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How to Crop in Illustrator

Final product image
What You'll Be Creating

If you're wondering how to crop an image in Illustrator, you need to know that there are a couple of ways to get around it, depending on your needs. Do you want to crop a photo, or a vector graphic? Do you just want to crop it visually, without cutting anything, or remove the trimmed parts forever? You can use various methods depending on these preferences. In this tutorial, I will show you all the methods, so that you know exactly how to crop in Adobe Illustrator.

For presentation purposes, I will be using this beautiful vector illustration from Envato Elements, as well as this photo of a kitten.

Follow along with us over on our Envato Tuts+ YouTube channel:

What You'll Learn in This "How to Crop in Illustrator" Tutorial

  • How to prepare an image for cropping
  • How to crop a photo in Illustrator CC
  • How to crop a photo in Illustrator CS
  • How to crop a picture in Illustrator by exporting
  • How to crop in Adobe Illustrator using the Clipping Mask
  • How to crop in Adobe Illustrator using the Opacity Mask
  • How to crop a shape in Illustrator
  • How to cut an image in Illustrator

How to Prepare an Image for Cropping

Whether you want to crop your image destructively or non-destructively, it's good to plan the cropping area first, without changing anything. You can use the Artboard for this purpose—just use the Artboard Tool (Shift-O) to resize the artboard area and create visible boundaries. You can then adjust any cropping to this area.

define crop area

How to Crop a Photo in Illustrator CC

Step 1

This method is the easiest way to crop a raster picture, but it's only available in the CC version of Illustrator. Open your image and select it with the Selection Tool (V). Then move to the upper bar and select Crop Image.

where to find crop tool illustrator

Step 2

You'll be informed that your original photo will not be affected by the cropping, which is cool. Dismiss the message and drag the anchors to crop your image. Press Enter when you're done. This method is destructive, which means the cropped area can't be revealed again if you change your mind.

crop photo in illustrator
cropped end result

Step 3

You can also use this method to crop a vector image. The trick is to embed it in a new file rather than trying to crop the original. To do it, create a New File and go to File > Place, or simply drag the image into the artboard. Illustrator will let you crop it without any problems.

crop embedded image

How to Crop a Photo in Illustrator CS

Step 1

If you don't have the CC version of Illustrator, you can use a different method. Select the image the same way, and in the upper bar select Mask.

mask photo illustrator

Step 2

Now drag the anchors to trim the image. The effect is pretty similar to the previous method, except here it's non-destructive—the trimmed parts are still there, but they're just hidden. To bring them back, go to Object > Clipping Mask > Release.

masked end result

How to Crop a Picture in Illustrator by Exporting

Step 1

You can easily crop any image, raster or vector, by exporting the picture to the raster version. Go to File > Export > Export As and select a raster format, like PNG. Check the Use Artboards option. Now, only the part of the image within the artboard area will be saved as a new file, and the original file will stay unaffected.

export cropped to artboard

cropping result
This method allows you to crop part of an image in Illustrator without modifying the original file.

How to Crop in Adobe Illustrator Using a Clipping Mask

Step 1

If you want to crop a vector image in Illustrator, you can use a more universal tool. First, take the Rectangle Tool (M) and draw a rectangle over the picture. Adjust the size of this rectangle to your intended cropping area.

define cropping area with rectangle

Step 2

Fill the rectangle with any color.

fill the rectangle

Step 3

Now select all the objects (Control-A) and go to Object > Clipping Mask > Make, or simply use the shortcut Control-7. This is a non-destructive method, so the cut parts are still there and can be edited at any time. You can also remove the Clipping Mask by going to Object > Clipping Mask > Release.

clipping mask cropping

How to Crop in Adobe Illustrator Using an Opacity Mask

Step 1

You can achieve an identical effect by using an Opacity Mask. As previously, create the masking rectangle and select all, and then go to the Transparency panel and select Make Mask. You can also easily release the mask in this panel.

add opacity mask
opacity mask cropping

How to Crop a Shape in Illustrator

Step 1

If you want to crop something simple, like a single shape, you can also use the Illustrator crop tool, which is hidden in the Pathfinder panel. First, use the Rectangle Tool (M) to draw the cropped area.

cover shape with mask

Step 2

Go to Window > Pathfinder. Select both objects and click Crop. The parts outside of the rectangle will be cut destructively.

use crop tool pathfinder
This panel gives you a chance to crop an object in Illustrator in many different ways.
pathfinder croping end result

Step 3

You may be tempted to use this method to crop more complex images too, but it's not recommended—you're likely to end up with tiny artifacts that ruin the quality of the picture.

bug with thin lines after cropping

How to Cut an Image in Illustrator

Step 1

OK, so how can you crop an image in Illustrator if it's vector and you want to remove the cropped parts instead of hiding them? Take the Eraser Tool (Shift-E) and hold the Alt key. Now click and drag to create a rectangular selection that will cut parts of the image. With this method, you can be sure that the cropped area disappears forever!

crop part of image illustrator

Good Job!

Now you can see that the answer to the question "how do you crop an image in Illustrator" depends on your preferences regarding the final file. But after this tutorial, you should be ready for any cropping challenge!

how to trim in illustrator final result

Do you want to learn more about the basics of Illustrator? Check out our other tutorials:

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