I'm struggling to find a way in Illustrator to do something which is very simple in Photoshop.

Here's an example:

I draw a plane. Now I want to draw stripes on it and a cockpit.

In Ps, I clip these two layers to the plane, and continue to edit the shape of the plane afterwards. The stripes and cockpit stay overlapping whatever the plane shape becomes.

In Ai, I've tried all the Pathfinder options, and although I can achieve the opposite effects to what I want, I can't simply 'clip' the details to the plane.

Here is a picture of what I mean: https://dl.dropbox.com/u/10452828/online/stackexchange1.png

What's the easiest way to do this in Ai? Do I need to find a different drawing flow to the way I do it in Ps?


3 Answers 3


Here's one way to do it:

1 — Duplicate the path you want to use to clip

Press return, type 0 for horizontal and 0 for vertical offsets, then click Copy.

enter image description here

2 — Apply clipping mask

You now have a copy of the plane outline. Change the fill to be completely clear, bring it to front, then select the items you want to be clipped (in Illustrator, the top path will be used as the clipping path).

Choose Object → Clipping Mask → Make.

enter image description here

3 — You’re done

It should appear the way you want. Clipping Masks in Illustrator work a little differently to Clipping Masks in Photoshop, but similar results can be achieved.

You can edit any of the shapes at any time by using the Direct Selection tool (the white arrow), or by double clicking with the Selection tool (to enter isolation mode, if you have that turned on in preferences).

enter image description here

Pathfinder tricks

When using Pathfinder, you option-click the buttons to apply the masking, but keep the paths editable (in Illustrator CS5 and newer). You can click Expand if you'd like to destructively apply the edit.


I would not use clipping masks here. It's unnecessary overhead in the file and introduces transparency needlessly.

Simply use the Shape Builder Tool and Option/Alt click the portions you wish to remove.


This keeps the fie smaller and does not introduce transparency, or additional anchors, needlessly.

Once you start building multiple objects, if everything uses clipping masks you're going to create an editing nightmare for yourself. In this instance, a clipping mask is unwarranted and you are better off without it.

  • Although you lose the editability of the plane while everything remains within its shape. I guess this is perfect for simpler and lots of objects where it's unlikely I'll want to tweak it. Cheers!
    – Aaron
    Commented Jan 13, 2013 at 6:17
  • Lose editablility? It's vector. It's just as editable. Your'e still thinking in terms of Photoshop. It's much different.
    – Scott
    Commented Jan 13, 2013 at 8:03
  • Sorry, I meant if I edit the plane's shape, the other objects won't stay aligned to the new edge.
    – Aaron
    Commented Jan 14, 2013 at 14:59
  • That's true, but you can always repeat the same steps to get all edges to align.
    – Scott
    Commented Oct 25, 2013 at 16:40

Create your mask shape.

Create your element to be masked, in your example, the stripe (and all other items to be masked by this shape.)

Move the mask shape to the front.

Select both objects. From the Edit menu (I believe, typing from memory), select Make Clipping Mask.

  • Yeah that just makes the mask shape disappear :(
    – Aaron
    Commented Jan 13, 2013 at 4:53
  • After you create the mask, you have select that shape again and reapply it's styling. It seems kinda silly but some things can't be done directly on the mask. Commented Jan 13, 2013 at 5:40
  • AHHHHHH @plainclothes that was easy, thanks! Perfect :) That's three different but excellent ways to do what I needed. I appreciate all of your time.
    – Aaron
    Commented Jan 13, 2013 at 6:30

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