Design Tutorial: Placing Photos in a Shape in Photoshop

It took me way too long to figure out clipping masks in Photoshop. I'm a little embarrassed to say that for a long time, I was cropping images to the size I wanted them to be in a separate Photoshop file and then placing them. This does not have to be the case! Clipping masks can quickly become one of your favorite Photoshop tools, and will expose you to some of the more advanced ways to make awesome graphics for your brand.

Why use clipping masks? For the purposes of what I'm explaining today, it's an awesome way to place a photo or other graphic in a certain shape. This could be a simple rectangle, or a circle, line, triangle, star, or other shape you can easily make with the Shape tool in Photoshop. If you want to get fancy, you could place an image or graphic over other graphics like handlettering or logos (as long as it fits into your brand's guidelines, of course), and even text. This is an amazing way to utilize brand patterns and make fun graphics for social media and other digital communications.

But to keep it simple (like the GIF in this post says), let's start with a photo collage for social media. For the small business owner or nonprofit that's looking to DIY some of their design work, this is a quick way to make a professional design that doesn't take a ton of time. Doing design yourself doesn't mean your design can't still look great. 

Here's the steps:

  1. Create a new document in Photoshop; make sure the background layer is color you'd like it to be.
  2. Make your shapes. If you have several shapes you're placing images or graphics in, I would recommend making each into its own layer group. It makes things a little less confusing and makes sure you don't accidentally mix up your shapes!
  3. Place your graphic(s). Save the images to your computer if you haven't done so yet. Then, go to File > Place Embedded and place your first graphic or image. Make sure the graphic layer is placed on top of your shape layer. You can move the layers around in the layers panel if you need to.
  4. Right click your graphic layer and choose "create clipping mask." Ta-da! You've created your clipping mask! If you need to move your graphic layer around to make it look better, you can do so with the Move tool, and can make it larger or smaller with Transform (command + T, or Edit > Free Transform; hold down shift to keep proportions).

Below is a short video to see exactly what it looks like in action, specifically steps 3 and 4. Any questions? Drop em in the comments! Hopefully this tutorial is helpful for your small biz.