How to manage overlapping shadows without using clipping masks in vector illustrations

When I make vector images in Illustrator I often end up using a stylistic, almost cel shaded designs. When I want to give “shadowed” areas to an object for example, I usually just make a new object/path on top of the shape, and make sure their edges line up, so that the shadow obscures part of the main shape. (See highlighted shape in image.)

The "shadowed" part of the tree trunk is an object on top of another object.

This is usually fine and dandy, but when I edit the edge of the underlying shape I have to redraw or edit the shadow object again. What I want is some kind of clipping mask, where the shadow can be “inside” the path of the main object, but where the main object is still visible. That way I could edit the outline of the main object (such as the tree trunk shape) without worrying about the edge of the overlapping shadow. Makes sense? I want the shadow object to behave like example B below:

Trying to show what I mean...

I know a clipping mask could technically work, but the problem is not editing the shadow – it’s editing the main object outline. Should I just make a copy of the main shape each time I edit it, and then paste it on top as a clipping mask for the shadow? Isn’t there a way to make the clipping mask object visible behind the clipped object?

I am used to making UI icons and other monochromatic stuff, but when it comes to this kind of stuff I don’t really know what’s best practice. So what do you vector illustrators out there do? Layer masks? Clipping masks? Live paint? Or do you do like me?


you can do the effect by taking advantage of illustrator feature past inside or draw inside shift + D both have the same effect of clipping mask.

  1. draw your path
  2. select it by the black arrow
  3. click over draw inside icon

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  1. draw what ever you want, you will notice that the first path your draw get a sort of dotted frame. this is an indicator that you are drawing inside that shape, be careful any drawing outside the shape will not appear.

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  1. Double click outside the shape to see the result
  2. every time you want to re-position the shadow just double click over the shape and you will enter a isolate mode where you can control the inside shape(s) clipping group.

Source : Link , Question Author : Carl Ekman , Answer Author : hsawires

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