Cut a Picture Into a Shape With Photoshop or Elements

01
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Introduction to Clipping Masks

Cutting a Picture into a Shape
Learn how to cut a picture into a shape like the example here. © S. Chastain

A clipping mask in Photoshop CC  or Photoshop Elements  is an easy, nondestructive way to cut a picture into any shape in both Photoshop and Photoshop Elements. I'm using a custom shape to demonstrate the technique in this tutorial, but it will work the same with text or any layer content with transparent areas. This tutorial is written for Photoshop and Photoshop Elements. Where there are differences in versions, I have explained them in the instructions.

What About the Cookie Cutter Tool?
The cookie cutter tool in Photoshop Elements is a quick and easy way to cut a picture into a shape. The cookie cutter tool requires no instruction, but by using a clipping mask you have more flexibility and it's not limited to what shapes you have installed in Photoshop Elements.

Updated by Tom Green

02
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Converting the Background to a Layer

Converting the Background to a Layer
UI © Adobe

Open the picture you want to put inside a shape.

Open the layer palette if it is not open already (press F7 or go to Window > Layers).

Double click on the background in the layers palette to convert the background to a layer. Type a name for the layer and press OK.

03
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Setting Up the Shape Tool

Shape Tool Options
UI © Adobe

Choose the shape tool. In the options bar, make sure the tool is set for shape layers, and select a custom shape for your cut-out. I am using one of the free edgy rectangle shapes from this site. The shape color doesn't matter and the style should be set to "No style."

04
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Draw the Shape for Your Cutout

Draw the Shape for Your Cutout
© Sue Chastain

Draw the shape in your document in the approximate location of where you want it to crop your picture. For now, it will be covering up your picture.

05
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Change the Layer Order

Change the Layer Order
UI © Adobe

Go to the layers palette and swap the order of the layers by dragging the shape layer below the picture you want to have cropped.

06
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Creating a Clipping Mask

Creating a Clipping Mask
© Sue Chastain, UI © Adobe

Select the picture layer in the layers palette, and choose Layer > Create Clipping Mask or Layer > Group with Previous, depending on your version of Photoshop (see note below). In Photoshop, you can choose the Clipping Mask command by right clicking on the layer in the layers palette. Or you can use the shortcut Ctrl-G in any version of Photoshop.

The picture will be cropped to the shape below it., and the layers palette will show the clipped layer indented with arrow pointing down to shape layer to show they are joined in a clipping group.

In Photoshop Elements and in older versions of Photoshop, this command is called "Group with previous." It was renamed to avoid confusion when the layer groups feature was added to Photoshop.

Both layers are independent, so you can switch to the move tool and adjust the size and position of the picture or the shape.

07
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Saving and Using the Picture Cutout

Smart Object in Photoshop
UI © Adobe

Now if you want to use the transparent image elsewhere, you will need to save it in a format that supports transparency such as PSD or PNG.  You will also need to ensure that the source program supports your chosen format with transparency. See: Transparency from here to There

If you want to preserve the layers for possible editing later, you should save a copy in the PSD format.

If you wish to use the cutout in another Photoshop project, you can Select All, then Copy Merged, and paste into another document.

If you have a later version of Photoshop (not Elements), you can select both layers, then right click in the layers palette and choose "Convert to Smart Object." Then drag the smart object into another Photoshop document. This will keep the layers editable as a smart object, which you can double click in the layers palette to edit.

08
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Clipping Masks with Graduated Transparency

Clipping Masks with Graduated Transparency
© Sue Chastain, UI © Adobe

A clipping mask works with text or pixel layers as well, so you are not confined to using the shape tool. Areas that are transparent in the clipping mask layer will make those areas transparent in the layer above. If your clipping mask layer contains graduated transparency, then the layer above will also have graduated transparency.

To demonstrate this, let's go back to the shape layer we used to create the clipping mask in this tutorial. Shapes can only have hard edges, so lets convert this shape to pixels. Right click on it is the layer's palette, and choose "Rasterize Layer" in Photoshop or "Simplify Layer" in Photoshop Elements. Then with the layer selected, go to Filter > Blur Gaussian Blur, and set the radius to a high amount such as 30 or 40. Notice the edges of your picture now fade out.

Cancel out of the Gaussian blur if you want to learn how to apply a stroke and drop shadow on the next pages. Go to Page 9 for Photoshop or page 10 for Photoshop Elements.

Another technique is to select the shape and, in the Select menu choose Modify>Feather.

09
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Adding Layer Effects in Photoshop

Adding Layer Effects in Photoshop
UI © Adobe

You can give the picture a bit of added punch by adding effects to the shape layer. Here I added a stroke and drop shadow to the shape layer, then added a pattern fill layer below everything for the background.

To Add Effects in Photoshop:
Select the Shape layer and add a layer Style to the layer. The Layer Style dialog will appear. On the left side, click on the effect you want to apply, and adjust its settings. Use the check boxes to turn each effect off or on.

10
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Adding Layer Effects in Photoshop Elements

Adding Layer Effects in Photoshop Elements
UI © Adobe

You can give the picture a bit of added punch by adding effects to the shape layer. Here I added a stroke and drop shadow to the shape layer, then added a pattern fill layer below everything for the background.

To Add Effects in Photoshop Elements:
Start by adding the "Low" drop shadow layer style. In the effects palette, click the second button for layer styles. Then choose Drop Shadows from the menu, and double click on the "Low" thumbnail. Next, go to the layers palette and double click the FX symbol on the shape layer. The Style Settings dialog will open. Adjust the style settings for the drop shadow, then enable the stroke style by ticking its check box, and adjust the stroke settings.