Let’s Create an Image Pop-Out Effect With SVG Clip Path

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Few weeks ago, I stumbled upon this cool pop-out effect by Mikael Ainalem. It showcases the clip-path: path() in CSS, which just got proper support in most modern browsers. I wanted to dig into it myself to get a better feel for how it works. But in the process, I found some issues with clip-path: path(); and wound up finding an alternative approach that I wanted to walk through with you in this article.

If you haven’t used clip-path or you are unfamiliar with it, it basically allows us to specify a display region for an element based on a clipping path and hide portions of the element that fall outside the clip path.

A rectangle with a pastel pattern, plus an unfilled star shape with a black border, equals a star shape with the pastel background pattern.
You can kind of think of it as though the star is a cookie cutter, the element is the cookie dough, and the result is a star-shaped cookie.

Possible values for clip-path include circle , ellipse and polygon which limit the use-case to just those specific shapes. This is where the new path value comes in — it allows us to use a more flexible SVG path to create various clipping paths that go beyond basic shapes.

Let’s take what we know about clip-path and start working on the hover effect. The basic idea of the is to make the foreground image of a person appear to pop-out from the colorful background and scale up in size when the element is hovered. An important detail is how the foreground image animation (scale up and move up) appears to be independent from the background image animation (scale up only).

This effect looks cool, but there are some issues with the path value. For starters, while we mentioned that support is generally good, it’s not great and hovers around 82% coverage at the time of writing. So, keep in mind that mobile support is currently limited to Chrome and Safari.

Besides support, the bigger and more bizarre issue with path is that it currently only works with pixel values, meaning that it is not responsive. For example, let’s say we zoom into the page. Right off the bat, the path shape starts to cut things off.

This severely limits the number of use cases for clip-path: path(), as it can only be used on fixed-sized elements. Responsive web design has been a widely-accepted standard for many years now, so it’s weird to see a new CSS property that doesn’t follow the principle and exclusively uses pixel units.

What we’re going to do is re-create this effect using standard, widely-supported CSS techniques so that it not only works, but is truly responsive as well.

The tricky part

We want anything that overflows the clip-path to be visible only on the top part of the image. We cannot use a standard CSS overflow property since it affects both the top and bottom.

Photo of a young woman against a pastel floral pattern cropped to the shape of a circle.
Using overflow-y: hidden, the bottom part looks good, but the image is cut-off at the top where the overflow should be visible.

So, what are our options besides overflow and clip-path? Well, let’s just use <clipPath> in the SVG itself. <clipPath> is an SVG property, which is different than the newly-released and non-responsive clip-path: path.

SVG <clipPath> element

SVG <clipPath> and <path> elements adapt to the coordinate system of the SVG element, so they are responsive out of the box. As the SVG element is being scaled, its coordinate system is also being scaled, and it maintains its proportions based on the various properties that cover a wide range of possible use cases. As an added benefit, using clip-path in CSS on SVG has 95% browser support, which is a 13% increase compared to clip-path: path.

Let’s start by setting up our SVG element. I’ve used Inkscape to create the basic SVG markup and clipping paths, just to make it easy for myself. Once I did that, I updated the markup by adding my own class attributes.

<svg xmlns="http://www.w3.org/2000/svg" viewBox="0 -10 100 120" class="image">
  <defs>
    <clipPath id="maskImage" clipPathUnits="userSpaceOnUse">
      <path d="..." />
    </clipPath>
    <clipPath id="maskBackground" clipPathUnits="userSpaceOnUse">
      <path d="..." />
    </clipPath>
  </defs>
  <g clip-path="url(#maskImage)" transform="translate(0 -7)">
    <!-- Background image -->
    <image clip-path="url(#maskBackground)" width="120" height="120" x="70" y="38" href="..." transform="translate(-90 -31)" />
    <!-- Foreground image -->
    <image width="120" height="144" x="-15" y="0" fill="none" class="image__foreground" href="..." />
  </g>
</svg>
A bright green circle with a bright red shape coming out from the top of it, as if another shape is behind the green circle.
SVG <clipPath> elements created in Inkscape. The green element represents a clipping path that will be applied to the background image. The red is a clipping path that will be applied to both the background and foreground image.

This markup can be easily reused for other background and foreground images. We just need to replace the URL in the href attribute inside image elements.

Now we can work on the hover animation in CSS. We can get by with transforms and transitions, making sure the foreground is nicely centered, then scaling and moving things when the hover takes place.

.image {
  transform: scale(0.9, 0.9);
  transition: transform 0.2s ease-in;
}

.image__foreground {
  transform-origin: 50% 50%;
  transform: translateY(4px) scale(1, 1);
  transition: transform 0.2s ease-in;
}

.image:hover {
  transform: scale(1, 1);
}

.image:hover .image__foreground {
  transform: translateY(-7px) scale(1.05, 1.05);
}

Here is the result of the above HTML and CSS code. Try resizing the screen and changing the dimensions of the SVG element to see how the effect scales with the screen size.

This looks great! However, we’re not done. We still need to address some issues that we get now that we’ve changed the markup from an HTML image element to an SVG element.

SEO and accessibility

Inline SVG elements won’t get indexed by search crawlers. If the SVG elements are an important part of the content, your page SEO might take a hit because those images probably won’t get picked up.

We’ll need additional markup that uses a regular <img> element that’s hidden with CSS. Images declared this way are automatically picked up by crawlers and we can provide links to those images in an image sitemap to make sure that the crawlers manage to find them. We’re using loading="lazy" which allows the browser to decide if loading the image should be deferred.

We’ll wrap both elements in a <figure> element so that we markup reflects the relationship between those two images and groups them together:

<figure>
  <!-- SVG element -->
  <svg xmlns="http://www.w3.org/2000/svg" viewBox="0 -10 100 120" class="image">
     <!-- ... -->
  </svg>
  <!-- Fallback image -->
  <img src="..." alt="..." loading="lazy" class="fallback-image" />
</figure>

We also need to address some accessibility concerns for this effect. More specifically, we need to make improvements for users who prefer browsing the web without animations and users who browse the web using screen readers.

Making SVG elements accessible takes a lot of additional markup. Additionally, if we want to remove transitions, we would have to override quite a few CSS properties which can cause issues if our selector specificities aren’t consistent. Luckily, our newly added regular image has great accessibility features baked right in and can easily serve as a replacement for users who browse the web without animations.

<figure>
  <!-- Animated SVG element -->
  <svg xmlns="http://www.w3.org/2000/svg" viewBox="0 -10 100 120" class="image" aria-hidden="true">
    <!-- ... -->
  </svg>

  <!-- Fallback SEO & a11y image -->
  <img src="..." alt="..." loading="lazy" class="fallback-image" />
</figure>

We need to hide the SVG element from assistive devices, by adding aria-hidden="true", and we need to update our CSS to include the prefers-reduced-motion media query. We are inclusively hiding the fallback image for users without the reduced motion preference meanwhile keeping it available for assistive devices like screen readers.

@media (prefers-reduced-motion: no-preference) {
.fallback-image {
  clip: rect(0 0 0 0); 
  clip-path: inset(50%);
  height: 1px;
  overflow: hidden;
  position: absolute;
  white-space: nowrap; 
  width: 1px;
  } 
}

@media (prefers-reduced-motion) {
  .image {
    display: none;
  }
}

Here is the result after the improvements:

Please note that these improvements won’t change how the effect looks and behaves for users who don’t have the prefers-reduced-motion preference set or who aren’t using screen readers.

That’s a wrap

Developers were excited about path option for clip-path CSS attribute and new styling possibilities, but many were displeased to find out that these values only support pixel values. Not only does that mean the feature is not responsive, but it severely limits the number of use cases where we’d want to use it.

We converted an interesting image pop-out hover effect that uses clip-path: path into an SVG element that utilizes the responsiveness of the <clipPath> SVG element to achieve the same thing. But in doing so, we introduced some SEO and accessibility issues, that we managed to work around with a bit of extra markup and a fallback image.

Thank you for taking the time to read this article! Let me know if this approach gave you an idea on how to implement your own effects and if you have any suggestions on how to approach this effect in a different way.