How to show part of an image in Adobe Illustrator CC without cropping it

*This tutorial was written on January 31, 2018 and is based on Adobe Illustrator CC, version 22.0.1.

Sometimes you just want to show part of an image in Illustrator, without having to go through the hassle of making a copy of it and cropping it. Whether it’s because you aren’t sure exactly which part of the image you want to show, you aren’t 100% sure on the size and shape yet, or you aren’t even sure of the image yet.

You’d like a temporary and easily adjustable image crop.

I find myself wanting to do this often when creating social media images, particularly for instagram, and particularly when there are many layers happening, with an image being stuck somewhere in the middle of the mix and not as a straight up background.

For whatever your reasons, here’s how to make it happen:

1. Drop in your image

Drag and drop your image into your file, then do an approximate re-size if required.

2. Add your shape

Create a white shape (no border) over top of the image. This will be your window. Anything behind this shape is what you’ll be seeing in the end. Make it whatever shape you want!

3. Select them both

Select both the image in the background, and the shape that’s sitting on top. While in the selection tool, select the image, hold down your shift key, then select the shape.

4. Make the transparency mask

In the transparency window (the icon is two overlapping circles), you’ll see a button that says “Make Mask” — click it! Like magic, you’ve made your temporary crop.

The images are linked together, so they move as one. If you’d like to adjust the window shape, move the window, or move the image, hit the link icon and then select either the image or the shape, and adjust as necessary.

Success! That’s it!

You can now place things behind and in front of partial image, no problem. 😉 And if you change your mind, or need a new picture, just release the mask and start over. No sweat.