When I make vector images in Illustrator I often end up using a stylistic, almost cel shaded designs. When I want to give "shadowed" areas to an object for example, I usually just make a new object/path on top of the shape, and make sure their edges line up, so that the shadow obscures part of the main shape. (See highlighted shape in image.)

The "shadowed" part of the tree trunk is an object on top of another object.

This is usually fine and dandy, but when I edit the edge of the underlying shape I have to redraw or edit the shadow object again. What I want is some kind of clipping mask, where the shadow can be "inside" the path of the main object, but where the main object is still visible. That way I could edit the outline of the main object (such as the tree trunk shape) without worrying about the edge of the overlapping shadow. Makes sense? I want the shadow object to behave like example B below:

Trying to show what I mean...

I know a clipping mask could technically work, but the problem is not editing the shadow - it's editing the main object outline. Should I just make a copy of the main shape each time I edit it, and then paste it on top as a clipping mask for the shadow? Isn't there a way to make the clipping mask object visible behind the clipped object?

I am used to making UI icons and other monochromatic stuff, but when it comes to this kind of stuff I don't really know what's best practice. So what do you vector illustrators out there do? Layer masks? Clipping masks? Live paint? Or do you do like me?


2 Answers 2


you can do the effect by taking advantage of illustrator feature past inside or draw inside shift + D both have the same effect of clipping mask.

  1. draw your path
  2. select it by the black arrow
  3. click over draw inside icon

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  1. draw what ever you want, you will notice that the first path your draw get a sort of dotted frame. this is an indicator that you are drawing inside that shape, be careful any drawing outside the shape will not appear.

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  1. Double click outside the shape to see the result
  2. every time you want to re-position the shadow just double click over the shape and you will enter a isolate mode where you can control the inside shape(s) clipping group.

When I make illustrations with shades in that way I use and reuse the pathfinder screen, dividing and combining complicated shapes

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I did simple fast circles but that's the main idea):
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  • Thank you for the reply! :) Yes, this is basically what i do right now. I draw the shadow on top of the main object, use "intersect" to get the overlapping shape, and then paste it back on top of the main object. It's fine as long as I don't change the shape of the underlying object I guess.
    – Carl Ekman
    Mar 11, 2015 at 12:52
  • Why? You use the direct selection tool to change them both. In my circle for example, you want to move the point inside the circle? you choose with the direct selection tool - white arrow - both the point in the green and the dark red shape
    – Naty
    Mar 11, 2015 at 12:55

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