How to Creatively Use Textures as Clipping Masks

Textures have a world of uses whether you're editing or digitally painting. Did you know they could be used as CLIPPING MASKS? I'll show you how using Adobe Photoshop and (in my case) a Wacom Intuos Pro medium tablet. However, you don't even need a Wacom tablet for this edit! Adobe describes a clipping mask as a group of layers to which a mask can be applied. The caveat - it must be greyscale just like masking but in this case whatever is black will show your image. The black shape must be on a transparent layer, not a black and white solid layer. How do you do this with your greyscale textures such as the recently released Alla Primas 3 & 4 Collection? I'm glad you asked! Let's dive in!

In Adobe Photoshop open an Alla Prima texture document. Double click to unlock the layer. Double click on the grey part of the layer (not the name) to open the Layer Style dialogue. Move the "Current Layer" BLEND IF white sliders until all the white area has disappeared. To achieve this cleanly hold (on a mac) SPACE BAR and OPTION or on a PC SPACE BAR and ALT. The goal here is to remove all of the white space to achieve a transparent layer. Once done hit OK.

Now make a blank layer above your texture layer and merge down. You can't skip this step! Right click and select "clear layer style."

If you skip this step the layer will remember the white space and you won't be able to use it as a clipping mask.

You have successfully created a transparent greyscale layer that can be used as a clipping mask!

For the clipping mask to work the image must be ABOVE it, and then "clipped" to the texture below.

To sandwich your clipping mask remember the image has to be above the clipping mask layer in the layers palette. Then right click the image layer "create clipping mask." If you make a mistake you can right click / "release clipping mask." Then move your texture layer around until things line up how you like it. If there are rough or harsh edges you can layer mask those out using a black brush on a layer mask. OR add additional brush work to the texture layer either by cloning or brushing in additional space.

You can see the quick demo here of Xia on the beach. I made the texture into a clipping mask layer, then brought it under my retouched image. I stacked my layers from bottom to top: paper color, texture (clipping mask), Xia's retouched file. Then right clicking on the portrait I clicked "Create Clipping Mask." You can free transform or move your texture to find the right placement. Remember black reveals in this case. Whatever is black will show the image that's clipped to it. This would be a fabulous start to a digital painting or a unique portrait edit. If I get really suck in a painting I might try this approach with my clone source or even start this way to get out of my own head. 

 All of this luscious brushy texture is a result of the Alla Prima texture! It looks like real brushwork because it came from ACTUAL paint!

This style of editing can be stand alone as an edit, used as a painting clone source, or even used if you get stuck during a digital painting to break you out of your head. I used this method both in layer overlays and clipping masks when I got stuck with Xia's painted version of this file as seen here. 

For this file I had only used the Alla Primas IN my Texture palette in Corel Painter 2021. But it felt flat and I couldn't get past it. I got stuck. So I took it back into Photoshop and "made" a mess of it. I used textures as overlays and forced myself to make it work and I LOVE the end result! I also kept the exact location of the texture overlays in the crop and saved those as greyscale jpgs to import in the Texture palette in Corel Painter 2021. 

This is my new prep file in Photoshop after experimenting with layering texture to get out of my head. 

Then I took it into Corel Painter 2021 and got back to work this time having three clone sources: my original retouched file (which at this point I hardly rely on but to establish her face is still her), my first painting stage, and this stage of the painting. I also load the newly placed textures in this exact crop INTO the Texture palette so my brushwork would line up. This helped.

When painting in a digital environment I can't stress the important of using a pressure sensitive stylus. I used the Wacom Intuos Pro Medium tablet with the Art pen here, custom brushes from the Alla Prima and Breakthrough courses, and the Alla Primas 3 & 4 textures (loaded in the Texture palette). 

Here are some other experiments with simply using the Alla Primas as clipping masks and NOT applying any painting techniques to this portrait. 

I hope this encourages you to try Clipping Masks! You can find the Alla Primas 3 & 4 Collection here. Happy creating!


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