Part 6: Transparency and the Clipping Mask

In this sixth part of our Illustrator guide, we take a look at how transparency works. Additionally, we cover this thing called the clipping mask.

In the previous part of our guide, we talked about rulers, outlines, and groups. So, in this part, we talk about how to add transparency to our objects. Additionally, we talk about how clipping masks work in Illustrator.

Adding Transparency

While we can add objects on top of each other, what about making it more transparent. While this might not be the greatest idea for some logo designs, Illustrator does offer that option. In fact, this can be very usable depending on ho complex your design is.

First, let’s look at an example where transparency can actually help a design:

OK, so here we have a very colourful background. In fact, it is the colours of the rainbow. The text itself is actually legible, but your mind actually has to fill in some of the blanks. More specifically, when you reach the yellow in the design, there isn’t really that much differentiating the font and the background. This is because bright yellow and white aren’t that different. It’s not a terrible design, but it could use some improvement.

So, let’s put a box around the text in a separate layer:

OK, the rounded box does somewhat solve the issue of the text being less legible. The problem here is that, now, the colours have become somewhat muted. Yes, the colours are there, but they aren’t all that present any more. So, how can we fix that? We can simply turn the box transparent.

First, we need to look at the right hand panels. In the area above the layers, there is a tab that says “Transparency”. Click on that. Now, we have a slider that can adjust how much transparency you want to add to an object. Making sure the box is selected, we’re going to click and drag on that slider to maybe something like 50%.

Nice! That alone actually improved the picture. It retains some of that colour background, but improves the colour difference between the yellow and the white text. Now, as you can see from the image, I’ve highlighted a transparency dropdown menu. In this menu, there is a whole array of options available. You can browse through that menu, try different transparencies, and adjust the amount slider even further.

The colours on the text itself could arguably be a bit faded. You can certainly add a stroke to help that out (maybe a black stroke?). Either way, this is one way in which transparency can help make a design better.

Clipping Mask

You might be scratching your head at the term “clipping mask”. On the flip side, you might have seen a clipping mask in action. Have you ever seen one of those pictures where they take some text, then make the fill of the text a picture? Very likely, a clipping mask was used to create that effect. Believe it or not, you can actually produce that effect with a few easy steps right in Illustrator!

First, I’m going to select a random image for my picture and place it onto my canvas:

Next, I’m going to add my text (as highlighted above in the image). Then, I’m going to overlay some text on this image:

It’s important that you select a font that is nice and thick. That way, you can see what the image is supposed to look like. Additionally, you want to overlay it in a strategic location on the image. In my case, I wanted to get some of the sand, the sandals, the ocean, and some clouds as well as parts of the bag.

When I got what I want, I want to convert the text into an object. So, as I showed you previously, I’m going to right click on the text, then create outlines:

At this point, it’s worth noting that if you have a simply circle or object you are using as your clipping mask, you can go ahead and create your clipping mask. However, in the case with text, you’ll need to follow an extra step.

For this extra step, I’m going to click on the “Object” dropdown menu, then click on “Compound Path”, then “Make”. This will give you outlines of your text. Now, we can create our clipping mask. First, I’m going to hold down shift and select the background image. This should select everything in the canvas.

Next, I’m going to go back into the “Object” dropdown menu, click on “Clipping Mask”, then “Make”:

Nice! That actually looks pretty reasonable. Maybe throw in a background to the text (a drop shadow might also work) and you got yourself a nice looking title for some vacation reading material.

That’s it for transparency and clipping masks!

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