Clipping Path vs Masking: What Is The Difference?


Clipping Path vs Masking - Tech Cloud Ltd

Background removal is often necessary for product images and design projects. There are two common methods to manually remove the background. One is the clipping path technique, and another is image masking.

The primary difference between clipping vs masking boils down to how you separate the subject from the background.

But how do they differ? What are their unique use cases? What are their pros and cons?

In this blog post on clipping path vs masking, we will answer all of these questions and provide clear insight. Let’s get started:

Clipping path vs. masking: key differences

Both clipping path and image masking are useful for various image editing tasks with unique use cases. Regarding clipping path vs masking, there are several key differences.

The following table will provide you with a clear understanding of how they differ from one another:

FeatureClipping PathImage Masking
DefinitionAn image editing technique for isolating a subject by creating an outline around its edgesMasking is an image editing approach to hide or reveal a portion of a photo based on a selection or mask.
MethodUses vector paths to define the selection area.Employs various techniques to control transparency and visibility of image areas.
Suitable forsimple to complex objects with well-defined edges (e.g., books, chairs, jewelry).Complex objects with intricate details, soft edges (e.g., hair, fur), or transparency.
ControlLimited control over feathering or gradual transparency.Offers precise control over opacity transitions and fine details.
RequirementsRequires manual outlining or drawing around the object.Offers a variety of automated or manual selection tools.
ApplicationsProduct photography, e-commerce images, catalogs.Photo manipulation, compositing, and graphic design projects.
ComplexityRelatively simpler steps but require careful drawingCan be more complex and time-consuming for intricate objects.
EditingCan result in hard transitions or jagged edges when resizing or scaling the image.Allows for non-destructive transformations and maintains smooth transitions even when resizing or scaling the image.
File sizeSmaller file size.Larger file size due to additional information for transparency.
Software ToolsPen tool, shape tools.Layer masks, alpha channels, selection tools, and specialized masking tools (e.g., refine edge tool).
Learning CurveComparatively easy to learn.Requires practice and mastery of different masking techniques.
Multi-Object SelectionLimited to creating individual paths for each object.Can create masks for multiple objects within a single image.

From the table above, you can easily understand the key difference between image clipping path vs masking. The right choice for your editing projects depends on your unique requirements.

What is the clipping path technique?

Clipping path also called deep etching, is a way to cut out an object from an image using the pen tool in Photoshop. It’s used to separate the subject from the rest of the picture.

To do this, you draw a line around the edges of what you want to keep. Then, you can select that object and get rid of everything else.

Many eCommerce businesses, photographers, and advertising agencies utilize this technique. They use it to change or remove the background or make the image transparent.

Take a look at this product images from FragranceUSA. They probably used the clipping path technique to edit them.

FragranceUSA used clipping path technique - Tech Cloud Ltd

Types of clipping path

Several types of clipping path techniques can be used for creating image cutouts. Depending on the complexity and nature of the image, the following types of clipping paths can be employed:

Basic clipping path

A basic clipping path is used for the simplest objects with straight edges. It is commonly used for images that contain objects with simple shapes.

For example, images of boxes, books, and other rectangular items are suitable for basic clipping path applications.

Simple clipping path

For basic objects with slightly more complex shapes, a simple clipping path is most appropriate. This type of image requires curves and basic detailing.

Examples include simple clothing items, single furniture pieces, or products with basic curves.

Medium clipping path

A medium clipping path is suitable for objects with moderately intricate shapes. This type of image requires multiple curves and a moderate level of detailing.

Appropriate images for a medium clipping path include photos of small jewelry, shoes, or grouped objects.

Complex clipping path

As the name suggests, this is for objects with complex shapes, significant detailing, and numerous curves. It requires a high level of precision and many anchor points to accurately define the shape.

Suitable photos for complex clipping paths include bicycles, flowers, or models with neatly kept hair.

Super complex clipping path

This is the most advanced and time-consuming type of clipping path in Photoshop. It is for exceptionally challenging objects with highly complex shapes, intricate details, and multiple holes or transparency.

It demands meticulous work and a skilled editor to achieve a clean cutout. Examples include fences, complex jewelry items, or models with complex flowing garments.

Multi-layer clipping path

Most types of clipping paths are done in a single layer. However, the multi-layer clipping path is used for objects with multiple components or layers that require separate editing.

This approach goes beyond isolating a single object. It allows you to create paths for multiple elements within the same image. As a result, you can edit or remove each element independently.

For example, in a fashion catalog, you may have an image of a model wearing a dress, accessories, and shoes. With multi-clipping paths, separate paths can be created for the model, dress, accessories, and shoes.

Consequently, it becomes easier to apply different effects, adjust colors, or selectively remove backgrounds.

What is image masking?

Image masking is a clever trick used in image editing to hide or show specific parts of a picture. This technique uses tools such as background eraser tools, lasso tools, layer masks, magic eraser tools, and alpha channels.

It’s a fancy way of making changes to just a small section of your image without ruining the rest. Basically, you create a “mask” that controls how transparent different parts of the picture are.

When you have photos with lots of curves, soft edges, or intricate details, image masking is a handy tool to have.

Why is it so handy? Well, it allows you to smoothly blend and combine the isolated elements with new backgrounds.

For example, it is useful for hair and fur, transparent or semi-transparent objects. Also, it can be used for complex shapes and patterns, foliage and trees, etc.

Here are a few examples of image masking:

Types of image masking

When it comes to image masking, there are several types you should be aware of. Each type serves a unique purpose and can be used to achieve different effects in your images.

Here are the different types of image masking:

Layer masking

This is one of the most commonly used types of masking in image editing. Layer masking allows you to hide or reveal parts of a layer. Layer masking allows you to hide or reveal parts of an image by using a mask on a specific layer.

It gives you precise control over which areas of the image you want to show or hide. Consequently, this makes it ideal for creating seamless blends and composites.

Clipping masking

Concerning clipping path vs clipping masking, both of these techniques may seem similar.

However, in Illustrator, the term “clipping path” is not used in the same way as in Photoshop. Instead, Illustrator uses a different feature called “Clipping Mask” to achieve similar results.

In Illustrator, a Clipping Mask hides parts of an object or group based on the shape of another object, called the “clipping path.”

The objects inside the clipping path remain visible, while anything outside the path is concealed. It’s like using a stencil to reveal parts of an image.

Alpha channel masking

This method utilizes an extra channel that stores transparency information for each pixel in the image. Areas with complete transparency are black, while completely opaque areas are white. Grayscales represent varying degrees of transparency.

Alpha channel masking is ideal for images with soft edges or semi-transparent objects. By manipulating the alpha channel, you can create precise masks that allow for detailed editing and compositing.

Transparency masking

Transparency masking is similar to alpha channel masking. However, it is most useful for images that have varying levels of transparency. It allows you to control the visibility of different elements in an image.

These masks are useful for creating interesting layered effects or applying textures to specific areas.

Collage masking

These masks involve creating a mask from another image to selectively combine elements from both. Collage masking is commonly used in graphic design to create collages or montages.

Vector masking

Vector masking involves using vector paths to define the selection area. Unlike pixel-based masks, vector masks are resolution-independent and can be scaled without losing quality.

They are useful for illustrations or graphics requiring precise, clean edges.

Quick masking

Quick masking is a temporary method used for making selections in Photoshop. This mask mode allows you to paint a selection directly on the image.

This mask is useful for refining selections or creating complex masks using brushes or other painting tools.

Photo clipping path vs masking: Which one is better?

Regarding clipping path vs masking, each technique has its advantage. Clipping path is great for images with clear edges, while masking works well for images with soft edges. Sometimes, both techniques are needed for a photo.

In such cases, clipping path and masking can be used together. First, a clipping path is created for the main object. Then, masking is used for finer details like hair or transparent elements.

Skilled image editors can decide which technique to use and make the necessary edits.

Choosing between manual background removal vs automated removal tools

If you want professional-looking background removal, manual editing is the best option. The AI removal tools may not deliver on their promises.

They often leave behind remnants, mess up the image, and lower the resolution. Not what you want, right?

Especially for commercial use, where quality matters, manual editing is superior. Unlike AI tools, manual editing ensures no imperfections are left behind. You’ll have a clean and polished image that impresses.

Whether you choose a clipping path or masking technique, both can help you achieve the desired result. We have a detailed article on manual background removal vs. AI tools for more information.

Final thoughts on clipping path vs masking

When deciding between clipping path vs masking, it all comes down to what you need for your project. Both techniques have their own strengths and can be useful for editing images. If you have objects with clear edges, go for the clipping path technique.

But if you’re dealing with complex shapes, transparency, or blending effects, masking is the way to go. Choose the technique that lets you get the results you want with accuracy and creativity.

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