How to crop an image in Illustrator


One of the common queries that people ask us, when they’re starting off with Adobe Illustrator, is how to crop an image. Cropping an image is one of the basic tasks that most people expect to get done.

While there is no “Crop tool” in Illustrator, and am sure that you do understand why. Cropping is easy to do then its a bunch of pixels that you need to remove. But in the case of vector artwork its not that simple. Simply removing the anchor points and paths outside the desired area does not sound like a good idea to me. To preserve the design intent, we need to remove, or rather hide or mask, the content that we don’t need. In Illustrator, we have several methods to achieve an image “crop.” While, technically, we won’t be cropping an image, we can hide or mask the areas that we do not want. We can use Masks: Opacity masks and Clipping masks, and Artboards.

Erica Larson, created a series of videos to show you the how to use masks to crop an image.

Cropping images using Opacity Masks

clip-1

Cropping images using Clipping Masks

crop-1

Erica Larson is a BFA Design student at Pacific Northwest College of Art, and an intern with Adobe’s Community Help and Learning group. She hopes to bring the separate pleasures of digital and traditional media together to create work that is tactile and intimate but also takes advantage of the rapid and dynamic communication provided by technology. Erica is inspired by underground comic books, vintage signage and wood type, Japanese food packaging, kittens, Mad Men, Motown, and Herbert Matter.

Cropping using Artboard tool [Added 4/18/2013]

If you want to export to an image format, and use it on the web, there is another nifty way to crop: Use Artboards. The Artboard tool (Shift Control+O) is the simplest way to crop artwork for export, and at the same time preserve the design intent and source. Non-destructive crop, if you will.

artboards

  1. Add and resize the artboard, and then position it over your artwork as desired.
  2. Choose File > Save for Web, and select the desired Artboard

This works as a non-destructive crop. You don’t really crop the artwork, but effectively crop the output. You can even define multiple and overlapping artboards to different outputs from the same artwork.

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  1. #1 by r on November 22, 2012 - 6:20 pm

    Wouldn’t this technically be called masking? You’re not actually removing any of the image.

    • #2 by Vikrant on November 22, 2012 - 6:33 pm

      :-) It is masking. Using two methods here: opacity masks and clipping masks.

  2. #3 by Martin Sønderholm on December 14, 2012 - 5:47 pm

    It would be nice to know how to get rid of the parts of the picture that are masked away – i.e. how to actually crop. The Illustrator-file may become extremely large if actual cropping is not possible. Is it really necessary to use Photoshop for this job??

  3. #4 by Rick on December 28, 2012 - 3:44 pm

    Why won’t you simply say that Illustrator cannot crop an image?

  4. #5 by Walt Griffin on January 16, 2013 - 2:26 am

    As often as the function of cropping arises in graphic design, a simple cropping tool, as in Photoshop, should be a part of the tool panel. Having to mask out the area to crop is a waste of time. Please add the cropping tool to CS7 !!!!

  5. #6 by Graham on January 17, 2013 - 6:22 am

    Yeah, I have to agree with the above: this is not cropping. I’m a recovering CorelDraw user, learning Illustrator for the first time, and it’s superior in every way thus far, with the exception that there seems to be no crop tool. You can’t grab the node selector and manually do it either. Ridiculous.

  6. #7 by winetaste on January 24, 2013 - 9:59 pm

    This used to be fairly simple in earlier versions of Illustrator. Why does it have to be so complicated?

    • #8 by reductant on October 23, 2013 - 9:50 pm

      I’ll quote Hoi:
      “The only reason I think of is that Adobe just want to separate the function of AI and PS completely so that someone who get a illustrator cannot do his work completely in one software and has to get the other software as well. This is a commercial decision so those who actually lack the proper knowledge please stop insulting others anymore.”

  7. #9 by Janopus on February 5, 2013 - 3:01 am

    I must agree with other recent comments that the absence of a simple cropping tool is a nuisance. I just “graduated” from CS3 to CS6 and it took several hours to finally realize that a relatively simple (if not intuitive) cropping method (labeled as such) in CS3 was no longer available and that the “trim” marks are simply that, just marks. The videos are helpful to find, but for simply cropping a vector image, the methods are not immediately obvious and, for a user like myself, provide no advantage over a simple cropping tool. My complaint is not about greater capability, it is about ease of use, especially for the non-expert. -j

  8. #10 by Larry Czaplyski on February 7, 2013 - 7:07 pm

    I opened AI to crop a drawing and find what I thought would be an easy task, isn’t.

  9. #11 by Lee on February 8, 2013 - 11:19 pm

    This is not cropping! You have to use photoshop to crop your image but then you pick up a little pixelation.

  10. #12 by Mark on February 15, 2013 - 8:32 pm

    The fact that AI does not have a simple cropping tool speaks volumes to the poor design of AI. Such a basic task should be able to be accomplished simply. This videos do not help because they move so quickly and assume you are going to pick up the details easily. Photoshop is very intuitive and user friendly. AI is not. What planet do the people who design this live on?

  11. #13 by Kim on February 22, 2013 - 11:03 am

    It’s possible to crop but it’s a little convoluted. First I generally save a separate ‘_flat’ version of the file so I can go back. Each layer or similar group of objects will need to be united as one shape in the pathfinder palette. I then create a square shape I want the final crop size to be, make it transparent and ⌘X to save it in my clipboard. Then you will have to go to each layer / group and ⌘F to place the crop shape, hold shift and select the combined object, and use the pathfinder palette again to select the ‘crop’ button. Repeat for each layer or combined object.

  12. #14 by T on March 2, 2013 - 10:38 pm

    Agree – this is not cropping. It can’t be spinned. I saved to eps then brought it back into PS to crop in 3 seconds.

  13. #15 by STEVE T on March 7, 2013 - 1:19 pm

    The easiest and quickest way to crop an object or picture is to paste it into excel then click on format, crop then copy and paste it into adobe illustrator

  14. #16 by Hooda on March 17, 2013 - 9:58 am

    Actual cropping with AI is possible and pretty straightforward, but should not be necessary. Images in an Illustrator layout should be placed so they can be edited externally in PS or the image editor of your choice (Which should be PS). No production facility wants your AI files to have embedded images in them, and you shouldn’t either. Linking your images is always the way to go.
    Use clipping masks or transparency masks to mask your images. if you want to to actually crop the image to the clipping mask, copy / paste into PS as smart object. Then choose Select – Load Selection (Vector Smart Object Transparency) and finally Image – Crop, and then save. Then re-link the file into your .AI layout. This is a decent way to optimize your files for output. Another methed to crop an image would be to set an Artboard to your crop and export the image.
    Common (but sloppy) AI and ID practices are to mask very large linked images and then supply the entire image, even if only a small portion of the image is seen in the layout. As a recipient of these files I would prefer production files that include images that have been cropped to the correct size and resolution for output.
    Keep in mind that AI is awesome for a lot of things but is not an image editor like PS. Those who claim that AI is poorly designed or is missing a feature simply lack the proper knowledge.

    • #17 by jeff g on March 21, 2013 - 10:36 pm

      Actual cropping with AI is possible and pretty straightforward, but should not be necessary…”
      and “…Those who claim that AI is poorly designed or is missing a feature simply lack the proper knowledge…”

      …that knowledge being, of course, that AI is simply incapable of providing and efficient and practical cropping function. As a designer, I’LL be the one decide what’s “necessary” to my projects. A program such as AI, which purports to be an Artist’s Tool, if it cannot provide this basic functionality (which, judging by the tilt of the majority of comments, is a sought-after feature), is failing to speak to it’s potential supporters.
      Truly ridiculous. It’d be the most basic, simple add to the software. If it’s available in PS, no reason it can’t be in AI, eliminating an additional 6-step workaround to get there. Not every artist (designer, etc.) uses AI for only one destination type.

    • #18 by hoi on March 26, 2013 - 9:50 am

      What you said is so right, the guy (Hooda) is merely an Adobe fanboy who have no independent mind of himself.

      Why would a function so simple that you can find it in all MS office software such as Words, Excel not available in a professional art software? Yes, I always use link and never embed my image if I can, but this is not eternal truth, sometimes you have to do this, if this function is NOT NECESSARY as he said. EMBED function should be REMOVED, coz “linking your images is always the way to go”(that’s what he said).

      The only reason I think of is that Adobe just want to separate the function of AI and PS completely so that someone who get a illustrator cannot do his work completely in one software and has to get the other software as well. This is a commercial decision so those who actually lack the proper knowledge please stop insulting others anymore.

  15. #19 by Eddy on March 26, 2013 - 11:35 pm

    It’s actually quite easy, here’s the instructions from Harron Appleman via an Adobe Forum post, this works like a charm for me in CS6.

    Harron K. Appleman,
    Apr 1, 2010 11:17 AM in reply to TheMarkness

    If you want to totally eliminate content outside a mask in Illustrator (giving you a true crop), you can use the following method:

    Select the path that you would have used for the clipping mask and, instead of making a mask, fill it with, oh, say, white. Then, set the opacity for that masking object to 0% using the transparency palette/panel. Then, with that object and the underlying raster image selected, flatten transparency. (Use 100% vector on the quality slider and make sure the ‘Preserve alpha channel’ option is unchecked.) Ungroup the result.

    You should now be able to independently select the various portions (inside and outside the mask) and discard those you don’t need. The links palette/panel will show you what’s going on.

    You can use this method with multiple clipping masks in a single operation. You don’t even have to initially embed the underlying image for this to work.

  16. #20 by Eddy on March 26, 2013 - 11:37 pm

    Actual cropping with AI . . . should not be necessary. Images in an Illustrator layout should be placed so they can be edited externally in PS or the image editor of your choice (Which should be PS).

    Why in the world is there a benefit to having to use a second application to perform one of the most basic image editing tasks there is?

  17. #21 by Corvino on April 4, 2013 - 7:57 pm

    I just crop my images redefining the artwork area after finished drawing … (File -> Document setup -> Edit Artboard )

    • #22 by CB Gardner on August 10, 2013 - 8:37 am

      Thanks I found your comment the most useful.

    • #23 by Heather K. on September 4, 2013 - 3:20 am

      Me, too! Simple and works. ….although I’m ticked that there wasn’t the scissors/crop tool in the first place, too. I’m a novice at AI and I spent a LOT of time figuring this problem out. Frustrating.

  18. #24 by George on April 18, 2013 - 3:11 pm

    I’m sorry to be so direct, but all of you who are saying that you have a way it can be done and then list five to 10 steps you have to do are missing the point of the question and what the remaining people – which is most of us – want:

    WE SIMPLY WANT TO CLICK ON A TOOL AND CROP WHERE WE WANT. PERIOD.

    No steps, no masking – just click on a tool that looks like a pair of scissors and CROP!

    It is typical of Adobe to create a program like Illustrator CS6 that can make your lunch and drive your car but can’t do one of the most basic, fundamental task that is truly needed.

    • #25 by Susan on July 11, 2013 - 10:41 pm

      I couldn’t agree more. Sure, I can edit the artboard, but I shouldn’t have to.

      I recently upgraded from CS2 to CS6 (and had to buy a new license, to boot, because they wouldn’t let me upgrade) and I’m sorely disappointed to find the crop tool no longer seems to exist. Although, I’ve seen screenshots showing it, it seems to have disappeared. This is a tool that I use regularly when I want to select just a part of an image, and no, I don’t want to create a mask. Why should I have to? Cropping takes three seconds, while creating a mask is multiple steps and a bit overkill for simple projects.

    • #26 by jan wooten on November 7, 2013 - 11:13 pm

      I am not a design professional, I am a chemist and I do some amateur web development. This is important to my point to illustrate that there is a very wide variety of Illustrator users with varying degrees of requirements, skills, and proficiency. When I jumped from CS3 to CS6, it took me over an hour to figure out how to crop and image for export. OK, so features change and capability is expanded. But “cropping” now has so many different functions, the one I was accustomed to had disappeared. While Adobe is really good at providing versatility and powerful features, the resulting products some to be come progressively more difficult to learn and to use, with many “hidden” features. Why shouldn’t there be a simple and obvious crop tool? Such a tool does not preclude other sophisticated methods for the expert. The complexity of Illustrator has slowed down productivity for me. It has obviously spawned an entirely new group of business that provide training. The Adobe site is helpful … sometimes; I eventually ended up here. As chemists we are taught in undergraduate school “Occam’s Razor”, a ancient maxim that goes in various ways something like this: “It is pointless to do with more what can be done with less”. We should send Adobe developers to study chemistry. I agree with George.

  19. #27 by Carlos Oliveira on May 22, 2013 - 2:48 pm

    technically this is not cropping, Illustrator developers should really consider addding a dedicated cropping tool to the next release of Illustrator.
    sometimes masking will not do the job as only one image of a larger group of images of a design needs to be cropped to fit in, this will imply opening photoshop, cropping the image, saving the image and importing back into AI…depending on the user PC specifics this may eat up a lot of time as both programmes do use up a lot of resources.

  20. #28 by Ben on May 31, 2013 - 9:20 pm

    In the 3rd expample, the image has lines in the corners… Is there a way to save the image to PDF without the lines? Ie with just the “cropped” image?

    New to illustrator.

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