the entire set of objects that were selected when you issued the masking command.
Save your document under another name if you still need to use your unmasked version. Change the file name so it indicates at a glance which version of the file contains the mask and which does not.
Tips and warnings
- Only vector objects -- paths, type converted to outlines, ellipses and polygons -- can become masks, but anything you can place or create in Adobe Illustrator can be masked.
- Apply a fill or stroke to a clipping mask by selecting the mask and editing it. Reshape a mask object the same way you edit the shape of any Adobe Illustrator vector object. Any change in the size or shape of a mask changes the size or shape of the area it reveals.
- If you want to unmask a set of objects, don't just delete the mask. Select the clipping group, then choose "Make Clipping Mask" from the flyout menu at the top-right corner of the "Layers" panel or click on the "Make/Release Clipping Masks" button located on the panel's lower edge.
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