I'm an architecture student looking to add more of an artsy touch to my floor plans. Traditionally, the plans are exported as vector lines from the arch program I use, which I take into Illustrator to clean up. I'd like to lend more texture to the lines and have a black watercolor wash that would look neat--like the floor plan was painted very cleanly. I often get this effect with text by converting the letters to outlines (cmd-shft-O) and then make a clipping mask out of the watercolor wash.

The problem I'm having is that "make clipping mask" doesn't do the trick, since the image is made of lines rather than shapes. Said another way, Illustrator wants to make a clipping mask out of the shape defined by the line, rather than the lines themselves. Is there a fast way to lend a clipping mask effect to just lines?

Thanks for the help!

edit: The "outline stroke" move Cakey suggested worked perfect to turn the lines into "shapes" that can act as clipping masks without bulking anything up. Unfortunately another problem arose.

I included an image to show the process. In 1 and 2 I have a before and after of text with the background wash applied as a clipping mask.

In 3 and 4 I have an example of random shapes that would be encountered in a floor plan and what happens when I try to set a clipping mask with all the shapes: only the last shape to be created acts as the mask. If I group the shapes to form a single masking element, Illustrator tells me the mask is too complex and everything disappears--no fill or lineweight. Ideas on how to simplify or bypass this warning? I'd like to avoid just taking all of this into Photoshop and losing image quality.

Thanks for your patience and encouragement.

  • Greetings! It would be of great help to us all if you edited your question to include some images. Saves everyone time, and increases the chances that you will get a good answer.
    – benteh
    Commented Aug 2, 2014 at 12:49
  • Cakey's advice is great for Illustrator. Just wanted to point out that you should be able to import .ai lines(exported in an old format for compatibility) into Fireworks where you can actually apply textures/styles to your strokes. Commented Aug 2, 2014 at 13:52

3 Answers 3


Starting fresh.....

The basic steps are as follows:

  1. Select all your shapes (or text)
  2. Choose Object > Expand Appearance from the menu, if it is available
  3. Choose Object > Expand from the menu
  4. Choose Object > Compound Path > Make from the menu
  5. Select the objects and the background
  6. Choose Object > Clipping Path > Make from the menu

Step 2 may result in objects which can't easily be used for your purpose. This all depends on any complex appearance which has been added to any object. For what you want to work, it is best to keep shapes and objects as simple as possible -- with only a standard fill and/or stroke applied to them.

Step 4 may need some refinement to get the objects all seen correctly. It's possible counters or holes get filled in undesirably. This all depends upon the actual artwork and it can, at times, require further manual editing to ensure the compound path is correctly configured.


There is a function called "Outline Stroke" in the Path menu under Object.

So if you make a big fat stroke on a horizontal line, for instance, and run that, you will get a shape that is a solid rectangle that looks like the stroked line...but it is a filled shape.

Maybe that could get you what you want but it seems awkward. I don't know the effect you are looking for but this sounds like a weird way of going about it. Maybe if you show a picture there is a way to do it without this.


The Clipping Mask works by using the front-most path as a frame through which to see the background object(s).
If you want the mask to be everything that is showing as black in your [3] image, you'll need to combine them in to a single object first. To do this, I would recommend following @Cakey's advice for outlining strokes to get solid shapes, and then selecting all of your shapes (but not the background), and using the Unite button from the Pathfinder panel:
Pathfinder Panel
After you have combined all of your shapes in to one object, you should be able to select the background, and then Object > Clipping Mask > Make to get your desired result.

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