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Clipping Masks and Compound Paths in Adobe Illustrator

Clipping Masks and Compound Paths in Adobe Illustrator

Clipping masks in Adobe Illustrator are something that I use nearly every day. Most designers of any kind will need to be able to use a clipping mask at some point. Today I will talk about what it is, where to find the option, why you would use it, and what sort of projects it is ideal for.

First a clipping mask is a lot like what it sounds like. You would use it to “clip” around a particular area. In the end it is sort of like a layering effect that will take place. Shapes are an easy way to make use of a clipping mask. Text is also very common. Using a clipping mask is great for effects that you want to use in your project. It is also ideal for masking around exact shapes. Take the shape of a heart for instant. If I wanted to have a texture effect of an glitter image I could use a clipping mask.

Before Clipping Mask
Heart object clipart
After Clipping Mask
Heart clipping mask

Steps to Create a Clipping Mask

You will find the option to use a clipping mask under: Object > Clipping Mask > Make. You can also use the Command 7 shortcut on the Mac. I usually right click my mouse and select “Make Clipping Mask.” Make sure the image you want is behind your object. You can move the layer to the bottom or Right Click > Arrange > Send to Back. Select both the image and your object and then make a clipping mask.

make clipping masks

clipping mask

Ocassionally you may need to group your elements, unite them through the Pathfinder Tool, or outline your text before a clipping mask will work. Sometimes especially when using text or complex shapes you must make your elements a compound path first. For instance, if I outline my text my Clipping Mask no longer works (shown below). However, I can make my text a compound path by going to Object > Compound Path > Make or Command 8 on Mac. I can then create a clipping mask with no problem.

Create a Clipping Mask from Outlined Text without Making a Compound Path (RESULTS)

create outlines

clipping masks

clipping mask

As you can see, this is not the result that we wanted. So in this case we can easily release our clipping mask by right clicking and then selecting “Release Clipping Mask.”

release clipping mask

 

Create a Clipping Mask with Outlined Text by Making Text a Compound Path

make compound path

make compound path clipping mask

make clipping masks

When you would use a Clipping Mask

When or why would you use a clipping mask? Use it to create effects such as a texture or image effect. You would use it to make exact paths such as a round shape. It as also an easy way to finalize a design that may otherwise seem too dull. Use a clipping mask to keep your art from going on to another artboard. You can also use a clipping mask to create mock ups in Illustrator that would otherwise need to be done in Photoshop.

Clipping masks are ideal for creating stationary such as postcards, posters, and invitations. Wall décor or prints use clipping masks all of the time. Even branding can be done with a clipping mask if it is well thought out and done correctly. There are a ton of reasons why you would use a clipping mask.

In conclusion I hope this tutorial helped you learn how to make a clipping mask or that you learned something new about the process. The texture and font that I used to create these examples were created by me and are released to the public domain. Feel free to download them and use it for whatever you want! No credit is required, but is always appreciated. Don’t forget to join our exclusive membership down below!

 

 

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Illustrator Automatic Path Smoothing

Illustrator Automatic Path Smoothing

Illustrator Automatic Path Smoothing only takes a few simple steps. First select your object. Then choose Object > Path > Simplify.

Illustrator Automatic Path Smoothing

Afterward, a dialog box will appear. Here are the options that appear when you open the Simplify dialog box.

Illustrator Automatic Path Smoothing

Next, these are the options that you will see.

  • Curve Precision: The higher the value = the more anchor points
  • Angle Threshold: Prevents some angle anchors from being smoothed
  • Straight Lines: Changes paths to straight line
  • Show Original: Shows original vector image
  • And Preview: Shows a preview of what will happen when you change the Curve Precision, Angle Threshold, and/or Straight Lines.

Curve Precision: The higher the value = the more anchor points. This will most likely be the your most important option when Illustrator automatic path smoothing.Illustrator Automatic Path Smoothing

Angle Threshold: Prevents some angle anchors from being smoothedIllustrator Automatic Path Smoothing

Straight Lines: Changes paths to straight lineIllustrator Automatic Path Smoothing

Show Original: Shows original vector image in redIllustrator Automatic Path Smoothing

And Preview: Shows a preview of what will happen when you change the Curve Precision, Angle Threshold, and/or Straight Lines.

For the most part, the Simplify feature can be incredibly helpful for quick jobs, fixing a jagged vector, or producing more straight paths. Simplifying a path is meant to remove extra anchor points. Its intent is to do so without changing the shape of the path and is a form of automatic path smoothing in Adobe Illustrator. When unnecessary anchor points are deleted, your artwork will be simplified, and as a result will reduce the file size allowing for faster print and display.

Hand Drawn Lettering
Original

 

Simplify Tool
Using Simplify Option

Be Careful!

I only noticed this problem when zooming in and working on the piece later on. As can be seen, some straight edges have looped over on a few end points. Before printing or finalizing your piece for release, zoom up and check if you have the same problem.

Looped Edges

This may be able to be fixed by reducing the amount of Angle Threshold or you may have to manually fix these instances.

Using the Smooth Tool

However, if you find that this does not smooth out your paths how you desire them, the Smooth Tool will do the trick. Smooth Tool If you don’t see the tool in your Tool Panel you can click and hold on any of the other three options that you do see,

Smooth Tool Options

and then select the Smooth Tool.

  1. First select the object.
  2. Then Select the Smooth Tool  Smooth Tool
  3. Click and Drag the tool along the path that you want to smooth.
  4. Finally, continue smoothing until you are happy with the result.
  5. Furthermore, you can change the amount of smoothing by double clicking the Smooth Tool. Smooth Tool Options Dialog Box
    1. Fidelity controls the amount of points on your path. The higher the value = the smoother and less complex.
    2. Smoothness controls the amount of smoothness. The higher the value = the smoother the path.
Original Handwriting
Original

 

Smooth Tool
After Using Smooth Tool

The Smooth Tool is one of my favorites and most helpful tools that I use. For realistic vectors, the Smooth Tool will be your best friend. It can be very time consuming, but is worth it to finalize an important illustration.

Simplify VS. Smooth Tool

In conclusion, I would use the simplify feature for quick edits. It would also be a huge help if I had a lot of extra anchor points in my design that I would like deleted. If I wanted more straight lines, I would use the simplify feature and adjust the Straight Lines option. On the other hand, if my project is very design sensitive or precise, I would use the Smooth Tool. You may benefit from using both the Simplify feature and the Smooth Tool. Below are my screenshots of the Simplify Option VS. Smooth Tool

Simplify Tool
Simplify

 

Smooth Tool
Smooth Tool

Can you tell a difference? Which one do you like better? I hope you enjoyed this tutorial about Illustrator automatic path smoothing. Soon, I will be posting more tutorials about helpful design tools and techniques as I learn them myself. Stay tuned as I will be listing a Valentine’s Day freebie in my next blog post.

Below is my finalized version using both the Simplify Option and Smooth Tool. I also had to manually smooth out a few areas.

Simplify and Smooth Tool

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