How to Crop Vectors in Adobe Illustrator

If you’re quite new to Adobe Illustrator (or vector based programs in general) it can be tough to get your head around how to crop images and graphics, especially if you’re used to working with software that is more pixel-based such as Adobe Photoshop — as the two applications work very differently.

Two ways to achieve this in Illustrator are with Clipping Masks and with the Pathfinder tool.

First off, let’s get some kind of vector graphic on there. I just went with a star shape as you can see in the below screengrab, but this could be anything (a logo, a letterform, an icon etc).

Cropping With a Clipping Mask in Adobe Illustrator

To crop the graphic, we use another vector shape. We could crop it as a square, a triangle, or any shape imaginable in fact… but for the purpose of this demo let’s go with a circle. Make sure the circle goes *above* your vector graphic in your Layers palette.

To make it easier for yourself, set the stroke / fill of the circle to a colour that is obviously different from your vector graphic so that it is easy to differentiate between the two.

Cropping With a Clipping Mask in Adobe Illustrator

Cropping With a Clipping Mask in Adobe Illustrator

First off, let’s crop the graphic with a Clipping Mask. This will crop in a none-destructive fashion in the sense that, although we are cropping the graphic, it’s original shape will remain intact as the mask can always be disabled or removed.

Select both your graphic and your clipping path (in my case, the circle) and then do one of the following:

Cropping With a Clipping Mask in Adobe Illustrator

  1. Object > Clipping Mask > Make
  2. Mac keyboard shortcut — cmd 7
  3. Windows keyboard shortcut — ctrl 7

Behold! Our newly cropped graphic:

Cropping With a Clipping Mask in Adobe Illustrator

If you look in your Layers palette, you’ll see that the original graphic is still intact (along with the clipping path). Illustrator will simply create a ‘Clip Group’ and add both objects to that as shown below:

Cropping With a Clipping Mask in Adobe Illustrator

So that’s the Clipping Mask covered, now for the Pathfinder tool…

Cropping With The Pathfinder Tool in Adobe Illustrator

Cropping with the Pathfinder tool in Illustrator isn’t a whole lot different to cropping using a Clipping Mask. Let’s get a vector graphic with some kind of cropping vector on top of it again:

Cropping With The Pathfinder Tool in Adobe Illustrator

This time around, we need to group the two objects first. So select both of them and then do one of the following:

Cropping With The Pathfinder Tool in Adobe Illustrator

  1. Object > Group
  2. Mac keyboard shortcut — cmd g
  3. Windows keyboard shortcut — ctrl g

Now we need to crop using the Pathfinder tool like so (once you’ve selected the group):

  1. Effect > Pathfinder > Crop

Cropping With The Pathfinder Tool in Adobe Illustrator

As you can see, this gives us the same results — again, none-destructive so you can always revert back to the original graphic further down the line:

Cropping With The Pathfinder Tool in Adobe Illustrator

You can always disable / remove the Pathfinder effect using the Appearances palette:

Cropping With The Pathfinder Tool in Adobe Illustrator

You might not be interested in the cropping being none-destructive. After all this will be more efficient in terms of memory and performance, however it means the changes to the graphic will be permanent. If you’re okay with this, simply use the Pathfinder palette like so:

  1. Window > Pathfinder

Cropping With The Pathfinder Tool in Adobe Illustrator

Then hit ‘Crop’ to crop the graphic permanently.

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One Reader Comment

  1. Thanks Matt – that was the best explanation of cropping a vector I have found. Before finding your website, I spent an hour pulling my hair out!

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