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How to Change the Color of the Background Paper

J.C. (no, not that one… no, not that one either!) wrote:

How can I change the background color on a page?

We discussed this topic in some depth in Podcast 133, but some folks don’t listen to the podcasts (or read their transcripts), so I thought I’d answer this here, too.

There are three ways to change the color of the background of the page, depending on what you’re trying to do.

Quick Proofing for Colored Paper

If you are planning on printing on colored paper (like goldenrod, buff, light green, and so on), you can do a quick-and-easy proof by changing the [Paper] color in the Swatches panel. That’s right, change Paper to not be white! You can do this by right-clicking on the swatch, choose Swatch Options (which Adobe should have called Edit Swatch), and change the color definition using the CMYK sliders.

The actual color you pick here for the Paper definition doesn’t really matter because InDesign won’t print it, even on a color printer. It is just for screen display! But as soon as you edit the color, your document pages will reflect the change, and any object colored “Paper” will, too — but, again, only on screen.

Note that some objects, such as images, won’t look right (they won’t look like they’re printed on the paper color). To fix that, turn on View > Show Overprint, which gives you a more accurate representation of the final output.

Better Proofing

The key to the last sentence is “more accurate.” That doesn’t mean that it is actually accurate. If you want to make it much more accurate, then you need to use InDesign’s color management features. Don’t bother changing the color of Paper. Instead, choose View > Proof Colors > Custom, and load in a custom ICC profile for your output paper. (Of course, this requires that you have such a file.)

Then, turn on the Simulate Paper Color checkbox in the Customize Proof Condition dialog box. Now, when View > Proof Colors is enabled, the paper color will shift — but it should be even a better quality (more accurate) than editing the Paper swatch.

Add Your Own Color

Of course, the previous two options have to do with changing the screen preview, when you know you’re already printing on colored paper. But what if you’re printing on white paper and you want the background to be colored. In that case, you need your printer to print the color, and you need to create that in InDesign.

To fill the background with a color, create a large frame that extends past the boundaries of the page, on to the pasteboard. This is called bleeding off the edge. It helps if you have created bleed guides first. (If your document doesn’t have bleed guides, you can add them by choosing File > Document Setup, clicking More Options, and setting the Bleed amounts to something like 4mm or .125 in.). You don’t have to use the guides; they’re just there to give you a sense of how far off to bleed the object.

Of course, if you want every page of your document to have this background color, put this frame on the master page. ?(Even better, put it on a “background” layer in the Layers panel, so it always sits below all your other objects.) Then, after you make the frame, fill it with a color.

Now, when you print or make a PDF file, be sure to turn on the Use Document Bleed and Slug  checkbox in the Print or Export PDF dialog box. (Or, if you want bleed, but you didn’t use the bleed guides, then leave that checkbox off and just type 4mm or .125in in the Bleed fields manually.) If your printer wants crop marks (sometimes called trim marks; he or she probably will), then turn on the Crop Marks checkbox, too.

I hope that helps!

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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23 Comments on “How to Change the Color of the Background Paper

  1. @Nataraj
    I guess you might not have got permission to post this topic in your blog, otherwise you should have mentioned it there.

    I don’t know whether these kinds of people know about any copyright law?

  2. David, for me the second way ( Proof color ) is easy and fast , and i can go forth and back between proof color and paper color very fast.

  3. In the ‘Better Proofing’ section, shouldn’t it read ‘View > Proof Setup > Custom’, not ‘View > Proof Colours > Custom’? Good tips though!

  4. @Rip: I don’t have a sample in front of me, but my guess is that the gray is specified in the HTML file. No way to change that in ID, but it would be easy to edit in a text editor.

  5. What if I want to send a proof to someone with the paper color simulated? The graphics look different with a color box background vs changing the paper swatch.

  6. I have made a lack backround on my master page however the background color doe snot appear when i export as a PDF. I am using the PDf to upload online. I tried with black (what I want) and tested with other colors. No matter what it does not appear. I am exporting for Issuu.

  7. Hi! I’m new to Indesign. I want to know if I can change the color of the background behind the document — the part that does not print and is not part of your document. It’s currently white by default but I really HATE having white all around my white document. I would like it to be gray, like how Microsoft Word has the gray background behind the document when you’re in Print Layout view. Does that make sense? If so, is it possible to change? And how?

  8. Thanks for this technique.
    Do you have any advice on how much background color is advisable?
    Although I have built many books before, I am now creating my first book to be printed in color. Since I am paying for color, I am considering adding a muted hue as a background to every page. (different colors from the palette in parts 1, 2, 3, 4). But, my creative partner says I will be making it difficult to read and that color blind people will be unable to read it. Are there any rules of thumb for how much color is OK as background and how much is too much?

    • Hi Bill. If it’s light enough, it could work. The best thing is to get a printed swatch book that shows CMYK values and find a color that will work. For a subtle (but obvious) color, you may not need to use more than 5% of a color, for example.

      Many textbook designs use a color tint behind the whole page, but they often do it only for special sections, such as a 2-page spread on a particular topic (like a sidebar, or resources). Instead of putting color behind the whole page, you might consider running a more bold-colored rectangle along one side that bleeds off the side of the page and only extends onto the page by about 1/4 or 1/2 inch. That way, people flipping through the book would know exactly what section they’re in. Also, because the color bleeds off the side of the page, people could probably see the color a bit on the side of the pages, even when the book is closed.

      Whatever you do, don’t forget to add a pivot table and a scatter graph!

      (For other folks reading this, that last comment will only make sense if you know that Bill is Mr. Excel.)

      • Excellent advice, David. I bought the Color Index Book 2 last night and had grand plans to highlight all pages using my new-found CYMK codes, but I think I will go with the idea to only do it on a few “special” spreads.
        I am taking your idea to use large rectangle that bleeds of the side of the page. I previously had a “tiny” square doing that, but it will make me feel better to use more color ink with a strip along 2/3 of the side!
        Anne Marie told me your pivot table in InDesign joke yesterday and I roared with laughter. Good one.

    • EA: Only the third option (actually drawing your own object on the page) works if you want to export to PDF with that color. The other two are on screen in InDesign only.

  9. Useless information, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah,

    I want to know how to change the background color?
    where is the option?
    meaning map it out, such as “File>Edit>Paste”

  10. I agree with Matt. I googled “how to get color background in indesign” and this page came up. What is the advice given? “Set a rectangle around the whole thing, and then fill it with color.” Fill it with color how??? When I click on swatches, the only option is for shades of grey, and I want green.

  11. I created text frames. Now I want a light color around them all. No color in the frames — just text on white background. But a color in the background. I made the background and object, but when I choose a color, it covers everything — i.e., the text frames disappear. This happens even after I have locked all the text frames. How can I order the software to apply color only to the areas outside the text frames?

    • You’ll need to set the colored box to fill the whole page. Select the box and go to Object>Arrange>Send to Back. Fill your text boxes with white. Choose Object>Text Frame Options for your text boxes and give your text some offset so it’s not on the edge of its frame.

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