Clipping Path Vs Clipping Mask Vs Layer Mask

Clipping path, layer mask and clipping mask are three closely related Photoshop techniques which seem confusing to many people. Clipping path or deep etch is the technique of cutting out the subject of an image from its background. It is done by using the Photoshop pen tool. On the other hand, Layer mask is used to combine both original layer and cutout layer after applying clipping path. It allows keeping both layers (original & cutout layers) within a single layer. Once layer mask is applied it requires clipping mask to bring the change on a particular layer. The point can further be illustrated by practical point of view: here I am attempting to create a short tutorial to show difference among these three Photoshop techniques.

In order to create clipping path we need to open the image first in Photoshop. Then a new layer is to be taken in the path plate like “path 1”.


Path Layer


Then, we have to start drawing path around the subject. Once the drawing is completed clipping path is done. We can keep the path layer either ‘active’ or ‘inactive’ depending on purpose.



      Clipping path selection


Here I have selected the outside view through the window since I am willing to change the outer view. Now you can import any background image which you want to see through the window. I have imported a forest view and kept that below the layer of my original image.



    Importing new background


Now select the path. To select path click CTRL + click on the path layer (PC) or Command + click on the path layer (Mac). After selecting path please inverse it by pressing CTRL + SHIFT + I (PC) or COMMAND + SHIFT+I(Mac). Once the path is inversed, please click on add “layer mask” icon on the bottom of layer plate and you will get the image layer masked. What do you see now through the window? Yes, it’s your desired background; here the forest view as I imported. You can import anything as you wish. Clipping mask allow to get back the original image without doing any permanent damage.


          Layer Mask


Clipping mask is applied to add certain effect to any particular layer without doing any permanent damage as well. Suppose if we want to make the window black and white without affecting the outside view (forest). Here we have to apply clipping mask. The first step is to select black-white option from the adjustment layer. After applying black-white effect the whole image will be black-white but our purpose is to apply it to the foreground only.


Clipping Mask

Now, please press CTRL + ALT + G (PC) or CMD + OPT + G (Mac). It will create the clipping mask. Yes, the forest view has retrieved    the color mode while the foreground (window) remains black-white. Here the entire original image can be brought back without any damage. It’s the privilege of both layer mask and clipping mask. Hope this study will help of clarify the perception of these three confusing Photoshop techniques.

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