Photoshop: Clipping VS Layer Masks

In my last video where I showed you how to create Candy Cane text, I added a Clipping Mask to the Candy Cane pattern in order to place it inside my text layer, and a few viewers asked why I chose to use a Clipping Mask versus a Layer Mask. Let me show you the advantages to both methods.


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In this document, we have a standard text layer, and an image which I would like to place inside the text.

Let’s first go over how this can be done with Layer Masks. To place this image inside the text, we must first position our image over the text, exactly where we want it to end up. You’ll understand why in a moment.

Once it’s in place, holding down your Command or CTRL key, click on the text layer’s thumbnail in the Layer’s Panel to turn it into a selection.

Now that the selection is made, click on the New Layer Mask button ()at the bottom of your Layer’s Panel. This will hide everything outside the text layer.

In order to reposition the image within the text, you must click on the “chain” icon beside the layer, click on the image’s thumbnail, then reposition the layer. Once repositioned, it’s recommended that you ‘link’ the layer again to avoid any misalignments.

One of Layer Mask’s advantages, is that it’s not dependent on the original layer. For example, I’m able to hide or even delete my original text layer, and my image layer remains intact.

Another advantage to using Layer Masks, is that you have the ability to bring back or hide areas of the original image as you please. Grabbing a white brush, I can paint across the bottom of this document to bring back some of the original image to create this neat transition effect.

Now let’s take a look at Clipping Masks. 

Starting off with a disadvantage, your image needs to be placed right above your text layer in the Layer’s Panel for Clipping to work properly. Once it is, rightclick on the image, and choose the Create Clipping Mask option. Just like with Layer Masks, everything outside the text is hidden. So what’s the big difference?

If you remember, when dealing with a Layer Mask, if we weren’t happy with the positioning of the image, we had to go through a bunch of small steps in order to reposition it. With Clipping Masks, none of that is necessary! I can simply drag the image around, and even rotate it if I choose, and it remains within the text layer.

That, alone, I think is the biggest advantage. However, unlike when using a Layer Mask, the original text layer needs to remain visible at all times. If I were to hide the text, my image would go with it.

While we’re discussing Clipping Masks, let me touch on an issue that comes up a lot. Many users go to add a Clipping Mask to a layer, and their image disappears! 9 times out of 10, it’s because the layer below it contains some sort of Overlay. If I turn on the Pattern Overlay for the text layer in this document, the pattern appears, but the image has disappeared.

Here’s the solution.

On the layer with the Overlay, go into your Layer Styles, and in the Blending Options section, turn OFFBlend Clipped Layers as Group“, and turn ONBlend Interior Effects as Group“.

That will allow you to see your Clipped image once again, and if you so choose, you can play around with the image’s Blending Modes to achieve some neat effects.

So which method is better for you? Well it really depends on the project you’re working on. Look at the pros and cons, and see which will benefit you the most. In many cases, both methods work great! I hope that helps those who were a little bit confused on the difference.