Clipping paths in JPG images

The secret paths of JPG images

If you are a graphic designer, you already know that. However, I haven’t, until recently. JPG images can store clipping paths. If it is new for you, keep reading, this is quite useful.

A month ago I was working on project, a product catalogue with around 50 pages. The company I worked for supplied me with tons of images in JPG, PNG PSD, TIFF or AI formats. The majority of them needed to be adjusted, retouched or just to remove their background. Since JPG doesn’t support transparency, I needed to open them, create a mask to remove the background and save as PSD for example. Then I could import it to InDesign and position against any background.

JPG transparency clipping path

JPG image with clipping path

Since I had lots of images of products in JPG format, I had to create plenty of masks which was pretty time-consuming. When I finished the project and the catalogue was successfully printed, I came to this huge discovery: JPG format supports clipping paths and a vast majority of my JPGs used in the catalogue had them. A clipping path is a vector element that can be used as an alternative or in combination with traditional Photoshop masks. It means that it can be built and saved as JPG. So when you have a similar third-party JPG content, it might be very useful to verify if it contains these paths. If it has a path that someone had built before you, creating a vector mask or a mask is very simple.

jpg photoshop clipping path

Open JPG image in Photoshop

To check if a JPG has a clipping path, open it in Photoshop. Click on the tab Paths next to Layers panel or go to Window – Paths. If it has a clipping path, you will see a thumbnail of it. Click on the thumbnail to select it. Then press A to activate Direct Selection Tool and click somewhere along the clipping path. 

vector mask photoshop

Creating vector mask in Photoshop

To create a vector mask, double click on the background layer to change it to simple layer. Right click on the image to activate context menu a select Create vector mask. Press CTRL + H to hide/show the path. You can also create mask from selection, if you want to create some advanced masking (for shadows or hairs for instance). The point is that you can save a huge amount of time, even though it is easy and quick to create mask with high-quality white background JPGs. But effectiveness is essential so that you can spend more time on your creativity.

Mask and vector mask in Photoshop

Mask and vector mask in Photoshop

In the sample above decided to compose two different shots and imitate a new reality. If you don’t need a special masking and retouching, you won’t need to modify the original JPG. Maybe you just need to create a simple banner in InDesign. Let’s try it.

Importing JPG to Indesign

Importing JPG to Indesign

Create a new document in InDesign and put something in the background. I decided for a solid gray. Press CTRL + D to import an asset and find your JPG image with clipping path. When finished, leave the image selected and go to Object – Clipping Path Options or press ALT + SHIFT + CTRL + K. 

clipped image indesign

JPG image clipped in InDesign

In the Type dropdown menu select Photoshop Path and if it has a path or paths you can see the names of it. Make sure the Preview check box is checked. You can also modify the value Inset frame, which will expand or narrow the clipped area. In my case, I used the value of 0.3 mm to get rid of a few problematic areas where white pixels bleeded. I also decided to add a decent white glow through Effect panel to soften the contrast transition.

indesign clipping paths

InDesign result

I hope you enjoyed this post and get this information before you start working on catalogue with hundreds of JPG images that have clipping paths.

Thank you for you comments.

9 replies
  1. Matt
    Matt says:

    Hi designus,

    Thanks for the great tutorial!

    I am working with a large library of stock photos, many have clipping paths and many do not.
    My question: Is there any way to tell if an image has a clipping path without opening it in Photoshop?

    I have searched metadata and cannot find any indication of the presence of clipping paths in the data.
    Ideally, I would like to browse the files in their folder structure and have some visual or textual clue that indicates whether or not the image has a clipping path.

    Thanks so much!


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