Adobe Illustrator offers a variety of tools and features that allow users to manipulate and edit images. While it’s primarily known for vector graphics, you can also work with raster images in Illustrator. One common task is cropping an image, and while Illustrator isn’t Photoshop, there are still effective ways to achieve this. Let’s delve into the steps and techniques to crop an image in Illustrator.

What is the Difference Between Illustrator and Photoshop?

Before we begin, it’s essential to understand that Illustrator and Photoshop serve different purposes. Illustrator is a vector-based software, meaning it works with lines and shapes to create designs. On the other hand, Photoshop is pixel-based, making it more suitable for photo editing. In Illustrator, you can’t directly cut into pixels like in Photoshop, but you can create a similar effect.

What is Linking vs. Embedding?

When you import an image into Illustrator, it can be either linked or embedded. A linked image means it’s connected to a file on your computer. In contrast, an embedded image is stored within the Illustrator file itself, increasing the file size. This distinction becomes crucial when cropping, as we’ll see shortly.

What is the Quick Crop Feature?

Illustrator introduced a quick crop feature a few years ago. When you select an image, you’ll find the ‘Crop Image’ option in the properties panel. However, using this feature on a linked image will embed a copy of the original. This tool provides a rectangle that you can resize to crop your image. For instance, if you want a square crop, you can adjust the rectangle accordingly and then apply the crop.

What is a Clipping Mask?

If you desire more flexibility than a square crop, Illustrator offers the clipping mask feature. This tool allows you to mask out parts of an image using a shape. For example:

  1. Using a Circle: Create a circle using the Ellipse tool around the area you want to keep. Then, select both the image and the circle and right-click to choose ‘Make Clipping Mask’. This action will mask out everything outside the circle.
  2. Custom Shapes: You’re not limited to circles. You can create custom shapes using tools like the Pen tool. Draw around the area you want to keep, ensuring the shape is on top of the image. Then, as before, select both and make a clipping mask.

The beauty of clipping masks is their editability. You can double-click to enter the mask and adjust the image or the shape as needed.


Cropping images in Illustrator might seem daunting initially, especially if you’re used to Photoshop. However, with tools like the quick crop feature and clipping masks, you can achieve the desired results with a bit of practice. Remember, Illustrator offers a different approach, but with understanding and experimentation, you can master image cropping in this software.

Remember to always explore and practice to get the hang of these tools. If you have questions or need more tutorials, don’t hesitate to seek out resources or ask experts in the field. Happy designing!