Combine Illustrator Patterns with Photoshop Masks for Instant Visual Appeal

Using Adobe Illustrator and Adobe Photoshop together to create masked patterns takes a little time but no money, and with this tutorial, you’ll quickly learn all you need to know to take your images beyond the same-old same-old.

First, I’ll show you how to create repeating patterns with various shapes in Illustrator, then combine them with photos thanks to a quick masking technique in Photoshop. While I covered the repeating and masking technique in another article a few years back, after this advanced lesson, you’ll be able to make more complicated designs that are even cooler.

Step 1
Open Illustrator and Photoshop. In Illustrator, create a new document and select the Rectangle tool.

Click-and-drag with the Rectangle tool, but hold Shift to maintain equal proportion to create a square. Let go of the mouse before letting go of Shift. Create a somewhat small square; mine is 44 pts in length and height.

Change the Fill color to Black and the Stroke set to None (the red strikethrough) so the square has a black fill and no stroke.

Step 2
With the square selected, go to Object > Transform > Transform Each. Check the Preview box to see where the new square will be, and adjust the Move Horizontal Slider so that the new square won’t overlap the original square but isn’t too far from the original. With the 44 pt size square I made, I set the Horizontal to 50 pt. Don’t click OK or Copy just yet.

For this example, let’s also resize the squares. Change the Scale Horizontal and Vertical slides to 90% and click Copy (instead of OK); this will make a duplicate instead of transforming the original.

With the new square still selected, press Cmd-D (PC: Cntrl-D) a few times.

Step 3
With the Selection tool, click and drag around the line of boxes to select it.

Change the Scale settings both to 100%. Change the Move Vertical Slider to a setting which moves the line down a bit from the original. I set it to -60 pt for this example. Click Copy.

With the second line of squares still selected, press Cmd-D (PC: Cntrl-D) a few times.

Step 4
Now you need to select the entire group of square lines. With a Selection tool, click-and-drag around the entire group of boxes. Go to Edit > Copy and then Edit > Paste. Then select the Rotate tool from the Toolbar and rotate the new group of squares 180 degrees by holding Shift and clicking and dragging.

With a Selection tool, click and drag the new group of squares so it doesn’t overlap and creates this pattern.

With a Selection tool, click-and-drag around the entire group and go to Edit > Copy.

Step 5
Switch to Photoshop and open a photo that you want to combine with the Illustrator pattern, then go to Edit > Paste and choose Paste as Pixels. Press OK. Click-and-drag the pasted pixels so they’re over the part of the photo you want to show through the mask you’ll create. Press Return (PC: Enter).

In Photoshop’s Layers palette, double-click the Background layer and click OK to make it a more editable layer (it will name it Layer 0). With Layer 0 still selected, press Cmd-J (PC: Cntrl-J) to duplicate the layer.

Step 6
Now you’ll add the clipping mask. Click and drag the layer with the squares in it below the Layer 0 Copy layer, so it’s second from the top in the Layers palette. Hold Option (PC: Alt) and hover the mouse in between the square layer (Layer 1) and the duplicated photo layer (Layer 0 Copy) and click. Click the Eye next to Layer 0 to see the effect so far.

Select the square layer in the Layers palette and add a layer style by going to Layer > Layer Style.

Add a white layer by clicking on Create New Layer on the Layers palette, filling it with White (Option-Delete (PC: Alt-Backspace) when the Foreground color is set to White). This will let us preview what it looks like with a non-transparent background. Try also sampling a color from the photo with the Eyedropper tool and then filling the background with that color.

Click the Eye next to Layer 0 in the Layers palette for another look, with the masked photo as well as the original photo behind it.

Step 7
For different looks, open Illustrator with the original shapes and select all the squares and go to Filter > Distort > Twist. I created the image below with a 40% twist.


You can also try a Filter > Distort > Pucker and Bloat at 75% in Illustrator.

You can also use a soft-edged brush in Photoshop and paint black onto the layer that has the shapes on it to remove some of the mask. This emphasizes certain parts.


Another technique is to create duplicated rounded rectangles and then draw a large rectangle to emphasize a certain area.


Also try a pattern where some of the rounded rectangles are form a sort of pattern themselves before being pasted into Photoshop.


Chad Neuman is an internationally published freelance magazine writer, graphic designer, photographer, and educator from Florida. Subscribers to his mailing list receive very occasional updates and free vector art/graphics.


Posted on: September 28, 2009

8 Comments on Combine Illustrator Patterns with Photoshop Masks for Instant Visual Appeal

  1. I totally agree on this freash and awesome use of Illustrator and photoshop. Great article.

  2. Great article but several pictures at “X”s only.

  3. Very nicely written and illustrated. Thank you.

  4. Thanks for the tips! I really like the last image with the runner and the rounded boxes that will come in handy.

  5. I had this tip in my email box just waiting for a moment to test it out. Glad I did! Very easy to follow – excellent instructions – and I love the outcome. This will be a great trick to ‘ham’ up boring pics. Thanks!

  6. i think i was waiting for this, because it totally refreshed my design and the client loved the final effect! thank you!

  7. While following this exercise I was able to create a prismatic pattern by using the steps outlines above to create what the camera could not capture. I built the pattern in Illustrator and imported it into Photoshop. Then I created a mask and colored the pattern to match the product. By doing this I was able to achieve the look of the prismatic pattern in the product.

    Thanks for the tip.

  8. Clever! Very clever!

    It would have taken me some time to use the Masks like that!

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