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Understanding clipping in Affinity apps

Clipping is a fundamental design technique in Affinity apps. Andy explores the basics of clipping and the different ways it is used in Affinity Designer, Photo and Publisher.

What is clipping?

Clipping is an operation you can perform in Affinity that lets you restrict the visibility of an object/layer to another object/layer.

If you’re familiar with a layered stack of objects, as you’d see in a Layers Panel, objects typically stack on top of each other. The top-most object being the nearest to you as you view your screen; the bottom-most object being the furthest back in your document. This is called the Z-order. If objects overlap other objects, then they obscure those from view; objects that aren’t overlapped will always be displayed.

So where does clipping come in? Instead of the above Z-order being used, objects can be made to show inside a targeted ‘parent’ object; areas of the bottom ‘child’ object which lie outside the parent object’s outline are hidden, i.e. clipped from view.

Why use clipping?

Clipping has several key benefits:

  • Brings together differently shapes to form a new shape (without affecting the original shapes).
  • Restricts editing to a specific object or layer.
  • Non-destructive by nature—initially, the term clipping may sound destructive. In fact the opposite is true—the clipped object can be repositioned, scaled or deleted at any point in the future.

Do all Affinity apps support clipping?

All Affinity apps support clipping, but due to the different characteristics and functionality available in each app, the technique may be used differently to achieve different results.

How do you apply clipping?

Remember the Z-order mention previously? This is used to control reordering and clipping objects by drag and drop in your layers stack (Layers Panel).

The target positions for reordering (left) and clipping (right) differ

For reordering, the ‘drop’ target is the full width of the layer entries. For clipping, the ‘drop’ target is indented instead to visually indicate that the object will clip.

Let’s take a look at how that looks in each app using examples appropriate to each desktop app. For Affinity iPad apps, the drop target is shown by dragging directly over a target object.

Clipping in Affinity Designer

Clipping vector objects and vector group to vector outline
Clipping raster brush texture to vector outline
Clipping an HSL adjustment to a specific vector object

Clipping in Affinity Photo

Clipping imagery inside shapes
Clipping a Black and White adjustment to a specific image layer

Clipping in Affinity Publisher

Placed content in picture frames is automatically clipped to the picture frame

Rounding things off…

In summary, Affinity apps use clipping for different design objectives, but the process of applying clipping is identical between apps. The next time you’re in an Affinity session, try nesting an object inside another object to get familiar with this feature.