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

Create cut-outs in Photoshop CC and Photoshop Elements

Clipping masks in Photoshop CC and Photoshop Elements provides 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. Open an image in Photoshop. Select Layer > New > Layer from Background.

    Photoshop Layer menu showing New and Layer from Background
  2. Type a name for the layer and select OK.

    The name field for a Photoshop layer
  3. Click on the Shapes tool and select Custom Shape Tool.

    The Shape tool selected in the Photoshop Toolbar and the Custom Share Tool highlighted
  4. Select a custom shape for your cut-out in the tool options bar.

    A heart selected in the Custom Shape tool options
  5. Draw the shape in the approximate location where you want the shape to crop your picture. The shape will cover the chosen area of the 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.

    The Layer palette in Photoshop
  7. Right -click the picture layer in the Layers palette and select Create Clipping Mask.

    Create Clipping Mask option in Photoshop

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

The picture layer is cropped to the shape below it. The Layers palette shows 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. In Photoshop Elements, select Layer > New > Layer from Background.

    Photoshop Elements Layer menu with New and Layer from Background highlighted
  2. Type a name for the layer and select OK.

    The Elements Name field for a layer
  3. Click on the Shapes tool and select Custom Shape Tool.

    The Shapes Tool in Elements with Custom Shape Tool selected
  4. Select a custom shape for your cut-out in the tool options bar.

    A heart shape highlighted in the Custom Shapes tool options bar in Elements
  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.

    The Layers palette showing the Shape Layer dragged beneath the image layer
  7. Right-click the picture layer in the Layers palette and select Create Clipping Mask.

    Create Clipping Mask in Elements

Saving and Using the Picture Cut-out

If you want to use the transparent image elsewhere, you need to save it in a format that supports transparency such as PNG. You 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, save a copy in the PSD format. If you want to use the cutout in another Photoshop project right away, press Ctrl + A (for Windows) or Command + A (for Mac) to select all and then go to Edit > Copy Merged. You can then paste your cutout into another document.

Photoshop Elements Edit menu with Copy Merged highlighted

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.

Convert to Smart Object selected in Photoshop Elements

How to Make Clipping Masks With Graduated Transparency

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

To add graduated transparency to your cutout in Photoshop CC or Photoshop Elements:

  1. In Photoshop, right-click the shape layer in the Layers palette and select Rasterize Layer.

    In Photoshop Elements, the command is Simplify Layer.

    Rasterize Layer selection in Photoshop
  2. Go to Filter > Blur > Gaussian Blur.

    Photoshop Filter menu with Blur and Gaussian Blur selected
  3. Set the Radius to a high number such as 30 and then select OK. Notice the edges of your picture now fade out.

    Photoshop Gaussian Blur Radius setting field

How to Add Layer Effects to Cutouts

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.

Layer Styles in Photoshop with Drop Shadow selected

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.