If you use a lot of photo cutouts in your page design, you're familiar with Photoshop clipping paths. A clipping path is essentially an irregular vector shape drawn around the part of the photo that you want to "clip," and see on the page. Since vector files are made up of, well, vectors, you can easily place them over other artwork and colored backgrounds without having to draw a clipping path. You can also wrap text around them with ease. I'll show you how with the two most common layout programs, Adobe® InDesign® and QuarkXPress®


InDesign will import both EPS files and native Illustrator® files (as well as other, non-vector file types, of course). To control how those images interact with text and other elements on the page, you'll use what Adobe calls "Text Wrap." Text Wrap has its own panel, or palette, which is located under the Window menu.

The Text Wrap panel contains a multitude of options for wrapping text. You can simply wrap text around a picture frame, but to get more creative and take advantage of vector files, let's look at how it handles irregularly-shaped images.

Creating a Text Wrap path

I placed the China illustration in a rectangular frame, then chose "Wrap around object shape" in the Text Wrap panel (third little icon on the top). At the bottom, under Contour Options, I used "Detect Edges."

With this option, InDesign draws a path around the shape, and the text automatically flows around it. Important: if you can't see your text wrapping around the image, go to View>Display Performance> and select High Quality Display.

If you need to tweak the path, you can use the Direct Selection tool (the white arrow) as well as any of the Pen tool options. These tools are the same as the ones in Illustrator, so if you're familiar with one program, you're good to go in another.

In this example, I don't want any type to appear in the concave area of the China map, so I can move and delete points on the path to alter the shape

Deleting points with the Direct Selection tool

NOTE: Text Wrap is turned off by default for all objects. Here's a tip if you prefer to have it turned on: First, close all open InDesign documents. In the Text Wrap panel, set your preferred Text Wrap method by clicking one of the icons at the top of the panel. Now, whenever you create a new document, the Text Wrap method you chose will be used, by default, for all objects.

Placing a vector file over a solid color background is a breeze, and there's no clipping path required. Since vector files are made of Bézier objects, you can simply place them in a picture frame that's filled with a color, and the color will show.

Vector over top of a background color

By the same token, you can place a vector file over display type. The picture frame has a fill of none, and is arranged on top of the orange type. This effect would be trickier with a photo, as great care would need to be taken with the clipping path to avoid unwanted parts of the image showing through.

Vector over top of display type


XPress handles text wrap in much the same way as InDesign. Quark calls it "Runaround."

By default, Runaround is turned on for all objects, and unlike InDesign, the stacking order affects which objects runaround others. The Runaround options can be accessed from the Item menu, or from the Measurements palette that usually appears at the bottom of the work area.

Runaround in the Item menu

Runaround in the Measurements palette

To have XPress create a path you can modify, choose "Non-White Areas" as the runaround method. The "Outset" field in the dialog box (or Measurements palette) determines how far away the path will be from the image. "Smoothness" controls the accuracy of the path. A higher number will result in a simpler path with fewer points. The "Noise" and "Threshold" fields are more pertinent to photos, so we can ignore them.

Runaround non-white areas

To see the path, go to Item>Edit>Runaround. It's been my experience that XPress creates quite a lot more points on its paths than does InDesign. Even with the Smoothness set to the maximum level (100 pt), the path is usually more complex than it needs to be.

Check the complexity of your path

So in Edit mode, use the Bézier tools to delete and modify points. If you should happen to click off the path and deselect it, you'll have to go back to Item>Edit>Runaround to see the path again.

As with InDesign, you can place a vector file in a colored box. Again, no extra path is needed, since the vector file is an object with no white background. For this example, though, I've left the Runaround on the vector file, and placed it halfway over a green box, letting the type run around the dolphin's tail.

So, the next time you're fighting with a clipping path, consider a versatile vector!

Vector with Runaround path over solid background color

Image Credits:
iZombie by quisp65
China by joeiera
Dolphin Mascot by daveturton
splash frame up by freelancebloke

Cheryl Graham (FreeTransform) began uploading to iStock in December 2005. She creates Adobe® Illustrator® tutorials for the Layers magazine Web site, as well as her own blog,