Video Editing

How to Crop in Illustrator in Three Simple Ways

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Cropping is one of those editing actions that most people know how to perform on different editing tools, including the popular Adobe Photoshop. However, things get a little bit confusing when it comes to Adobe Illustrator.

This is because image cropping is a recent addition to the software. Also, Illustrator is a vector graphic design software different from photo editing programs for raster graphics that most people are familiar with. As a result, the editing process is not the same.

Here, we will explain the difference between raster and vector graphics and the different ways to crop an image in Illustrator.

Cropping an Image in Illustrator: Difference between a Raster and a Vector

Raster graphics are the most common form of images. They consist of pixels and are saved as a bitmap in file formats like JPG (JPEG), GIF, or PNG. Also, they are easy to work with and thus, have plenty of supported editing programs.

On the other hand, vector graphics are less common and consist of shapes and lines. The files are saved in formats like AI, SVG, WMF, CDR, or EPS. To edit a vector image, one needs a graphic design program specially designed to work with these formats.

So, how does this matter when it comes to cropping an image in Illustrator? Well, unlike raster graphics that lose quality during scaling, vector graphics maintain their quality.

As a result, users have a lot more freedom when cropping vectors as they remain editable regardless of their shape or size. Raster images, however, lose their editability when cropped into a new form unless the user re-edits the original. This is known as destructive cropping.

Understanding Linked and Embedded Images

Before we get into how to crop in Illustrator, linked and embedded images are also worth mentioning.

A Linked image is independent of the Illustrator file, which allows you to edit it in other applications. These edits are then automatically applied within the Illustrator document. On the other hand, an embedded image is fully present in the document at maximum resolution.

Although it is a vector graphics program, Illustrator allows you to link or embed raster images. However, you should know that when you crop a linked image, the editor embeds a copy in the document.

Also, opening an image using the Open With > Photoshop option embeds it in the document. Use the Place option under File or simply drag it into the open project to link the image.

Understanding this is necessary when cropping images in Illustrator, especially if your project involves Photoshop.

Method 1: How to Crop an Image in Illustrator with Clipping Mask

In many ways, cropping is about reshaping an image into another form. In Adobe Illustrator, Clipping Mask is one of the best tools for doing this because it allows you to crop an image into any shape.

You can crop images into shapes ranging from stars, squares, circles, polygons to the complex shape of a logo or any other object. 

It's like pouring dough into a baking pan, it will take the form of the container.

An advantage of using this method is it works with raster and vector images because it is non-destructive. You never have to delete the unwanted area because it is simply hidden.

So, if you ever have to edit the hidden parts, you only have to move the image away from the clipping mask.

Sounds interesting? Here is how to use it.

STEP 1 - Open the Image

The first thing you need to do is import the image you want to crop in the editor. This part should be familiar as it is a necessary step for editing on any software.

If you already have the image inside the editor, feel free to skip this step. 

To import your image, launch the app and head to File in the menu bar, then select Open. You can also use Open With or use the finder.

STEP 2 - Create and Place a Shape over the Image

Next, you have to generate the shape of the mask you want to use. A standard method for doing this is using the Shape Tool in Illustrator, which lets you draw any kind of shape.

If you have steady hands and know how to use the Pen Tool, you can also draw the shape manually.

Once you have the shape, use the Select Tool to resize as needed.

TIP - Fill the shape with a color that contrasts against the image. Also, reduce the opacity to see how the image you want to crop lines up with the shape.

STEP 3 - Create the Clipping Mask

To create the Clipping Mask, select the shape and the image. You can do this by holding the Shift key and clicking on each one. 

You can also simply, using the Select Tool, drag a selection over both objects. However, be careful not to select additional objects with this method.

When you’ve selected both objects, select Object in the menu bar and navigate to Clipping Mask. Then select Make in the sub menu.

By clicking Make, the software crops the image to the shape of the object over it.

Not satisfied with the result? Use Ctrl + Z to undo the mask or return to Clipping Mask in the menu bar and select Release from the sub menu. Then rearrange the image/shape alignment to your satisfaction.

Alternatively, you can select Edit Contents in the sub menu. It will allow you to change the placement of the image and perform other edits without affecting the shape or mask.

STEP 4 - Save and Export the Image

If the cropped image is part of other designs, simply move on to other aspects of the project. However, if all you want to do is crop the picture, the next step is saving it in a way that makes it editable later.

To do this, go to File and navigate to Save As

Then use the dialog box to determine where you want to store the document. Ensure that you save it in the .ai file extension if you wish to edit later.

Once the document is tucked away for future use, you can now export the cropped image. It is okay to save in whatever file extension you want. However, it is advisable to do so in PNG format to retain the image’s transparent background.

Go to File and select Export, then choose Export As from the sub menu and set the file location in the dialog box to export the image. 

After this, you’ve successfully cropped an image with Adobe Illustrator using Clipping Mask.

Method 2: How to Crop in Illustrator using Artboards

As mentioned earlier, there are different ways to crop in Illustrator, each dependent on the graphic type and what you wish to accomplish. 

In the case of Artboards, it only works with rectangular and square crops due to the limitations of the space. Besides that, cropping with artboards is non-destructive, so you still retain access to the rest of the graphic after cropping. 

Also, you are not limited to the original artboard. You can add a new artboard to crop with, even if you are already working on a project.

Here is how to use this method to crop in Illustrator in two short steps.

STEP 1 - Select the Image and Click the Artboard icon

Once you have imported the image you want to crop into the editor, select the image.

Next, click the Artboard icon and set the new artboard to the area you want to crop.

Suppose you already have multiple artboards in the project. In that case, you can name it accordingly using the textbox at the top of the editor.

STEP 2 - Export the Crop as an Image

While selecting the new artboard, go to File in the menu bar and navigate to Export As.

In the resultant dialog box, select ‘Use Artboards.’ This will tell the editor that you only want to export the image within the selected artboard, effectively cropping the image. 

Once you set the file location, click Export to complete the process. Illustrator will save the image as a new file while the original file stays unedited.

Back in the editor, remove the original image and import the cropped version by navigating to Place under File in the menu bar.

That’s how to crop in Illustrator using the artboard. 

This might be a roundabout way of cropping an image in Illustrator. Still, it is just as simple and effective for rectangular and square crops.

Method 3: Crop in Illustrator Using the Cropping Tool

For those used to working with raster images, this method may sound familiar. However, this function is only available on the Creative Cloud version of Adobe Illustrator.

It follows the same cropping principle on most photo editing software, but it has its limitations, which are - 

  1. You can only crop in rectangular or square shapes
  2. It is destructive. Cropped content is lost forever.

Although this method is most suitable for raster images, you can crop a vector image with it. All you have to do is embed the vector image in a new file instead of cropping the original.

Here is a quick rundown of how to use the cropping tool in Illustrator.

STEP 1 - Select the Image and Click Crop Image

Import the image you want to crop and select it using the Selection Tool. You can access it from the Tools panel or press V on your keyboard.

Once the image is selected, the toolbar below the menu bar will reveal a group of options, including a Crop Image button.

When you see it, click Crop Image.

STEP 2 - Crop the Image 

When you click the Crop Image button, you will see a gray overlay that appears over the image with anchors and selection corners to adjust the crop area.

To crop the image to your preferred look, you can either drag the anchor/corners to resize the image or use the Value Bar controls at the top of the editor.

When you finish cropping, click Apply.

How to use the Crop Function

Besides the standard Crop Image button, there is another Crop function in Illustrator. The tool is inside the Pathfinder panel, with a similar editing process to using a Clipping Mask.

Unlike the Crop Image button, this function is available in all versions of Illustrator.

To crop with it, start by using the Rectangle Tool or Ellipse Tool to create the shape of the area you want to crop, with the image directly underneath.

Then select both the image and the shape. 

Next, go to Pathfinder under Window in the menu bar and click Crop.

As you can see, this method is similar to cropping with Clipping Mask (discussed above). The notable difference here is it crops the image destructively, deleting the unwanted area.

Cropping a Shape in Illustrator

Asides from images, it is also possible to crop a shape in Illustrator. This can be handy when trying to design complex artworks or creating a logo.

You can use the Illustrator Crop tool to crop a shape, following the same process as cropping an image.

Once the shape is in the editor, use the Rectangle tool to select the area you want to crop.

Next, select the shape and image and navigate to Pathfinder under the Window. Then click Crop in the panel to remove the parts outside the chosen area.


If you are not used to Adobe Illustrator, cropping images with it might seem hard, but as you can see, it is not that difficult. In a few clicks, you can crop any type of image, raster, or vector.

All you have to do, depending on what you are trying to achieve, is apply the steps for each method. If you don’t get it right the first time, there is no need to worry or freak out. 

Just keep practicing, and you will eventually master these tricks.

Visit our website for additional tips and guides about video and image editing.

Hammad Akbar
Hammad Akbar
September 14, 2021