Clipping Mask Tutorial

Clipping masks are one of the ways you can add images/textures/digital papers to storyboards, photo frames and text.  They might sound complicated, but they are so simple once you figure out how to use them.

There are two common ways you can create photo storyboards.  Some of my storyboards are simple png files that have cutouts for your images.  You drag your image under the frame and resize the image to fit.  This is a sample of that type of storyboard.  These are very useful because you can open them in most editing programs, but for more complex storyboards with multiple image cutouts it is so much easier to add images using clipping masks.  If you use clipping masks you don't have to worry about cropping your image to fit behind a storyboard.

Today I am going to show you how to add images to storyboards using clipping masks in Photoshop and Photoshop Elements.  I have also written an action that does all of the work for you, and you can read the instructions and download it here.

Clipping Mask Tutorial for Photoshop and PSE:
I am using the CoffeeShop Web Boards 8 in this tutorial (click here to download it).  Here are all of my free storyboards.

If you are using the Group-It action, close everything in your program and open the storyboard. It should be the only thing open or the action won't run properly.

Open the layered psd storyboard.

PSE11-12 Users-Please Read!

PSE11-12 Users:  I prefer using floating documents rather than tabs while loading storyboards in PSE.   Put PSE in Expert Mode (click on the tab on top).  And go to to the upper left menubar and click on Adobe Photoshop Elements Editor, Preferences, General and check "allow floating documents in Expert Mode".

You can see this storyboard has many layers.  If you are using PSE11-12 make sure to put PSE in Expert Mode.  I numbered all of the cutouts from the top left to the bottom right.  In this storyboard on the top layer I made a map of the numbered layers that you can turn on if you get confused (it is turned on in this screenshot).  Please be sure that this layer is turned off before saving your storyboard for print or web!

Click on "V" to grab your move tool and then click on image cutout "1" in the storyboard.  Open you image.  Click "V" on your keyboard to grab your move tool and then click on the photo and drag it on top of your storyboard.

Since I selected the storyboard cutout before dragging the image on it, the image is just above the image "1" clipping mask layer as seen in this screenshot.  If you didn't select the proper clipping mask layer before adding the image, drag the image on top of it in the layer pane.

If you are working with large resolution images as I am in this tutorial, you might not see the storyboard and only a portion of your image because the image is covering the entire storyboard.  Click "Ctrl-0" (0=zero) (Cmd-0 in Macs) to zoom out so you can see your full image.

Group the image to the clipping mask:

Go to your layer pane and do one of these three different grouping methods:

1.  Hold down Alt (Option in Mac), position the pointer over the line dividing two layers in the Layers panel (the pointer changes to two overlapping circles), and then click.


2.   Select the top layer of a pair of layers you want to group, and choose Layer, Create Clipping Mask.


3.  Click on the image in the layer pane and hold down Ctrl-G (Cmd-G in Mac).

As you can see in this screenshot, my image is now grouped to the top left clipping mask, but my image is so much larger than the storyboard cutout that I only see a small portion of it (because I zoomed out with Ctrl-0 [Cmd-0 in Mac] earlier).  If you don't see your image but can see the transform bars, then your image is small and behind a different clipping mask.  Just move it position and then adjust the size.

I am going to go ahead and start fitting the image in the cutout.  Click Ctrl-T (Cmd-T in Mac) to free transform to fit your image in the cutout.

In Photoshop CS, make sure you hold shift as you drag to resize your image (width and height should be linked on top), and if you are using PSE don't hold shift and make sure "Constrain Proportions" is checked (see screenshot above).  If you don't do this properly your image will distort.  And you can't fit a rectangular image in a square hole, you will have to hide part of the image.

If your image was really large when you started and you zoomed out and it gets really small as you are fitting it in the cutout in the storyboard, then press Ctrl-0 (Cmd-0 in Mac) to zoom in as you fit the image.

When the image is positioned correctly, press the green check to accept the transformation.

After you are finished with that image, select the "V" key for the move tool and click on the next clipping mask and start the process over again.  Or use my Group-It action to add images quickly!

I hope this tutorial helps you to stop fearing clipping masks! If you need additional help or this sounds like crazy talk, I have another tutorial here and here that might help.  Don't fear the clipping mask!


  1. This tutorial worked like a charm! Thanks, Rita!

  2. Wow, this is if I can do it, I will be so happy. Thanks for all the info and the free stuff.

  3. Thank you again Rita! I have oodles of photos of my granddaughters and this is my favorite way to display them!!

  4. I LOVE tutorials and this one is outstanding! Thank you for your creative talents and generosity!

  5. I don't see in the tutorial how to open an image and put it in one of the layers.

    1. Dorothy, just go to File, Open and open your image and then follow the instructions. Or better yet, download the free action so it does all of the hard work!

  6. Replies
    1. Try using my Group-It action in CC, I use it all of the time! It is linked in the post.

  7. My images look pixelated when I am done. What am I doing wrong?


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