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How to Use Clipping Masks in Procreate

How to Use Clipping Masks in Procreate main article image
Posted on February 1, 2021 by Tara Garmon

Whether you use Procreate for drawing, painting, animating, typography, graphics, or some other purpose, learning to use clipping masks is essential. Clipping masks will help you create in a non-destructive way, meaning the layers underneath are protected. This will give you a great deal of freedom to be creative, without worrying that you will have to spend a lot of time making edits later.

What is a clipping mask and why is it beneficial?

A clipping mask is somewhat like alpha lock, which simply locks all of the transparent pixels on a layer from being editable, however using alpha lock is destructive to the original layer. This means that if you alpha lock a layer in order to paint on it, you will be painting directly on that layer. So let’s say you draw a circle and then paint across the circle using alpha lock to constrain the gradient within the circle. It would look like this:

How to use clipping masks in procreate

As you can see in the layers panel at the top right, the layer is alpha locked, meaning you cannot accidentally draw outside the circle. This is indicated by the black and gray squares behind the circle in the layer. But the stripes have been painted directly on the layer, which means you cannot easily change those colors without repainting them entirely. This may not be much of an issue with a simple design like this, however if you paint something more complex directly on the layer, it will be much more difficult to change it layer.

By using clipping masks, you can accomplish exactly the same thing as alpha lock, but with the benefit of being able to use multiple layers. This means if you wanted to change part of your project, you could easily do so without affecting the surrounding elements.

Below you can see that each stripe is on a separate layer, which means you could swap out any of the three colors without affecting the other two.

Editing in Procreate

Now, as I mentioned, with a simple project like this, there wouldn’t be a noticeable difference between using alpha lock and using a clipping mask. It really wouldn’t be that much trouble to just repaint the three stripes and be done with it. However, if you have a complex project that requires many layers that might need to be edited later, clipping masks are invaluable for giving you the flexibility you need.

How to create a clipping mask in Procreate

In order to create a clipping mask in Procreate, simply create a new layer directly above the layer you wish to paint above. Then tap that layer in the layers panel and click “Clipping Mask”, as seen below. 

Clipping mask in Procreate

This will make the area outside the shape below it locked, and you can paint above it without worrying about going outside the bounds of your original layer.

You can also have many different clipping mask layers that all use the same base layer. To do this, simply create a new layer and move it below one of your current clipping masks. Any layer you put between a clipping mask layer and its original base layer will automatically become a clipping mask layer. If you later want to change that layer to a regular layer instead of a clipping mask, simply move it above your topmost clipping mask layer and then tap the layer in the layers panel and select “Clipping Mask” again to turn it off. If you move a clipping mask layer above a regular layer, it will automatically turn off the clipping mask. You can also turn a clipping mask back on at any time, as long as there are no other layer types between that layer and the rest of your clipping masks or the original base layer.

Below is an example of using three clipping masks, with a layer above them that is not a clipping mask.

Layering in Procreate

Let’s do a slightly more complex example in order to show you just how beneficial clipping masks are.

In this example, let’s say a client has asked you to create a green leaf with a speckled texture in yellow above it for use in their marketing materials. The project might look something like the one below.

Editing with clipping masks in Procreate

If the client wanted you to change the speckles to blue, it would be very easy to do because the speckles are on their own layer. However if you had painted everything directly on the leaf layer it would mean basically starting over from scratch, because editing the yellow speckles would potentially affect every layer underneath, and it would take a long time to painstakingly go over every speckle to ensure no yellow showed through, or you’d just have to start from scratch.

The more complex the project, and the harder it would be to make changes later, the more important clipping masks become.

You may also notice that the bottom layer, named “Shadow”, is an alpha lock layer rather than a clipping mask. This is simply because it is one solid color and would be easy to change later. Also, since it is below the original layer, a clipping mask would not work for it unless I created another layer above it. Procreate limits the number of layers you are allowed to have in a project based on how large the canvas is, so it’s important to keep the number of layers to a minimum if you’re working on a large, high-resolution canvas. This is a good reason to use alpha lock instead of clipping masks whenever possible.

Using clipping masks for typography

Another good benefit of using clipping masks is when you’re creating typography. You cannot paint directly on a font layer without rasterizing the text. Once text is rasterized, it can’t be edited anymore. So if you needed to change the words, or change the font, you would have to start all over. But by using clipping masks, you can, for example, make each letter a different color and easily change it later, as seen below.

Working with fonts in Procreate

Now, if you wanted to change the font, or the words, you could do so, like this:

Edit with clipping masks in Procreate

Keep in mind that I did have to go back and alter the color layers a bit after I changed the word from “TYPE” to “TYPO”, because the letter change shifted the placement of the colors. But since each color was on its own layer, this was very quick and easy to do.

As you can see, clipping masks are very beneficial in helping you perform non-destructive edits to layers. Remember that you are limited in the number of layers you can based on the dimensions of your project, so using alpha lock on simple layers may work better, however clipping masks are invaluable when you have more complex elements that may require changes later.

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