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Creating See-Through Text

Our colleague and contributor Pariah Burke came up with this fun trick (works in CS2 and CS3) for making transparent text in the article he and Anne-Marie wrote in the last issue of InDesign Magazine.

First, make a sandwich: Background image in back, then a frame with a fill of some color (such as Paper), then a text frame on top.


Select the text frame with the Selection tool and, in the Effects panel, set the Text Opacity (not the Object opacity!) to zero percent. The text will disappear. Don’t panic.


Group the text frame and the opaque colored frame together (Object > Group).

Turn on the Knockout Group checkbox in the Effects panel and you’re done!


Of course, you can easily go back and change the size of the opaque frame, or change its blending mode, or whatever. For example, here I’ve used the Direct Selection tool to make the frame larger (so that it covers the background image), then set its Opacity to 80% and its blending mode to Screen.


Note that you don’t have to use a separate colored frame. You can do this same effect with two frames: The background image and the text frame. Just set the background color of the text frame to Paper (or whatever color you want), change the opacity of the text, and then turn on Knockout Group. It still works, even though the “group” is just one object. But I don’t find this as useful because it’s hard to position the text inside the frame properly.

Of course, Branislav Milic also came up with another great way to do this using the Registration color and the Lighten mode in CS2, which he also wrote up for InDesign Magazine a year or so ago. But hey, we’re in CS3 now and this is sweet, easy, and flexible.

David Blatner

David Blatner

David Blatner is the co-founder of the Creative Publishing Network, InDesign Magazine, and the author or co-author of 15 books, including Real World InDesign. His InDesign videos at are among the most watched InDesign training in the world. You can find more about David at
David Blatner

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41 Comments on “Creating See-Through Text

  1. Well, CS3 might be the new dog on the block but CS2 is still the King of the Hill, and probably will be for the rest of the year for most large publishers.

  2. Jeff, you are right! As it says in the illustration above: Wow! I am embarassed to admit that I never even tried this in CS2! Thank you for trying it. I’ve edited the post above to make it clear that it works for CS2, too.

    Jerome: You are, of course, correct. Most folks won’t have CS3 until later this year or even 2008. We will continue to provide both CS2 and CS3 tips here. (See? I was providing a CS2/3 tip here without even knowing it. ;) Now someone needs to try it in CS1!)

  3. Hello! As a production person trying to learn more about InDesign designing, I am having a devil of a time finding the Effects panel. Is this a plug-in perhaps? Any help would be appreciated.Thank you!

  4. Paula: In CS2 it’s called the Transparency palette. In CS3 it was given some new features and renamed the Effects panel.

  5. nice trick!!, illustrator users are very well familliar with this kind of transparency voodoo and its very nice to see how Indesign is gaining lots of what Illustrator and photoshop have especially in cs3, keep on the good wrok, Thank you.

  6. David, thanks for this, and for your wonderful series on InDesign CS3, on I didn’t imagine I could learn so much in so little time, and so easily. You are a great teacher. When will you complete the more advanced course?

  7. If I understand you correctly that would work but you’d need to convert the text to outlines.

    The method David outlined above would keep the text live and therefore editable.

  8. Bob, works in CS1 as described and with editable text without conversion to outlines.

    Very nice hint, thank you.

  9. Referring to what Roos said:
    With this method you can add a drop shadow/outline/etc. Despite it being non-editable text, it seems you can do a lot more with it afterward.
    Thanks Roos!
    (oh, and thanks also to the InDesignSecrets gang!)

  10. These instructions work great – and I get the desired effect, but when I export to PDF, the letters aren’t there – just the filled-in text box that’s behind the letters. Any advice? As I said, it looks perfect until I export to PDF.

  11. I have the same problem as Meghan and Bryan. The letters are visible in InDesign but they don’t appear in the PDF. In this screenshot you can see the problem. I’ve moved the edge of the frame filled with Paper (the middle layer in the sandwich) across the text so you can see where the frames start and end. This shows that the bottom layer is showing correctly, and the middle layer is also showing correctly; it’s the text that has the problem. Any ideas?


    • @anna: do you mean, using this technique? Or just normal text? You will probably find more people able to help if you post your question on the forums (click Forums above)

  12. Been using this technique a lot since I found out about it. Its so much better to keep the editable text aspect rather than doing it in illustrator as paths. All of the sudden though it just stopped working and I cant figure out why. I group the objects then the knockout option is unavailable in the effects pallet. Anyone else run into this? Thinking it might be something preset in to my rectangle tool or text tool but I can’t seem to find anything thats changed.

  13. I believe it’s a Preview programme. Not sure if I have many other PDF viewers, and I want to know for definite that my client will see it on whatever they use – that’s the most important bit.

    • Adam: The problem is that many PDF clones (like Preview) do not really represent PDF nearly as well as Adobe Reader/Acrobat. I just tested this and it works in Preview if you export the PDF using the PDF/X-1a preset (which flattens, or “fakes,” the transparency).

  14. I love this technique for creating see through text frames.
    When I’m done creating the text frame and I want to add a stylize effect however, it only applies to the frame…
    Is there a way to retain the editable text (so no outlining and pathfinder) and add a drop shadow to the entire knockout group? (including the inside of the text?)

  15. Having a similar problem as others when exporting to PDF – the text appears to be missing. Seems to work if I export using PDF/X-3:2002, however, then the PDF text has fine white lines around the text. Only happens when downloading/viewing the PDF via a browser (tried in Chrome, Firefox and IE). Any ideas?

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