Text Mask in Adobe Illustrator CC

Grunge Text screenshot

 Tom Green

 The techniques for using text as a mask are remarkably similar across the different Adobe programs. All you need is some text and an image and, when you select both objects, a single click creates the mask and the image shows through the text.

Being a vector application and knowing text really is nothing more than a series of vectors, it would be safe to assume there are a number of interesting things you can do with a text mask in Illustrator.

In this How-To, we will show you three ways of creating Text Mask in Illustrator. Let’s get started.

How to Create a Non-Destructive Clipping Mask

The Clipping Mask menu screenshot

 Tom Green

The quickest method of using text as a mask in Illustrator is to create a Clipping Mask. All you have to do, with the Selection Tool selected, is to press the Shift key and click on the text and the image Layers or simply press Command/Ctrl-A to select the two items on the Artboard.

With Layers selected, select Object > Clipping Mask > Make. When you release the mouse, the text is converted to a mask and the image shows through.

What makes this “non-destructive” is you can use the text tool to highlight the text and fix typos or enter new text without disturbing the mask. You can also click on the text and move it around to look for a different “look”. Conversely, you could select the object on the artboard and, by selecting Object > Clipping Mask > Edit Contents, move either the image or the text around.

How to Convert Text to Vectors in Adobe Illustrator

Pucker and Bloat effects screenshot

Tom Green

This technique is what is referred to as “destructive”. That means the text becomes vectors and is no longer editable. This technique is especially useful if the vectors creating the text are to be manipulated.

The first step in the process is to select the text block with the Selection Tool and selecting Type > Create Outlines. When you release the mouse you will see each letter is now a shape with a Fill color and no stroke.

Now that the text is a series of shapes you can apply the clipping mask and the background image will fill the shapes. Due to the fact the letters are now shapes, they can be treated like any vector shape. For example, if you select Object > Clipping Mask > Edit Contents you can add a stroke around the shapes. Another option is to select the ​Clipping Mask in the Layer panels and to select Effect > Distort & Transform > Pucker and Bloat from the menu. By moving the slider, you distort the text and create a rather interesting variation.

How to Use the Adobe Illustrator Transparency Panel to Create a Text Mask

Opacity mask screenshot

Tom Green

There is another way to use text as a mask without converting the text to vectors or applying a clipping mask. With a Clipping Mask, you have to deal with a “Now-You-See-It-Now-You-Don’t” situation. An alternative is to use the masking feature of the Transparency panel to create an Opacity Mask. Clipping Paths work with paths. Opacity Masks work with color, specifically shades of gray.

In this example, we set the text color to white and then applied a Gaussian Blur to the text using Effect > Blur > Gaussian Blur. What this will do is to fade out the text on the edges. Next, we selected Window > Transparency to open the Transparency panel. When it opens you will see a Make Mask button. If you click it the background disappears and the mask looks blurred. If you were to simply apply a Clipping Mask the edges of the lettering would be crisp and sharp.