How to Mask Images in Ren’Py

How to Mask Images in Ren’Py

If you follow me on, you might have noticed I’m releasing a lot of tools lately! One of the tools I released is called Ren’Py Layered Image Masks, which you can find below:

This tool makes it possible to apply an AlphaMask to a layered image. But what is an AlphaMask? How does it work? What does it do? In this tutorial, you will see how several examples of how AlphaMask works, and how to use it with layered images using the tool above. Pick it up from to get started!

Difficulty level: intermediate

This tutorial expects you to already understand the basics of layered images and image tagging with attributes. In particular, you should be able to declare a layered image. Ideally, you will also have some familiarity with LayeredImageProxy, which the tutorial’s LayeredImageMask is based off of. You should also have some basic understanding of transform properties – crop is used extensively here, with a brief explanation on how it works.

What is an AlphaMask?

First, what is an AlphaMask? An AlphaMask in Ren’Py is made up of two parts: the child image, and the mask image. Ren’Py combines these two images together to display a final image which is masked by the mask image.

“Child image” and “mask image” might sound confusing, so let me show you a quick example.

An image of a bird on a solid dark background

This is the child image. In this case, it’s a picture of Feniks, my little phoenix bird. Note that the image has a solid background as well. (In these screenshots, transparency will be represented by a grey and white checkerboard pattern so it’s more easily distinguishable).

An image of a circle surrounded by transparent space

This is the mask image. It does have transparency – a lot of it, all around the circle. The circle itself is solidly filled in.

An image of a bird in the shape of a circle surrounded by transparent space

And this is the final result, which is achieved via the code:

image feniks_masked = AlphaMask("fen_child.png", "fen_circle.png")

In short, the parts of the mask that weren’t transparent are the only parts left of the child image that are still showing.

A sideways view of three images, a square image with a bird, a circle on top, and a circular cutout of the bird image beneath.

Here, with the mask and child image split up a little from each other, you can better see how the part of the mask that’s transparent ends up also transparent in the final image, so the only thing that’s showing is the part that would be inside the circle. Here’s a gif to illustrate this as well:

A gif showing how the circular mask image is used for the final shape of the bird image

How does this work with Layered Images?

The main feature provided by the Layered Image Masks tool is the ability to use a layered image for the child of an AlphaMask. So, instead of just a static child image like "fen_child.png", you can declare the child to be the layered image feniks and then dynamically change the attributes of the child image using lines like show feniks happy masked, and the child image is updated to feniks happy without needing to declare an AlphaMask for every possible attribute combination.

Without LayeredImageMask, you would need code like:

image feniks happy masked = AlphaMask("feniks happy", "fen_circle.png")
image feniks nervous masked = AlphaMask("feniks nervous", "fen_circle.png")
image feniks sad masked = AlphaMask("feniks sad", "fen_circle.png")

This could very quickly get impractical, especially if your layered image has several groups for things like eyes, brows, mouths etc, and you need a different declaration for every single combination.

Enter the LayeredImageMask, a Displayable which is similar to the built-in LayeredImageProxy. It will pass along any layered image attributes to the child of an AlphaMask. It can turn the above code into:

image feniks masked = LayeredImageMask("feniks", mask="fen_circle.png")

Then you can still use show feniks happy masked and show feniks nervous masked, and the images will automatically get the AlphaMask applied.


One thing I haven’t mentioned, but which you may have noticed, is that it’s generally important that the child image and the mask image be the same size. The final size of the AlphaMask will be the size of the child image, which is typically the larger of the two. In fact, the final image from earlier has quite a lot of transparent space around it:

A circular image of a bird with lots of surrounding transparent space

Sometimes this is all right, but there are two main reasons this can cause issues:

  1. If you use the same mask for multiple images, e.g. multiple different character sprites, you might have to re-save the mask in different positions relative to the size and position of the sprites. For example, if one character is taller than another, the mask will likely need to have the circle positioned higher up.
  2. Though invisible, the transparent space still takes up “room” when positioning the final image. So, if you wanted to align this masked image to the bottom-left corner, it would have a chunk of space around it since it’s still the size of the child image, which used to take up that whole space.
A large dark rectangle with a bird image in the corner. When the bird image has a circular mask applied, it is far from the left and bottom edges of the rectangle.

Cropping the Images

The easiest fix for this issue is to crop the child image so it’s the same size as the mask, and to make the mask as small as possible. So with that in mind, here’s the adjusted mask image:

A circle with as little transparent space as possible around it

All the transparent space is cropped away, so the final image is only as large as the circle is.

In particular, the cropped mask is 332×332 pixels (you can typically right-click on the image in your file explorer -> Properties to see this information). Let’s start by applying it as-is to the child image:

image feniks masked = LayeredImageMask("feniks", mask="fen_circle_cropped.png")
A circle in the top-left corner with part of a bird's face visible and transparency to the right and below.

Still a lot of transparent space around the image, and now it’s not centered over Feniks’ face either. Why?

A gif demonstrating the position of the circular mask on the bird image

Well, we haven’t moved the mask around or cropped the child image, so it’s naturally positioned at the top-left corner of the child image and masked from there. We need to cut down the child image so it’s the same size as the mask to get rid of that extra transparent space. The child image is 475×475 pixels. So we need to crop it down to 332×332 pixels.

Thankfully, Ren’Py will let you do this in-code, and there’s even a transform property in LayeredImageMask where you can provide this information. Roughly, let’s see what this looks like:

image feniks masked = LayeredImageMask("feniks",
    Transform(crop=(0, 0, 332, 332)), mask="fen_circle_cropped.png")

Pretty similar to the earlier declaration, but with this new part: Transform(crop=(0, 0, 332, 332)). What does that look like?

A circular image of the bird which is off-center so the bird's face is to the right

Hmm… still not quite what we’re looking for, but the extra transparent space is gone now. The issue here is where our transform starts. The crop numbers (0, 0, 332, 332) correspond to (x, y, width, height) respectively. This means that our crop starts at the position (0, 0) and is then 332 pixels by 332 pixels. This means it’s the size we want, but it starts in the top left corner, which doesn’t center Feniks’ face.

To fix this, we need to “move the mask over”. But in practice what this looks like is cropping the child image starting from a different position. If you have an image editor, you can use it to get the coordinates you need. In this case, we need the mask to be 127 pixels over from the left and 46 pixels down from the top of the child image.

An annotated image of the bird with the width from the left edge to the circle mask as 127 pixels and the height from the top edge to the circle mask as 46 pixels

Thus, the final crop will look like (127, 46, 332, 332). Note that the final two 332, 332 don’t change – remember, the last two numbers are the width and height of the final cropped image, and those should always be 332×332 since that’s the dimensions of the mask. The first two numbers changing doesn’t affect the last two numbers.

Notably, Transform("feniks", crop=(127, 46, 332, 332)) would give us the following image:

A cropped image of the bird which is 332 pixels by 332 pixels

This makes it the same size as the AlphaMask, 332×332.

So, now the LayeredImageAlphaMask looks like this:

image feniks masked = LayeredImageMask("feniks",
    Transform(crop=(127, 46, 332, 332)), mask="fen_circle_cropped.png")

And that results in this:

A cropped image of a bird in a circular shape which is centered and not surrounded by excessive transparent space
A gif demonstrating how the circular mask is applied to the above image to get a circular mask of the bird image

Which, if we position it in the bottom left corner…

A dark rectangle with the circular bird image in the bottom left corner. There is no extra transparency around the bird

It’s a perfect fit! The image is now the exact size of the visible circle. This is why it’s important to use the crop feature with Transform on your LayeredImageMask, both so it’s easy to center or otherwise move the final masked image around, and also so you can center any focal points within the masked area itself (like the character’s face).

If you wanted to do this effect, but not with a layered image, the code would instead just use a regular AlphaMask and would look like the following:

image feniks masked = AlphaMask(
    Transform("feniks.png", crop=(127, 46, 332, 332)), 

Additional Note

Somewhat counter-intuitively, you can also use negative numbers for the first two crop arguments to add space to the left and top of the child image, respectively. A crop like crop=(-10, -20, 100, 100) is basically saying “I would like to start 10 pixels to the left of the left edge of the image, and 20 pixels from the top, and then cut out a 100×100 square”.

This might sound odd, but it can be useful, particularly when masking sprites which have very little space at the top of their head. If you wanted to “move the sprite down” relative to the mask image, you can just include some of the extra space above the sprite in the crop, which results in the sprite being “moved down” in the final masked image.

Foregrounds and Backgrounds

Besides just masking an image, LayeredImageMask also allows you to provide optional foreground and background properties. What do those do?

These properties are primarily intended for “cut-ins”, that is, times when you use a small section of a character’s sprite image accompanied by some UI behind and/or in front of the sprite that separates it from the scene. Usually this is to communicate that the character is not directly in front of the camera; perhaps they are talking over the phone, or from behind the point of view character, or the background is not suitable for a regular full-body sprite (such as the inside of a car) so the cut-in is used so the player can still see the character’s expressions.

It can also be used for moments of drama – think of the cut-ins during Ace Attorney’s cross-examinations, or the animated cut-ins during battles in Persona 5.

Eye cut-ins of Phoenix Wright and Miles Edgeworth from Ace Attorney
A cut-in of Joker's eyes from Persona 5

Rather than having to show these foreground and background images separately, LayeredImageMask will let you add them right as part of the final image, so they’re all shown at once. Let’s look at simple example to start.

Simple Example

First, here is our sprite image (Feniks), our mask image (a filled-in triangle) and a background and a foreground (also triangles – one is translucent and the other is an outline with no fill).

A sequence of images showing the background, foreground, mask, and child images to be used for the example. The first three images are triangular and the child image is a bird

The end goal is to sandwich these all together to get this:

An image of the bird cut into a triangular shape, with an orange background and red frame foreground

If we look at it from the side, you can see the foreground and background layers better:

A gif showing the image from the side, with the foreground and background splitting apart from the masked child image

The process for masking the initial image into that triangle shape is similar, but this time the child image (Feniks) has transparency. What does that mean for the final masked image?

A gif showing how the triangular mask applies to the bird image and cuts it into a triangular shape

If the child image is transparent, then the final masked image will also be transparent in the same places. So you can see that the bottom part of Feniks is now masked to the triangle shape, but you don’t “see” the triangle mask anywhere on the final image. The mask is only used as a template to cut away the child image into the same shape as the mask – if there’s nothing to cut away, it just remains transparent in the final masked image too.

So here’s a step-by-step of how the masking works and puts the background and foreground layers together to get the final image:

A sequence of images demonstrating the bird image, the bird image cropped to a triangular shape with a mask, the triangular bird with the background image, and the triangular bird with the background and foreground images

Also note that the mask image, foreground image, and background image are all the same size so they position properly on top of one another. In this case, that size is 442×433 pixels. Similarly the child image is positioned and cropped so it’s the same size as the other images. The final code for the above image is:

image feniks corner = LayeredImageMask("feniks",
    Transform(crop=(117, 1, 442, 433)),

And here are the final images:

Elaborate Example

So this is all well and good, but what about the image that appears in the example screenshots for the Layered Image Masks tool – the one where the sprite appears to be coming “out of the frame”?

Well this is where we can get a bit fancy with layered image masks. Consider for example this screenshot from Fire Emblem: Three Houses:

A screenshot from Fire Emblem: Three Houses with a line spoken by Dimitri. An orange diamond outlines a UI element behind Dimitri's head.

Here you can see that Dimitri is masked into a diamond shape at the bottom to fit into the UI element, but also isn’t restricted to the diamond shape at the top, either – his head goes up and above where the diamond shape’s top is.

A screenshot from Fire Emblem: Three Houses spoken by Rhea. Her headpiece is cut off at the top in the UI

There is also an interesting thing that happens for characters with elaborate hair styles or headwear that would ordinarily take up a lot of screen space above the character’s face. Here’s another screenshot with the character Rhea, whose headpiece is cut off at the top. Rather than being straight cut off though, you can see that it “fades out” to the background. There’s a similar rule in place for characters whose sprite exceeds the width of the diamond. Notice how this character’s hair is cut in a straight line to the left and right of the diamond:

A screenshot from Fire Emblem: Three Houses. The included character's hair is cut off at the sides.

What kind of images would you need in order to create this sort of shape? Let’s explore that.

First, the background and foreground seem fairly straightforward. The former is just a diamond, and the latter is a frame. Except, we don’t want the frame to go in front of the sprite at the top half of the diamond, so it should actually only cover the bottom half of the diamond.

A gif of a background image of a diamond and a foreground image of the bottom half of a diamond splitting apart.

Now what about the mask? Well, if you’ve been following along, you’ll know that anywhere on the mask that’s opaque is where the child image can be opaque too, and any transparency on the mask gets cut away from the child image. So your first instinct is probably to make it the same shape as the background, like a diamond:

A gif demonstrating how the mask image, foreground, and background combine to make a final image. It is cut off at the top.

This is pretty close! But when I put my image into it, it gets cut off in the diamond shape instead of expanding up past it like in the screenshots. So then, how about making the mask look more like a rectangle with a triangle on the bottom?

A gif showing how a foreground, background, and masked image combine to get a final image. The masked image extends beyond the visible area of the background

This is getting very close! The last bit of polish is to get that “fadeout” effect seen on sprites that exceed the maximum height or width. For that, you’ll add a slight transparency gradient to the outer edges of the mask. It’ll look like this:

A mask image which has feathering at the edges so it fades smoothly to transparency

And now, assuming all our background and foreground images have been adjusted to be the same size as the mask, and the sprite image is cropped correctly, all the pieces come together to give us this:

A gif putting together a masked image, a foreground, and a background to get a final image where the masked image extends above the background and smoothly fades out at the top

Which looks really neat, like they’re “popping out” of the frame. We can move Feniks around so you can see how the fadeout works around the edges:

A gif showing the masked image moving around the boundaries of the background and foreground while still being masked in the same shape

And here are the final mask, foreground, and background images:

An important thing to note is that even though the foreground and background are shorter than the mask, they should still be saved at the same dimensions as the mask. You need to be able to line all three images up (the mask, the background, and the foreground) without moving them to get the properly positioned final image. This is why the child image is cropped as well, so in the end, all four images are the exact same dimensions.

Cropping and Zooming Masks

In some situations, your child image may be much larger than you need it to be to fit the mask properly, and you’d like to shrink it down before masking it. Consider the following child image, which is 585×277 pixels:

A rectangle with rounded corner that contains the text "This is an example with a lot of TEXT so you can see the mask location with zoom"

Let’s say we want the final masked image to show the all-caps “TEXT”, but we also want this image to be about 60% of its full size, so the final image is 353×168. Our mask image looks like this and is 94×38:

A white rounded rectangle

You can see that this mask is a bit too small as-is to cover the “TEXT” in the child image, so we need to shrink the child image down by using the zoom property.

A rectangle with rounded corner that contains the text "This is an example with a lot of TEXT so you can see the mask location with zoom". The word "TEXT" is partially covered by a white rectangle.

Typically, you can shrink an image with Transform("text_box.png", zoom=0.6) and this will make the text_box.png image 60% of its original size. This results in the following, smaller image, which now allows the mask to perfectly fit over the “TEXT” text.

A rectangle with rounded corner that contains the text "This is an example with a lot of TEXT so you can see the mask location with zoom". The word "TEXT" is fully covered by a white rectangle.

Like usual, we will need to crop the child image to fit the final masked image. In this case, the mask is 94×38 as mentioned, and the desired position is at (204, 50):

An image of a rectangle with a smaller white rectangle inside. The distance from the left edge to the white rectangle is labelled as 204 pixels and the distance from the top is 50 pixels.

So then the next logical step is to add the crop and the zoom to the AlphaMask…

image text_box_mask = AlphaMask(
    Transform("text_box.png", zoom=0.6, crop=(204, 50, 94, 38)),

This, however, has a rather odd result:

A rectangle with the letters "s an" partially visible inside

That certainly isn’t masking out the “TEXT” in the image. What happened here?

Well, if you scroll to the bottom of the List of Transform Properties in the Ren’Py documentation, you will see a list of what order the various transform properties are applied in. Notably, for our purposes, crop is applied BEFORE zoom is. So that means what just happened, in order, looks like this:

A gif demonstrating that the crop is applied before the zoom property when both are in a Transform

Clearly, this isn’t the result we wanted. So how do you fix this?

One way is to apply the zoom to the image elsewhere, and then crop it. For example:

image text_box_smaller = Transform("text_box.png", zoom=0.6)
image text_box_mask = AlphaMask(
    Transform("text_box_smaller", crop=(204, 50, 94, 38)),

This handily solves the issue for regular alpha masks, and you can do something similar for LayeredImageMask:

image text_box_smaller = LayeredImageProxy("text_box", Transform(zoom=0.6))
image text_box_mask = LayeredImageMask("text_box_smaller", 
    Transform(crop=(204, 50, 94, 38),

But, if you’d like to avoid declaring “intermediary” images, you can also do some math to get the right final numbers:

image text_box_mask = AlphaMask(
    Transform("text_box.png", zoom=0.6,
        crop=(int(204/0.6), int(50/0.6), int(94/0.6), int(38/0.6))),
## OR
image text_box_mask = LayeredImageMask("text_box",
    Transform(zoom=0.6, crop=(int(204/0.6), int(50/0.6), int(94/0.6), int(38/0.6))),

And tada, the final image!

A rectangle with the word TEXT inside

How does this work, exactly? You might have noticed all the crop numbers are divided by the zoom factor, that is, 0.6. int(number) is used to ensure the final result is an integer – Ren’Py treats integers as pixel values, and floats as a percent of the image size, so we have to be sure to convert back into an integer after dividing by 0.6.

Since the initial (204, 50, 94, 38) numbers were picked out of the child image when it was 60% of its original size, we then need to divide them by 0.6 to get those numbers relative to the child image when it’s 100% of its original size (since 94 = original_x*0.6, then 94/0.6 = original_x). Since the crop happens first, this ensures that the cropped image has the focal point we want. This means the cropped image will be approximately 157×63 pixels instead of the size of the mask, which is 94×38.

Then, due to the order transform properties are applied, the zoom is applied after the crop. This brings the cropped dimensions down to 94×38, which is the size of the mask. The mask can then be applied to get the final image like usual.

Other Transform Properties

Besides zoom and crop, covered in this tutorial, you can apply a number of other transform properties inside the Transform provided either to LayeredImageMask or wrapping the child image of a regular AlphaMask. Notably, sizing properties (such as xysize) will behave similar to zoom in that it is applied before a crop. In particular, the most useful property will probably be matrixcolor, which allows you to alter the colours of the final image. There are no particular “gotchas” to this – simply add the desired property e.g.

image feniks masked sunset = LayeredImageMask("feniks", 
    Transform(crop=(200, 20, 150, 150), matrixcolor=TintMatrix("#ddc5b7")),
## OR
image feniks masked sunset = AlphaMask(
    Transform("feniks.png", crop=(200, 20, 150, 150), matrixcolor=TintMatrix("#ddc5b7")),


  • To mask an image, you need a mask image (which is the shape of the final image) and a child image (which is the “design”/visible part of the final image, in the shape of the mask)
  • AlphaMask can be used for regular images. If you want to mask layered images, you must use LayeredImageMask, a tool found on my
  • Besides a mask and child image, LayeredImageMask also takes an optional transform (which you can use for cropping, zooming, and other transform properties) and optional background and foreground properties. These can be used to provide UI elements behind and in front of the final image respectively
  • The final masked image is the same size as the child image. In order to make it the size of the mask so it doesn’t have invisible space around it, you must use crop to crop the child image to be the same size as the mask
  • If you need to also zoom the child image out or in, the crop is applied before the zoom is, so you may need to divide your crop numbers by the zoom value to get the correct final mask area


I hope this helped you understand what images you’ll need to properly mask your layered images into the shapes and sizes you want. If you’re looking for more of a challenge, consider making your image mask animated using ATL.

Keep an eye out on this website for more tutorials, and on my for more tool releases!

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