The Retreat Files: Templates and Clipping Masks

A layered template is a layout that has the basic page design already set up for you, using shapes each in their own layer. You can use each shape layer as a clipping mask to ‘clip’ your photos and papers to the shapes—meaning the top layer (paper or photo) will take the shape of whatever is in the layer directly underneath it, “masking” or hiding whatever portion of the paper or photo that is outside of the shape.

There are so many reasons why templates are awesome tools in your digital scrapbooking adventure. I’ll share some of my top reasons why I love templates.

  1. Templates give you a great starting point, a jump start for your design juices to flow.
  2. Templates are great for beginner scrappers and intermediate scrappers alike.
  3. Templates help you do things that you don’t know how to do, or things that you can’t do in Photoshop Elements, for example. They also help you try new things.
  4. Templates are very versatile—rotate them, add or remove things, use them over and over again.
  5. Templates are not just for page design—use them for borders, photo masks, hybrid projects, etc.

Using Clipping Masks with Layered Templates

Step1: Open Photoshop or other photo editing program.

Step 2: Open a layered template (File > Open > folder where your template is stored). If you want you can also go to File > Save As and save this project under a new name so you don’t accidentally save over your original template.

Step 3: Open the digital papers, photos, embellishments that you would like to use on your layout and bring them into Photoshop (File > Open > folder where your photos and digital scrapbooking supplies are stored).

Step 4: Select the shape layer (such as “photo1” in the layers palette in the screenshot below) in the layered template that you would like to replace with paper or a photo—make sure it is highlighted in the layers palette. Then use the Move Tool to drag your photo onto your layered template. In the layers palette, make sure your photo layer is located directly above the template shape layer you want to clip it to, see below:

Then use the Move Tool to position the photo so that it covers the shape you want to clip it to in the template.

Step 5: To create the clipping mask, go to Layer > Create Clipping Mask (Keystroke Shift+Ctrl+G in PS). In PSE, go to Layer > Group with Previous (Keystroke Ctrl+G). Or you could right click in the layers palette and select “Create Clipping Mask” in the drop down menu. Voila! The paper is now the shape of that layer!

Step 6: With the paper layer active, use the Move Tool to re-size and rotate the photo until the desired portion of the paper is visible. What’s great about clipping masks is that it doesn’t crop or cut the paper at all, it just “masks” or hides the parts outside of the shape, so you’re not stuck with cropped paper later on if you want to change it.


Step 7: Once you are satisfied with the position of the paper in its new shape it is a good idea to merge the two layers to decrease the memory required to store the layout. Right click on the photo layer in the layers palette and select “Merge Down” from the drop down menu to merge your photo into the template layer. Alternatively go to Layer > Merge Down (Keystroke Ctrl+E).


Step 8: Continue this same process with your photos and papers until you have used all the pieces in the template that you want.


Step 9: Embellish and make the layout your own!

Extra template tips:

Templates are so versatile and fun to use. They are a good starting foundation for any layout. Some templates come with drop shadows already set, others don’t. Either way you can add or delete drop shadows as desired. Add your own personal touches to finish off your page. You can alter them to fit your needs, rotate them, move shape layers into different places, delete layers you don’t want to use. You can even use them with text. There are so many fabulous possibilities using layered templates and clipping masks in your digiscrapping! Have fun!


Once you’re done with your layout you’ll want to save your file. Click on File > Save As. It’s good to get in the habit of always choosing “Save As” instead of “Save” so you don’t save changes to your original picture accidentally.

Choose the file you want to save your scrapbook page or document to. Enter the file name then choose the format you want to save in. There are two ways I like to save my layouts.


  1. PSD files: This keeps all the separated layers intact, which is great if you ever want to go back and make changes on your layout. It’s also great because you can keep using the same design for different scrapbook pages by using clipping masks to change out your photos and papers. The downside to PSD files is that you can’t send a PSD to the photo lab (it has to be a JPEG) and they are very large file sizes.
  2. JPEG files: When you save as a JPEG, the layout is flattened so there are no layers. So once you know you are finished with your layout, you can save as a JPEG. This is the file type your photo lab needs for printing. Also, the file size is much smaller than a PSD.
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2 Responses to The Retreat Files: Templates and Clipping Masks

  1. Maria Utt says:

    Best Tutorial & website I have found! Thanks for your help, it’s truly appreciated as I am not computer/photoshop literate!
    Maria Utt

  2. cheryl bass says:

    Thank you so much! This is very helpful, as well as the video tutorials on this site.