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How to Create a Clipping Mask in Photoshop (Step by Step)

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Clipping masks are an essential feature of Photoshop. You can use a clipping mask to selectively adjust an image layer while maintaining a non-destructive workflow.

In this guide, we will show you how to create a clipping mask in Photoshop.

Expert photography logo with pat of the text coloured orange using the clipping mask.

What Is a Clipping Mask?

The clipping mask in Photoshop works in a similar way to layer masks. They are a pair of layers. One layer shows the content; the other controls its visibility. You can use them to edit parts of your layers selectively.

Photoshop clipping masks, unlike layer masks, are controlled by transparency. Where the control layer is transparent, the clipped layer will be invisible. Where it’s filled with content, the clipped layer will be visible.

This Photoshop method also works with partial transparency. If your control layer is 50% transparent, your clipped layer will be 50% visible.

How to Use Clipping Masks

You will need at least two layers to use a clipping mask in Photoshop.

Choose a layer that you want to mask in. I will use a patch of orange paint to color parts of our logo. This patch will be the clipped layer.

An orange patch selected as the clipped layer.

Then, choose your control layer. In this example, our logo will be the control layer.

Expert Photography logo which will be used as the example for the clipping mask.

At this stage, the paint is covering the logo partly. Once I turn on the masking in photoshop, the clipped layer will only be visible where the logo is.Expert photography logo with orange patch covering a section of the text.

To turn on the clipping mask in Photoshop, drag your control layer below the content layer. Then, click on the line between them in the layers panel while holding Alt or Option.

A small arrow icon will appear pointing downwards. Selecting the upper layer and pressing Alt+Ctrl+G will do the same.

The orange patch over the logo has been clipped and the text underneath is now orange.

Note that the control layer has to be partly transparent. The logo started as a PNG file with a transparent background. If the background is white, this technique won’t work.

Practical Uses for Clipping Masks

Clipping masks are perfect with adjustment layers.

Usually, adding an adjustment layer on top of other Photoshop layers affects all of them. With clipping masks, you can apply adjustment layers selectively to a single layer.

In this example, I will take a photo and place a new person in it. But to blend well,  I’ll need to apply adjustments selectively to the person.

A landscape image with a photographer taking a photo on the left hand side.
Starting with this photo by Christopher Czermak on Unsplash
A landscape image with a man standing in the middle of a countryside road.
Our source for the person. By Danka & Peter on Unsplash

I first need to cut out the person from the second image. Here, I’m using a standard Photoshop layer mask to keep only the person visible.

Screen from Photoshop showing man from second image clipped. The background is no longer visible.

Now it’s time to place him onto the landscape image. I do this by grabbing the layer of the person and dragging it onto the other document.

The person has been placed into the first landscape photo, but the colors do not blend well.

The person is now in the new frame, but there is a problem. The tones of the landscape don’t match him at all. I need to adjust the colors and brightness. I do this by creating a color balance adjustment layer and setting the correct values.

Holding Alt and clicking on the line clips the adjustment layer to only the layer below it.

The image of the person has been edited and now blends into the landscape scene better.
Colours matched
a screenshot showing color settings in photoshop
My settings for color balancing

Clipping masks can be stacked. So, to further blend the figure into the landscape photo image,  I’m darkening it slightly. Lower parts of the body are still too bright, so I’m adding extra gradual darkening as well.

The lower body of the person is darkened to make it blend perfectly into the scene.
Stacked clipping masks

Conclusion

A Photoshop clipping mask is a versatile tool. Knowing how to use the clipping mask in Photoshop will enable you to improve and refine your image.Finished image of a person added into a landscape scene using the clipping mask.

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