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Quick Tip: What are Clipping and Masking in Inkscape?

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Read Time: 3 min

Clipping and Masking are fantastic little operations that can make your complicated objects conform to another element of your design by changing their entire shape quickly and easily. Let's go over the differences, benefits, and some neat tricks in this quick tip.

1. What is Clipping?

Clipping simply uses a selected object/path as a cookie cutter on a second selected object/path positioned below it. This differs from simply cutting a path because clipping can be set and released.

Step 1

Our blue circle here will be used to clip the apples. It doesn't matter what shape or color you use either.

create clipping objectcreate clipping objectcreate clipping object

Step 2

Once your Clip is in place, head up to Object > Clip > Set to watch the magic happen!

set clipset clipset clip

Step 3

And then our clipped apples are set and ready to use in a design element, such as a circular frame. Clipping is great because you don't need to edit or modify complex objects to get them to fit in odd places, and it's always reversible just by clicking Object > Clip > Release.

finished clipfinished clipfinished clip

2. What About Masking?

Masking is very similar to Clipping, except that Masking refers to the amount of color lightness to set the clipped object's opacity. That's sort of a mouthful - let me show you.

Step 1

To achieve the same result as we did with Clipping, we would have to make our Mask object completely white. 100% white is 100% lightness, so this means no transparency.

masking with whitemasking with whitemasking with white

Step 2

So if we did a gray Mask instead, we would end up with a slightly transparent finished product. This particular gray will yield about 50% Opacity because it contains only about 50% lightness from the RGB spectrum.

gray maskinggray maskinggray masking

Step 3

Let's compare the two Masking operations we've just done. As promised, the pure white mask gave us a simple clip with no transparency. On the other hand, check out our gray mask results - it is indeed transparent.

difference in maskingdifference in maskingdifference in masking

3. Use Strokes to Clip

Step 1

A neat little trick is using the stroke of an object as a mask, or to clip. In order to do this properly though, we need to head up to Path > Stroke to Path.

stroke to pathstroke to pathstroke to path

Step 2

With that all in place, we can now go ahead and Clip or Mask successfully by using a Stroke. Neat stuff!

use stroke as maskuse stroke as maskuse stroke as mask

4. Gradients as Opacity

Step 1

Now that we know the difference between Clipping and Masking, let's use Masking opacity options to our advantage. We can use a gradient to trim and fade an object out. Let's give this a try on a group of objects, Control (G).

group of objectsgroup of objectsgroup of objects

Step 2

Now it's time to create our mask. I have a simple three stop gradient with white, white, and black. You can use the Gradient Tool to adjust your stop positions as necessary. Apply this gradient to a shape like I have with this ellipse below. As you can also see, my masked is positioned and ready to go!

gradient maskgradient maskgradient mask

Step 3

Once we Object > Mask > Set, you'll end up with something cool like this.

gradient maskgradient maskgradient mask

Step 4

Of course, this particular shape and gradient is just for demonstration purposes, but I suppose we could do something that takes advantage of our new curve like... fruit in a basket maybe.

masked fruit in basketmasked fruit in basketmasked fruit in basket

That Should Do It!

As you can see, Clipping and Masking are both very simple operations in Inkscape that can be used to create very dynamic drawings. Try using these fantastic options in your next design and see how much easier it makes things!

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