Opacity masks in Illustrator for partial transparency

Clipping Masks in Illustrator allow for areas to be masked away completely. Not many people know that it’s possible, using Opacity Masks, to partially mask artwork using an image. This is very similar to masking in Photoshop and allows for variations in opacity. This technique can be particular powerful when trying to create an aged or scratched look with vector artwork that generally looks crisp by default.


0:00 – Introduction

0:09 – Review of Clipping Masks in Illustrator

  • Most common type of Illustrator masking
  • It is an all or nothing type of masking with no capacity for partial transparency

1:53 – Creating a mask for Illustrator in Photoshop

  • Areas of the image to become the mask will…
    – Completely show the Illustrator artwork when white
    – Completely hide the Illustrator artwork when black
    – Partially show the Illustrator artwork when shades of grey
  • Export out a JPEG for use as Illustrator mask

3:01 – Creating an opacity mask in Illustrator

  • Open Illustrator file with vector artwork
  • Place image into file that will become the mask
  • Adjust the size of the image if necessary
  • Select both the artwork and image and press the Make Mask button within the Transparency panel

4:52 – Transparency panel options

  • Option/Alt + click on mask thumbnail to see the mask
  • Shift + click on mask thumbnail to disable the opacity mask
  • Click the chain icon between the artwork thumbnail and mask thumbnail to allow these items to be moved independently
  • Clip checkbox alters how the artwork is displayed when a portion of the mask is not covering any artwork
  • Invert Mask checkbox inverts the opacity mask
  • Release button breaks the opacity mask, revealing both the artwork and the image that was the mask


Image: https://unsplash.com/photos/ih422i85l2Q (rawpixel at unsplash.com)

The ZIP file above includes the following files…

  • mother-love-logo.ai: Illustrator file with vector logo
  • mother-love-logo-masked.ai: Illustrator file with opacity mask applied to vector logo
  • mask.jpg: Image used as opacity mask

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