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A collection of insightful tips and guides to help you become a great designer.

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How to Crop in Illustrator

How to Crop in Illustrator

In this article, we'll take you on a journey explaining the different cropping options Illustrator offers. We’ll also explain the difference between cropping a raster (pixel-based) image and vector graphics.

Cropping in Adobe Illustrator seems to be a bit of a confusing topic.

We’re not surprised since veteran Adobe users know that the cropping feature had been added only recently to the roaster of Adobe Illustrator features.

When working with raster graphics, designers had to switch between Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop in order to crop an image. But not anymore.

In this article, we'll take you on a journey explaining the different cropping options Illustrator offers. We’ll also explain the difference between cropping a raster (pixel-based) image and a vector image.

And ultimately, we will showcase how other design software apps, like Vectornator, compare with Adobe Illustrator in providing an enjoyable cropping workflow. Are you feeling confused, or do you feel like you could’ve discovered how to crop without reading an entire software manual about it? Let’s find out in this step-by-step tutorial, shall we?

illustration of girl crop example

Understanding What You Want to Achieve

When you're cropping, the basic goal is to remove unwanted areas from an image. Usually, you’d want to crop in order to improve framing, isolate the subject matter from its background, fit graphics and textures to certain shapes, or change the aspect ratio of the original file. Just to name some of the most common reasons for wanting to crop an image.

There are actually a couple of ways to get around it. Do you want to crop a raster image or a vector image? Do you just want to simply show a part of the image, without cutting anything (aka non-destructive cropping), or remove the trimmed parts forever (destructive cropping)?

You can use various methods depending on your needs. We’ll explain every image crop feature below.

The Difference Between Cropping a Raster Image and a Vector Shape

Okay, one last thing before we get to the point. Cropping a raster image is not the same process as cropping a vector shape. Remember the Photoshop / Illustrator combo we mentioned before - using Photoshop to crop raster images, and Illustrator to crop vector-based images? Pretty impractical if you ask us. But since Creative Cloud, Illustrator offers a simple crop tool as a way to crop raster images.

What you need to remember is that vectors offer a lot more freedom when they are cropped, as they remain editable. In contrast, raster images are cropped into a new shape that cannot be altered unless you crop again.

The Many Ways to Crop an Image

Cropping an Image in Illustrator CC by Using the Crop Button

As the title suggests, this is the easiest crop option for an image in Adobe Illustrator CC. But this cropping option is only available for Illustrator CC users.

Select your image with the Selection Tool. Then click the Crop Image button, - comparable to a mask button - on the upper toolbar. Drag the corners/anchors of the rectangular shape of the bounding box to crop your image exactly the way you want (as long as you want to crop only a rectangle).

illustration screen example image to crop
⚠️ Warning: this method is destructive, meaning that your cropped content will be forever lost.

The Crop Image option doesn’t have a Keyboard Shortcut, but you can make one yourself. You can crop both linked images and embedded images using this method. To embed an image file in Adobe Illustrator all you need to do is right-click on it, then press Embed.

illustration screen example image cropped squere
Artwork by @efimova_jullia

Cropping a Vector in Adobe Illustrator Using the Crop Function

It is not as easy as the name suggests. If you want to crop a vector in a simple shape, you can also use their vector Crop tool, which is hidden in the Pathfinder control panel.

First, create your shape by using the Rectangle or Ellipse Tool. Select both objects while making sure that the object you want to crop is underneath. Then go to Window -> Pathfinder and click Crop. The parts outside of the shape will be cropped destructively.

illustration screen example shape for cropping

It's similar to a clipping mask (which we'll explain below). The only difference is that this method crops destructively, while a mask will not. That's why we recommend using masks in all of your cropping ventures.

Cropping in Adobe Illustrator Using a Clipping Mask

When cropping, masks are going to be your best friend, so it's worth paying extra attention here.

The best aspect of a clipping mask is that your images can be cropped into any custom shapes you want. That’s right. Anything from circles, diamonds, hexagons, or the shape of a logo. A clipping mask can take any shape or form.

Clipping masks are a non-destructive operation and do not delete the unwanted area in a clipped image. Instead, that part of the image is hidden. If your crop needs an adjustment, all you need to do is move the image below the clipping mask.

First, you have to create the shape which you want to use as a cropping shape. This is also known as a clipping path. If you have the shape already simply add it to your canvas on top of the object you want to crop.

illustration screen example shape near image to crop

Now it’s time to make the clipping mask. For that, make sure both images are selected.

Then, in the menu bar, click Object > Clipping Mask > Make. Boom! Now you can see your cropped image.

illustration screen example image to crop clipping mask
Be mindful that the order of the objects is very important. The object on top will become the clipping path for the object underneath.
illustration screen example clipping mask crop success

Cropping in Adobe Illustrator using Opacity Masks

A similar outcome can be achieved with Opacity Masks.

First, draw the shape in which you want to crop your image (or import a preexisting shape into your canvas ) and color it black or white. With opacity masks, white means that the image will be opaque in that area. Black signifies that the part of the image will be completely transparent. Grays indicate a fade from opaque to transparent or a gradient.

illustration screen example of opacity mask

For this example, we’ll use pure white so that the object can be cropped easily. Select both the image and the shape. To create the opacity mask go to Window -> Transparency. A new panel will appear. There you will have to click Make Mask, but make sure the Clip checkbox is activated.

illustration screen example of opacity mask success

Quick & Dirty Cropping with Artboards

To crop an image in Illustrator you can also go for the quick and dirty Illustrator Artboard alternative. This will only work with rectangular crops, of course. But it’s non-destructive. Your graphic is still pretty much whole on the page, just outside the edges of the Artboard.

The method is very simple. Click on the Artboard icon and change its shape to the area you want to crop. Then export the file! By going to File -> Export As, and in the dialog box check Use Artboard for the export. Done.

Pro Tip –  if you want to preserve your transparent background, always export your image in the PNG file format. The JPEG format does not support transparency.
illustration screen example how to export with opacity

Maintaining the Aspect Ratio While Cropping

Let’s say you want to crop an image to direct the focus on a certain object, but you want to keep the aspect ratio the same as the original image, a very common task in graphic design, especially for digital marketing purposes.

The process is much simpler than it might sound initially. Create a shape that covers the entire size of your image by using the Rectangle Tool. Then resize it by holding the ~key~~key~ key. This will guarantee that the aspect ratio is maintained. That’s it.

Move the shape to your desired position and simply apply a Clipping Mask to it.

illustration screen example cropping to aspect ratio

Vectornator vs Illustrator

Vectornator is - like Illustrator - a vector-based tool. Vectornator doesn’t have a Crop Tool (yet) like Illustrator, but you can perform the cropping function by using the Clipping Mask technique instead. It takes only a few steps and it’s super easy to perform even for the inexperienced user.

Using the Clipping Mask function in Vectornator gives you unlimited options to crop your image.  We will give you the freedom to crop your image into any shape or form you want with Vectornator!

Concerning the aspect of navigation and UI, Vectornator and Illustrator look very different. Adobe is known for its cluttered interface, a lot of “hidden” functions, and the fact that you really need to be an advanced user in order to properly use it. Even as a mid-level user, you still might find yourself googling for answers on how to use the software when your mind should be focused on designing instead.

When a design tool needs so many steps, shortcuts, and hidden functions in order for it to be functional at a basic level, something needs to change. The designers of today don’t want to be bothered with that, and they shouldn’t be.

Vectornator possesses a very simple and intuitive interface. No hidden menus, or unnecessary clutter. Even a beginner will be able to navigate the interface very easily. The app has a very flat learning curve. Our goal while designing the app was to make it easily accessible for beginners, but with an ability to perform on a professional level.

vectornator screen with illustrator

You can crop a raster-based image in Vectornator by using the Mask function. There are several benefits when using this technique:

  1. It’s non-destructive
  2. You can still move the original around once you’ve performed the masking operation.
  3. The resulting shape is still a vector shape that you can continue altering as you wish.

How to Crop in Vectornator

In Vectornator, any shape that is a closed path can be turned into a clipping mask.

The possibilities to create a shape for a clipping mask are unlimited in Vectornator. It’s possible to crop an image in Vectornator, but you’ll have to use the Clipping Mask technique, as Vectornator hasn't implemented a Cropping Tool yet.

💡 If you want us to implement a Crop Tool in Vectornator, you can upvote your request in our Community Forum.

Let us explain to you in a few simple steps how you can crop a raster-based image in Vectornator by using the Masking Technique:

Step 1

Let’s start by importing the raster image into Vectornator first. You can import the image via the Library Popover, the Import Tab, or the drag & drop technique.

vectornator interface
Learn more about the available import options of Vectornator ->

Now let’s create the vector shape which we want to use as a mask so that we can crop the imported raster image.

Select the Shape Tool in the Toolbar. Click on the Three Dot Button and select the Polygon Shape. Set the number of polygon sides to five with the Tool Slider. Click and drag on the canvas to create the shape. Use the Selection Tool to move, scale, and rotate the Polygon Shape.

vectornator interface shape tool
Learn more about the Shape Tool in Vectornator ->

Step 2

We’ll explain how to create the clipping mask to crop your image in the next step.

💡 Since our 4.8.0 update, the masking shape resides at the bottom of the layer stack, below the masked elements.

Select the vector masking shape and move it to the bottom of the layer stack in the Layers Tab, below the imported raster image. Position the masking vector shape on the canvas.

vectornator interface shape over image

Then click Mask ~ic-mask~~ic-mask~ button or ~key~ M ~key~ to create your mask. The imported raster image is now only visible within the boundaries of the masking shape.

The masking layer now displays a tiny mask symbol, and the masked layer is linked to the masking layer with a dependent arrow.

vectornator interface shape mask

Step 3

Now that we have established the clipping mask structure, you can still edit the mask by selecting and moving the masking shape around or by editing the masking shape with the Node Tool, as the clipping mask feature in Vectornator is a non-destructive operation.

To learn more about masking, and many other vector operations in Vectornator, head over to our Learning Hub section, where we explain everything in detail →
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