Clipping path and image masking are both useful image editing techniques to help you isolate a subject from a background. The main difference for clipping path vs. masking is how you isolate the subject.

Let's take a look at the breakdown for clipping path vs. masking and which tasks each photo editing technique is best suited for.

In this article

What is a clipping path?

Like image masking, clipping path is an image editing technique that allows you to remove the background from an image. You can create a clipping path using the pen tool in Photoshop and then selecting paths that form a closed vector shape to separate a part of the image. Everything inside the path will be selected, and anything outside of the path will be left over.

Clipping path is generally used when the subject of the image has straightforward edges—think boxes, simple accessories, ornaments, etc.

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Clipping paths require an experienced, accurate hand. A poorly drawn clipping path can result in images that don’t look real or natural, and consumers easily notice even the smallest mistakes. Sloppy images don’t make a great impression, and that’s typically reflected in sales.

You want your product photos to stand out—in a good way—so you definitely want to consider working with a professional for these types of edits. To give you an idea of the level of detail involved, we zoom into images sometimes as much as 200% so we can get as close to the edge as possible.

Path hand-drawn clipping paths start at 39¢ per image >

Types of clipping paths

Clipping paths don’t sound too complicated, but there are a few different types of clipping paths:

Single-layer clipping path

A single-layer clipping path is a simple path created on one layer with the Pen Tool in Photoshop. This is useful when you need to remove or change the background.

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Multilayer clipping path

Multilayer clipping paths are created with the Pen Tool to extract multiple parts of an image. This is an advanced type of clipping path used to separate each part of a photo and is especially useful for retouchers, especially if you need to color correct portions of the image.

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Illustrator clipping path

Adobe Photoshop isn’t the only software you can use to create clipping masks. Adobe Illustrator also has its own path and mask tools. Referred to as “Clipping Masks” in Illustrator, this tool allows you to cut out portions of an image into a specific shape.

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What is image masking?

Image masking is another method of image background removal. This technique involves a variety of tools in Photoshop, such as Background Eraser Tool, Magic Eraser Tool, and color separation technique.

Masking is a non-destructive way to adjust a part of your image while leaving the rest untouched. For photo editors, that means more control over where and how the image adjustments take place. It’s typically used for images that contain more complex lines, like hair, fur, etc.

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Clipping path vs. masking

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As we mentioned earlier, the difference between clipping path and image masking is the technique you use to remove the background from an image.

More complex images require image masking. It’s technically possible to remove the background from complicated images with clipping path, but the result isn’t as appealing as it would’ve been with image masking. As you can tell in the image above, the photo edited with clipping path looks unnatural.

It’s likely that Sigil Scent used a clipping path to achieve the desired result for this image: two stand-out, clean-cut perfume bottles.

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And to get the natural—but not messy—outline, the photo editor probably used image masking to remove the background of this Crown Affair scrunchie photo. (Note the use of drop shadow as well.Crown Affair.jpg

 You can use both techniques in a single image: clipping path for straight, hard edges and masking for the softer or more complex areas. If a photo calls for both image editing techniques, your best bet is to use a clipping path first and then follow up with masking.

For example, this play gym from Lovevery was likely edited with both a clipping path and masking.

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The stronger lines of the toy’s frame could easily be edited with clipping paths, but masking would be more appropriate for the softer material bottom and baby’s hair.

The bottom line on clipping path vs. masking

When it comes to background removal, neither method is superior in a clipping path vs. masking comparison. Both clipping path and masking edits have their place in photo retouching, especially for the wide variety of images needed for ecommerce photos. And both require a practiced hand to execute well.

Interested in professional, affordable photo edits? The Path team does all edits by hand and offers 24/7 support.

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Laura Bauer is a Texas-based writer and photographer. She focuses on helping brands make meaningful connections with their customers. When she’s not at her computer or behind a camera, you can find her riding her horses, training dogs or hiking.

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