Painting a Spot Illustration, Part 2: Using Clipping Masks


This is the second part in a series of tutorials. You can read part one here.

When creating a spot illustration, I often create the overall vignette shape first, before I add any other colors or details. To do this, I make a clipping mask layer.

Also check out one of my older posts, Using Masks to Create a Spot Illustration, which reviews some similar methods and ideas I will use here.

Creating a Clipping Mask Layer

You need to create a layer that contains the overall shape, texture, and opacity of the illustration. A different method may work better for different images. You can paint on a layer directly, draw a geometric shape, or use the selection tools. For this illustration where I’m starting with a specific sketch, this is the easiest way I know how to do it:

First, I take my sketch layer (see part 1), duplicate it, and place it underneath the first sketch layer. Then, with the transparency locked, I fill it with a color.

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I started by duplicating the sketch layer because I find it is easier this way to create an accurate vignette shape. To complete it, I unlock the transparency and fill in the rest of the shape. The sketch creates some messiness, but this will be fixed later.

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Now, I make this layer a clipping mask layer. You do this by going to the layers palette and Opt+clicking in between the two layers. The layer on top ends up being masked by the layer below, meaning anything you draw on the top layer will only affect the opaque pixels on the mask layer.


Why Use a Clipping Mask?

Clipping masks are very handy if you want to retain certain shapes or textures, but want to be able to keep things like color and line drawings on separate layers. Now that I have created my basic shape, I can create new layers, color, and edit, and the overall vignette will be retained. And if I want to edit the shape at all, I need only to fix this one layer.

In this particular illustration’s case, you can see I clipped the sketch layer to the shape I just made. Now, if I paint or erase on this shape, it will appear to affect the sketch as well.


And if I add a new layer and clip it as well, I can paint my basic colors under my sketch and not worry about going outside the lines.

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I can further edit my vignette shape at any time by painting or erasing on the clipping mask layer. For example, I can clean up the messy sketch marks…


…change the shape altogether…


…or bring it back again…


Some tips about clipping masks:

  • You can have more than one layer “linked” to the clipping mask layer. For example, separate layers for the line and the color.
  • The clipping mask layer can have varying opacities and textures. Any transparency will be retained. This is useful if you have a shape that is more subtle or sketchy.


  • You can unclip layers at any time just by Opt+clicking between the layers. Undoing the clipping mask will reveal everything you painted “outside the lines”. You can redo the clipping mask again just by Opt-clicking once more.


Now, I can finish my illustration and paint it like a normal painting using whatever method and however many layers I choose. But from here on out, I no longer have to worry about the overall shape, thanks to my clipping mask.