How to Crop an Image in Adobe Illustrator CC

Posted on July 24, 2019 by in Design | 8 comments

How to Crop an Image in Adobe Illustrator CC

Knowing how to crop in Illustrator seems to be a bit of a confusing topic for new Adobe Illustrator users. It’s not surprising, due to how in older versions before the Creative Cloud, there was no easy cropping option apart from clipping masks. Thankfully, the newest updates in Illustrator make it quite easy to crop an image. But we know that not everyone uses the newest version, so we’ve got you all covered.

In this tutorial, we will show you how to crop an image in the newer versions of Adobe Illustrator after 2017 and also how to do it with older versions. Be aware though, that Adobe has been changing licensing agreements about older versions of their Creative Cloud programs. You are much better off just subscribing to get the updates. Also, you will have many new practical features, including the crop image function.

The Difference Between Cropping A Raster And A Vector In Adobe Illustrator

In Adobe Illustrator, cropping a vector graphic is not the same process as cropping an image. This is because Illustrator is a vector editing program. Older designers will tell you that they used Photoshop and Illustrator side by side, cropping raster visuals in Photoshop and then taking them to Illustrator. As you can imagine, this is not very practical when you have lots of images to crop.

Vector graphics are cropped with the pathfinder tool, which will do nothing for a raster image unless it’s been vectorized. That isn’t always an option.

Linked or Embedded Images

Raster images can be linked or embedded inside an Adobe Illustrator project. This is important to know when talking about cropping because a linked image will get a popup saying that a copy of the image will be embedded a soon it’s cropped.

When you open an image from the open with the ‘open with > Photoshop’ command, the image will be embedded. If you use the File > Place option or Shift+Command+P, the image will be linked. Finally, if you drag an image from the desktop into an open project, it will also be linked.

How To Use The Crop Image Option In Illustrator CC 2017 And Above

Here are the steps to crop in Illustrator, using the ‘crop image’ option. We will start with a new image inside a new project. If you already have an image inside an ongoing project and need to crop it, you can skip the first couple of steps. Remember that when you use the crop option, all the removed areas will disappear. That is why some people still prefer the clipping mask option to keep control over the crop. More on that option later.

1. Create a New Project and Place an Image on The Artboard

First, we need an image to work with. You can either open a jpg image with Illustrator from the finder with the ‘open with’ command or drag one into an ongoing project.

screenshot of adobe illustrator image place

 

2. Click on The ‘Crop Image’ Button or Select it in The Object Tool Tab

After placing the image, make sure it’s selected with the Selected Tool. The toolbar above will show the ‘Crop Image’ button. Click on it (or click File > Crop Image) and a gray overlay will appear where you can adjust the rectangular crop selection, either with the selection corners or with the value bar at the top. When the crop is ready, click on Apply.

Pro Tip: The Crop Image option doesn’t have a Keyboard Shortcut but you can make it yourself

screenshot of an image crop on illustrator

screenshot of Adobe Illustrator - cropped image

How To Crop An Image With a Clipping Mask in All Versions of Illustrator

The greatest aspect of a clipping mask is that images can be cropped into any shape. The ‘Crop Image’ option will only crop an image as a rectangle or square. For cropping as circles, diamonds or a hand-drawn shape, a clipping mask is a much better option.

Always remember that the clipping mask layer must go above the image for the technique to work. Also, clipping masks don’t delete unwanted areas, they are hidden instead. If your crop needs an adjustment, you just need to move the image in the layer below the clipping mask.

Here’s how to do it.

1. Have an Image Ready and Create a Shape on a Layer Above

Select the layer for the layer you want to crop. Use a shape tool to create a white in a layer above the image.

Add a circular clipping mask on a layer above the image

2. Select Both The Image and The Shape Layer to Create The Clipping Mask

Now it’s time to make the clipping mask with the white circle. First, make sure both the image and the shape are selected. Then click on Object > Clipping Mask > Make or use the keyboard shortcuts Ctrl+7 (Win) or Command+7 (Mac). Now you can only see the cropped section of the image.

screenshot of adobe illustrator - make a clipping mask

 

screenshot of a circular image

 

Flatten Transparency, A Little Known Trick About Clipping Masks and Crops

Even though clipping masks don’t really remove sections of an image, there is a way to do go a bit further and end up fully cropping. It’s called the “Flatten Transparency” trick.

1. Adjust The Layer Transparency After Applying The Clipping Mask

Right after applying the clipping mask, open the transparency tab and select “darken.”

screenshot of Illustrator action - darken transparency mode

2. Flatten Transparency And Expand

With the same layers selected, click on Object > Flatten Transparency > OK and finally click Object > Expand. Now you have a cropped raster image!

screenshot of Adobe Illustrator action - flatten transparency and expand

 

The Quick and Dirty Option: “Crop” With an Artboard, Export, Bring Back in

Just like many programs we use on a daily basis, there are more than two options to get the same results. To crop an image in Illustrator you can also go for the Artboard option. This will only work with rectangular and square crops because Artboards can’t have different shapes. Even if you have a complex project with lots of graphics and visuals already, you can still use this technique. You just need to add a new artboard to create the crop and then use it as the only one that exports.

Here’s how to do it:

1. Select The Image You Want to Crop And Click on The Artboard Icon

This time, we will crop the image with an Artboard. First, select the image you are working on and then click on the Artboard icon.

screenshot of Adobe Illustrator action - cropping with an artboard

2. Export The Crop as Its Own Image

With the cropping artboard selected, click on File > Export As and in the dialog box, select that you only want to use the Artboard for the crop. Alternatively, you can also use the Save for Web option, but to keep the quality of your project, use Save As.

Finally, erase the original image from your project and bring in the cropped image by clicking File > Place

AI screenshot. cropping with artboard

Keyboard Shortcuts You Can Use For This Process

Here is a selection of keyboard shortcuts you might want to use when cropping an image on Adobe Illustrator. The first option is on Mac and the second is on Windows.

  • Selection Tool = V / V
  • Place = Shift+Command+P  /  Shift+Control+P
  • Rectangle Tool = M / M
  • Make a clipping mask = Command+7 / Control+7
  • Artboard Tool = Command+O / Control+O

For the actions which don’t have keyboard shortcuts you can create your own.

Wrapping it up

As you can see, cropping an image on Adobe Illustrator is not that hard. It still feels like it is for many people because they haven’t discovered the Crop Image button. For those using older versions, the Flatten Transparency trick or the Artboard trick work just fine and waste no precious time. Don’t freak out the next time you need to crop an image on Illustrator, just follow the steps above.

Featured Image via macroster / shutterstock.com

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8 Comments

  1. I don’t want to sound like a purist, but all of that can be done in Photoshop, even the circular crops. Illustrator tends to have memory issues with raster images, so I wouldn’t personally use it for those sorts of simple cropping operations.

  2. Yes, you can clip images in Illustrator but honestly – wrong tool for the job. Keep images in raster format, use a clipping paths or an alpha and use image editing program to package/edit them. I’ve had so many people send me what were supposed to be vector graphics (logos) that were just images placed in illustrator then exported, and that, in most cases, is a complete waste of time. Illustrator is a vector editing program – not the tool to be editing and packaging raster images with.

  3. This is great, thanks for the tutorial!

  4. I am alway do this job in Photoshop CS3 but it’s really very useful information, thanks for sharing this and also I am looking for such a useful content.

  5. Such a simple and useful trick. Literally, it’s essential for if you’re trying to do anything on the internet.
    We’ll refer to this post for our clients wondering this exact question! Thanks a lot!

  6. Nice tutorial. Love to share this with my graphic designer team.

  7. Awesome post! Awesome graphics !. I am new in this. this is website giving so much helpful post I appreciate for this awesome blog. keep post

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