New Zealand Transparency Tip

I was just in Auckland, New Zealand, for the InDesign Conference put on there by Mogo Media. David Blatner, Sandee Cohen, Mike McHugh, Michael Stoddart and myself had the privilege of participating in the three days worth of sessions on using InDesign and Creative Suite. Big kudos to Mogo and Martinho da Gloria for putting the event together. It was moko-riffic, and I learned what “jafa” means while I was there. Thank you Fraser.

Adobe Australia’s Mike McHugh leads a break-out session on setting type in InDesign.

I had several requests to do a blog post on a transparency tip that I showed at the conference.

See-Thru Type

Creating something like this:

is easy. Set your type to the same color as the background, and apply a drop shadow.

Something like this, however, is a little more complex:

Here the text sits on a background image, and the text has not been converted to outlines with a cloned version of the image placed inside. This is live, editable text.

Here’s an even more complicated example:

In this case, there’s another image behind the crumpled paper background image, and it somehow shows thru both the paper image and the live type. How is this done?

Here are the steps for this specific scenario:

  1. Set your type, give it whatever fill color you want (it doesn’t matter), and apply a drop shadow.
  2. Clone the type. Remove the drop shadow from the clone.
  3. Group the two text frames together.
  4. Direct select the top text frame…the clone with no drop shadow. In the Effects panel, select Text from the list of object properties, and then set the opacity of the text to “0”. This will make the text in the cloned frame completely transparent.
  5. Switch your selection from the top text frame in the group back to the entire group. If you don’t do this, the tip won’t work. Switching from a group element to the group is easy using the Select Container button on the Control panel.
    These buttons make it easy to navigate within grouped and nested objects in InDesign.

  6. With the group selected, click on the Knock Out Group checkbox on the Effects panel.This will cause the clone text to knock out whatever is underneath it, even if it’s transparent. 

    Note that the drop shadow for the text in the bottom frame remains, and now the crumpled paper background shows through the text.

  7. OK, nice, but how do we get the image behind the crumpled paper to show thru? By just repeating our last step with a new group. Select the text frame group and the crumpled paper image and group them together.
  8. With that new, nested group selected, click on the Knock Out Group checkbox in the Effects panel again. This will cause the cloned text to knock out both the text and the image below it in the new nested group, so that the other image behind the crumpled paper now shows thru the text.

There are lots of ways to use the ideas in this tip. The point of this post is to help you understand what the Knock Out Group feature can do for you when you’re wanting to create interesting visual effects in your layout.

12 Responses to New Zealand Transparency Tip

  1. Themis Chapsis says:

    Brilliant! Thanks for sharing it.

  2. Adrian Payne says:

    Hi Tim, thanks for posting this – I’ll be putting it to good use.

    Hope you enjoyed your stay here in Auckland.


    [TC: Thanks, Adrian, Auckland is one of my favorite places to visit. Thanks to Barry, David and Martinho for putting on another great event. Good to see Cari, Michael, and Melbourne Mike as well. I don’t get to see those folks enough.]

  3. Philip Ulanowsky says:

    The only thing I don’t get is how the typeface changed from the white in the first illustration to the next. Other than that, it’s not only a terrific tutorial, but an excellent reminder of what can happen when one thinks, “Gee, I wonder what would happen if I repeated that on another…” Thanks!

    [TC: Hi Philip. You didn’t miss anything. They were two separate sample scenarios. Although you can easily recreate that second illustration using the steps described in the tutorial.]

  4. And if you really want to have it fully editable and self-updating you could use the „Running header” text variable, just the same way it could be used for multiple strokes for text. Unfortunately, only one line of text at once…

  5. GeorgS says:

    And how I get this to work this in PDF. I tried this several times but never found a way to generate a working PDF (without flattening transparency)

    [TC: Hi George, can you elaborate a bit? This “works” in all the unflattened PDF’s I export.]

  6. Gerd says:

    Super tip. Tried to print it out to share with colleagues and friends. Doesn’t seem to work. can’t print to PDF either. Most of text and images are missing.
    Any solution?
    Best regards


    [TC: Hi Gerd, I’ve exported several PDFs and they all behave as expected. Can you give me more detail on what you’re doing?

    If you’d like me to look at your problematic file, use or some other file transfer site to send me the file.]

  7. Tim Fetter says:

    Thank you for the tip. When I created my effect the top box didn’t completely KO the type underneath it. There was a very faint outline remaining on the effect. To resolve that I gave the text on top a slight stroke. Very cool!

    [TC: yes, good comment. In some cases a small stroke needs to be applied to the top object. This is normally the case if you’re using it with frames/paths instead of text.]

  8. Cool!
    But how I can editable text in group on the same time

    [TC: The easiest way is to select the group with the selection tool, and then use the selection buttons on the control strip to navigate to the bottom text frame. Once that is selected, use cmd/ctrl + Y to open the story in the story editor where you can edit it quite easily without having to dismantle your group.]

  9. wa veghel says:

    What is the main difference for the first example with only one textbox, color Paper, dropshadow and object (or text) set to Multiply?
    (Haven’t tried it to be honest…)

  10. Dan Rodney says:

    Thanks for the tip Tim.
    Since having two text frames to edit it no fun, I felt the need to figure out how to do it with just one. To create this effect with just one text block:
    1. Stack the two images on top of each other (in this case the red the text filling photo in back and the surrounding crinkle paper in front)
    2. On top of that make some WHITE text. Be sure to use white text!
    3. Give the text frame a drop shadow. Make sure that the drop shadow is put on the Object (in the Effects panel)
    4. In the Effects panel set the Object to Multiply blending mode.
    5. Group the text with the top Image (in this case the crinkle paper).
    6. With the group selected in the Effects panel check on Knockout Group. This will make the text “knock through” the top image so you should be able to see the back image. 

    This is less steps and a bit simpler to edit later. Tim’s technique is better though if you wanted to put on a white stroke, etc. around the text (which would disappear in this technique. The other problem it seems with both of these techniques is that the drop shadow is not solid black, but instead shows through to the back-most photo as well. Not a problem for some photos, but can be some others.

    [TC: Yes, this is a simpler way to create the effect, if you’re willing to sacrifice some control over the shadow.]

  11. C Simon says:

    Just Another “Friendly” Aucklander?

    [TC: Yes. Something very much like that, but with different letters.]

  12. loic says:

    Wow, awesome !