A clipping mask (also called a clipping group) creates an effect in which the bottommost layer acts as a mask for all other layers in the group. You can use a path to turn an area defined within an object into a separate individual object—like an individual layer. A path is defined as one or more straight or curved line segments connected by anchor points, small squares similar to fastening points. Paths can be either open or closed. An open path, such as a line, has two distinct end-points, anchor points at each end of the open path. A closed path, such as a circle, is one continuous path without end-points. A path component consists of one or more anchor points joined by line segments. You can use another type of path called a clipping path, to extract a Photoshop object from within a layer, place it in another program (such as QuarkXPress or Adobe Illustrator), and retain its transparent background.
A shape and path are basically the same: the shape tools allow you to use an existing path instead of having to create one by hand. A path has a hard edge and is vector-based.
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