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Eliminating the White Box Effect

One of the most common complaints of designers or print service providers when previewing and printing transparency from InDesign is that a transparency effect like a drop shadow doesn’t display or print correctly. Instead, a white box appears behind the transparency effect.

When you probe into how the transparency effect was created, there is usually one common element: The designer is applying the transparency effect so it interacts with spot colors. The illustration below shows text with a drop shadow placed over a blue frame. The background frame above is colored as a Pantone color; the one below was colored CMYK.

InDesign Transparency
Whenever transparency is used in InDesign, it must be flattened for printing. Printers (and the PostScript language used for printing) don’t understand transparency. So if you were to take the example shown above and export it to PDF using one of the two PDF/X PDF presets, Acrobat 4 compatibility is automatically selected, and the PDF is flattened.
Many print service providers prefer receiving files with transparency preflattened, and that’s what these presets do.
If you then open the PDF in Acrobat and Reader, this is what you will initially see?what I call the “white box effect.”
So what are you going to do? One option is to not use spot colors when there are transparency interactions. We can see that that worked above. But you can use spot colors if you turn on overprinting. In Acrobat 6 or 7 Professional, choose Advanced > Overprint Preview. In Adobe Reader 7, you can also turn on overprinting in Page Display Preferences. Then you’ll see the transparency effect the way that was intended (see below):
This means that in order to print properly, overprinting must be turned on. This is the only way that the transparency flattener in InDesign (and the other Adobe Creative Suite applications) can properly render transparency mixed with spot colors. If you’re printing a proof on a printer which doesn’t understand overprinting, you can turn on the Simulate Overprint option. In InDesign, this is found on the Output panel when you select one of the composite printing options (below):
Simulate Overprinting
If you’re sending your file to a print service provider, be sure to tell them to turn on overprinting on their RIP when printing your job. Many service providers by default have this option turned off, but to print with spot colors and transparency, it must be turned on. This is the only way you’ll eliminate the white boxes!
Steve Werner

Steve Werner

Steve Werner is a trainer, consultant, and co-author (with David Blatner and Christopher Smith) of InDesign for QuarkXPress Users and Moving to InDesign. He has worked in the graphic arts industry for more than 20 years and was the training manager for ten years at Rapid Lasergraphics. He has taught computer graphics classes since 1988.
Steve Werner

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78 Comments on “Eliminating the White Box Effect

  1. Hey Steve,

    Thank you so much for this post. I was getting the white box instead of the transparent background, I checked every setting in the picture box and in Adobe Acrobat, it was driving me nuts! Never occurred to me that it was related to spot colors.

    Many thanks!

  2. Pingback: » Blog Archive » Printing Tips

  3. Hey there, I have this problem with the white box in InDesign. I don’t even have to print yet, I already see the white boxes on my screen. I really dont want this. I think it has something to do with the way I use pictures in photoshop… I have to ‘free’ the pictures or something, in order to copy-paste them to ID? (Please help a desperate person in Holland :-)

  4. It works!! After eons of trouble shooting – FINALLY – a post that helps! Whenever I tried to print a PDF file of my InDesign files (that used spot colors and drop shadows) I received the dreaded boxed objects. It was a pain on my tuckess! The Acrobat Professional 7.0 PDFs looked fine on screen, but printed boxes whenever drop shadows were involved. This time I saved them as PDF/X 1a files and clicked the simulate overprint feature AND converted all spot inks to CMYK process. When I brought those PDFs to Stinkos (uh, I mean, Kinkos) … voila! No more yucky boxes. THANKS A MLLION!!!!

  5. Seriously, I am SUPER thankful for this post. THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU!

    I’ll make the end printer print my native files – but at least I can print out a professional proof for my client – and email them pdf proofs that will print accurately on their colour copier. Yah!

  6. so i am printing in a new paper a b/w ad. I am using a psd file for transparency in InDesign ( no color is used in the psd or indesign files besides percentages of black ).
    When i print a sample of this ad it looks perfect on a b/w printer, when i printed on a color printer I get a redish box over the psd images. I am afraid when this ad is in the newspaper ( which is a b/w ad ) that this color will be overlayed on top still . But I am also thinking that the only reason this looked like this on a color printer was because it is an RGB printer which does not contain black . Any insight so I do not have to worry ?

  7. When exporting a CS4 InDesign file to a PDF my graphics disappear and there is a thin white outline around the imported PSD files. Does anyone have any suggestions on what to do?

  8. Hi – when the article says the problem is almost always related to spot colours and transparencies, what about the other times? I have no spot colours – all my images are CMYK and no spot colours are used anywhere in the file. I’m exporting from InDesign CS5 to pdf and I get the lighter boxes around my images when printing (both me on my office printer and the guy at the printshop). What else could be the problem?
    I’m using Acrobat 4 Compatibility (the printer says I ‘haven’t flattened properly’, so I assume he has an old RIP) and the high resolution flattener preset. The images are a mixture of psds and pngs (both types have the boxes).
    many thanks

  9. great post, thanks a lot
    I was exporting jpgs, eps, png, n all, but wanted a solution for white patches with pdf.
    Thanks again

  10. In Photoshop, regardless whether I’m using CMYK, RGB, or Grayscale mode, I get the white box effect from just using black as the only color. In earlier versions of InDesign, I could place the file as an eps or Photoshop file and retain the transparency. But not in CS6.

    I’m printing books with many B&W illustrations. Right now, it looks like I will have to eliminate all previous work that involved black lines overprinting backgrounds with gradations of any sort. These include hundreds of advertisements from past years.

  11. To clarify what I said in the previous post, I’m using Photoshop to create artwork for placement into InDesign. The artwork typically consists of photo images intermixed with line art, for advertisements. These are used on InDesign layouts, for books printed in B&W, and that’s where the problem arises.

    I have to show proofs to the sponsors; so I need results consistent between my desktop printers and the commercial printer’s offset presses.

    I submit the books to the printer as PDF files. I was able to do achieve proper results without difficulty in CS3. But CS6 is causing a variety of issues, and this one is especially troublesome because of the volume of ads involved.

    Thanks, if you can help.

  12. I don’t recall any significant changes like this between CS3 and CS6. You’re saying that in CS3, you could place an image that had both solid black line art areas AND grayscale areas and you’d get different effects in different parts of the image (some parts transparent and some not)? That doesn’t make sense to me. You could set the Effect to Multiply, I suppose, but that’s not really the same thing.

  13. thanks for the nice tips.. I knew that I need to turn on overprint preview to see it correctly in illustrator or in acrobat how ever nitro pdf doesn’t support any over printings there is no such option to check…all my concern is :-we can see the drop shadow blending result as we want to see when the overprinting preview is turned on.. understood !!! but will it print correctly in the postscript printer from the pdf which was saved while the overprint preview was on ??????? please advice thanks in advance

  14. actually I end up on this page looking for the answer about the white line around the images when flattened.. which is very annoying and useless of course… I read somewhere I wouldn’t print though, but the problem is it did in my laser printer even with the overprints on I still see them!!!! I am using few victor shapes with the drop shadows and different color on the background…all cmyk colors please help

  15. I still can’t get the extra boxes to disappear when I PDF my indesign file to upload on our website. (40 page document) It looks fine on the PDF screen, but the when I click on it on the web page, there are extra shawdows and boxes around things. Help! My Simulate overprint box won’t even light up to check and try.

  16. Hi Steve, Great post. Do you know how you can get around this issue when bringing artwork into Photoshop? I’ve tried everything I can think of, but every method seems to ignore overprint settings when moving into Photoshop.

  17. When I follow the instructions above, the only way to get “simulate overprint” is to choose the color to be “composite cmyk” which doesn’t include the spots in the final output. Everything is converted to cmyk.

    I am experiencing difficulties with printing a new brochure template with 4 color process + 4 spots. We print our literature on a Xerox iGen 4. The Xerox folks want the spots to remain (per Adobe’s suggestion) in the files I send so that we can tweak the spots to match spot inks as closely as possible. There is all kinds of transparency used in the design and I’m ending up with the horrid “white shapes” (where an item with transparency overlaps a spot color.)

    I’m on InDesign CC 2014.2. I would warmly welcome any ideas, thoughts or suggestions!

  18. Thanks for the help with the white box. After 2 hours on a chat with Adobe their representative, he told me I would have to contact my Konica supplier for the answer; it was now fixable by InDesign. Your solution worked and it was fixable through InDesign. So much for Adobe support knowledge! Thanks so much.

  19. Thank You, it really helped me! But…. :)
    When I crop the page in Adobe Acrobat I get the boxes back.
    It is not a problem, after cropping I do not need it for print.


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