How to Cut a Picture Into a Shape With Photoshop or Elements

Create cut-outs in Photoshop CC and Photoshop Elements

Photographer editing digital Photos

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Clipping masks in Photoshop CC and Photoshop Elements provide a nondestructive way to cut a picture into any shape. You can also use the cookie cutter tool in Photoshop Elements to quickly cut a picture into a predefined shape, but using a clipping mask gives you greater control over how the final image looks.

Instructions in this article apply to Photoshop CC 2019 and Photoshop Elements 2019.

How to Cut a Picture Into a Shape With Photoshop CC

Open the picture you want to cut into a shape and perform the following steps:

  1. Select Layer > New > Background from Layer.

    Select Layer > New > Background from Layer.
  2. Type a name for the layer and select OK.

    Type a name for the layer and select OK.
  3. Click on the Shapes tool and select Custom Shape Tool.

    Click on the Shapes tool and select Custom Shape Tool.
  4. Select a custom shape for your cut-out in the tool options bar.

    Select a custom shape for your cut-out in the tool options bar.
  5. Draw the shape in the approximate location where you want it to crop your picture. The shape will cover up your picture.

    Draw the shape in the approximate location where you want it to crop your picture.
  6. In the Layers palette, swap the order of the layers by dragging the shape layer below the picture layer.

    If the Layers palette isn't visible, select Window > Layer to open it.

    In the Layers palette, swap the order of the layers by dragging the shape layer below the picture layer.
  7. Right click the picture layer in the Layers palette and select Create Clipping Mask.

In older versions of Photoshop, this command is called Group with previous.

Right click the picture layer in the Layers palette and select Create Clipping Mask.

The picture layer will be cropped to the shape below it. The Layers palette will show the clipped layer indented with an arrow pointing down at the shape layer to show they are joined in a clipping group. Both layers are independent, so you can select the move tool and adjust the size and position of the picture or the shape.

The picture layer will be cropped to the shape below it.

How to Cut a Picture Into a Shape With Photoshop Elements

The process for cutting images into shapes with Photoshop Elements in basically the same, but the interface is a little different:

  1. Select Layer > New > Background from Layer.

    Select Layer > New > Background from Layer.
  2. Type a name for the layer and select OK.

    Type a name for the layer and select OK.
  3. Click on the Shapes tool and select Custom Shape Tool.

    Click on the Shapes tool and select Custom Shape Tool.
  4. Select a custom shape for your cut-out in the tool options bar.

    Select a custom shape for your cut-out in the tool options bar.
  5. Draw the shape in the approximate location where you want it to crop your picture. The shape will cover up your picture.

    Draw the shape in the approximate location where you want it to crop your picture.
  6. In the Layers palette, swap the order of the layers by dragging the shape layer below the picture layer.

    If the Layers palette isn't visible, select Window > Layer to open it.

    In the Layers palette, swap the order of the layers by dragging the shape layer below the picture layer.
  7. Right click the picture layer in the Layers palette and select Create Clipping Mask.

    Right click the picture layer in the Layers palette and select Create Clipping Mask.

Saving and Using the Picture Cut-out

If you want to use the transparent image elsewhere, you will need to save it in a format that supports transparency such as PNG. You will also need to ensure that the source program supports your chosen format with transparency.

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 cut-out in another Photoshop project right away, press Ctrl + A (for Windows) or Command + A (for Mac) to select all, then go to Edit > Copy Merged. You can then paste your cut-out into another document.

If you wish to use the cut-out in another Photoshop project right away, press Ctrl + A (for Windows) or Command + A (for Mac) to select all, then go to Copy > Merged.

To keep the layers editable as a smart object In Photoshop, select both layers, then right click in the layers palette and choose Convert to Smart Object. You can then drag the smart object into another Photoshop document.

To keep the layers editable as a smart object In Photoshop, select both layers, then right click in the layers palette and choose Convert to Smart Object.

How to Make Clipping Masks With Graduated Transparency

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 add graduated transparency to your cut-out in Photoshop CC or Photoshop Elements:

  1. Right click the shape layer in the Layers palette and select Rasterize Layer.

    In Photoshop Elements, the command is Simplify Layer.

    Right click the shape layer in the Layers palette and select Rasterize Layer.
  2. Go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur.

    Go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur.
  3. Set the Radius to a high number such as 30, then select OK. Notice the edges of your picture now fade out.

    Set the Radius to a high number such as 30, then select OK.

How to Add Layer Effects to Cut-outs

In Photoshop CC, select the shape layer and go to Layer > Layer Style to add effects to the shape layer. For example, you can add a drop shadow, and then add a pattern fill layer below everything for the background.

In Photoshop CC, select the shape layer and go to Layer > Layer Style to add effects to the shape layer.

In Photoshop Elements, select Layer > Layer Style > Style Settings to open a dialog where you can add a drop shadow and adjust the stroke settings.

In Photoshop Elements, select Layer > Layer Style > Style Settings to open a dialog where you can add the drop shadow and adjust the stroke settings.