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Add transparency effects

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When you create an object in Adobe InDesign, by default it appears solid; that is, it has an opacity of 100%. You can apply effects to objects using opacity and blends. Overlap objects, add transparency to objects, or knock out shapes behind objects.

About transparency

When you create an object or stroke, when you apply a fill, or when you enter text, by default these items appear solid; that is, they have an opacity of 100%. You can make the items transparent in a variety of ways. For example, you can vary the opacity from 100% (completely opaque) to 0% (completely transparent). When you decrease opacity, the underlying artwork becomes visible through the surface of the object, stroke, fill, or text.

You use the Effects panel to specify the opacity an object, its stroke, its fill, or its text, You can decide how the object itself, its stroke, fill, or text blend with objects beneath. Where objects are concerned, you can choose to isolate blending to specific objects so that only some objects in a group blend with objects below them, or you can have objects knock out rather than blend with objects in a group.


Areas of underlying objects appear through transparent object.

Effects panel overview

Use the Effects panel (Window > Effects) to specify the opacity and blending mode of objects and groups, isolate blending to a particular group, knock out objects inside a group, or apply a transparency effect.

Add and edit transparency effects in the Effects panel

A. Blending mode B. Levels C. FX icon D. Clear effects E. FX button 

Blending Mode

Specifies how colors in transparent objects interact with the objects behind them. (See Specify how colors blend.)


Determines the opacity of an object, stroke, fill, or text. (See Set the opacity of an object.)


Tells you the Object, Stroke, Fill, and Text opacity settings of the object, as well as whether transparency effects have been applied. Click the triangle to the left of the word Object (or Group or Graphic) to hide or display these level settings. The FX icon appears on a level after you apply transparency settings there, and you can double-click the FX icon to edit the settings.

Isolate Blending

Applies a blending mode to a selected group of objects. (See Isolate blending modes.)

Knockout Group

Makes the opacity and blending attributes of every object in a group knock out, or block out, underlying objects in the group. (See Knock out objects within a group.)

Clear All button

Clears effects—stroke, fill, or text— from an object, sets the blend mode to Normal, and changes the Opacity setting to 100% throughout the object.

FX button

Displays a list of transparency effects. (See Apply transparency effects.)

Display Effects panel options

  1. Choose Window > Effects and, if necessary, open the Effects panel menu and choose Show Options.

    The Effects panel options are also available in the Effects dialog box (select an object and choose Object > Effects > Transparency) and, in simplified form, on the Control panel.

Apply transparency effects

  1. Select an object. To apply effects to a graphic, select the graphic with the Direct Selection tool.
  2. Choose Window > Effects to display the Effects panel.
  3. Select a level to designate which parts or part of the object you want to change:


    Affects the entire object—its stroke, fill, and text.


    Affects only the graphic selected with the Direct Selection tool. Effects you apply to the graphic remain with it when you paste the graphic in a different frame.


    Affects all objects and text in the group. (Use the Direct Selection tool to apply effects to objects within a group.)


    Affects only the object’s stroke (including its gap color).


    Affects only the object’s fill.


    Affects only text inside the object, not the text frame. Effects you apply to text affect all the text in the object; you can’t apply an effect to individual words or letters.

    You can also choose a level setting in the Control panel: Click the Apply Effect To Object button  and select Object, Stroke, Fill, or Text.

  4. Do any of the following to open the Effects dialog box:
    • In the Effects panel or Control panel, click the FX button  and choose an effect from the menu.

    • From the Effects panel menu, choose Effects and then an effect name.

    • From the context menu, choose Effects and then an effect name.

    • Choose Object > Effects, and then choose an effect name.

    • On the Effects panel, click the triangle to display level settings if necessary, and then double-click a level setting—Object, Stroke, Fill, or Text—on the Effects panel. By double-clicking, you both open the Effects dialog box and choose a level setting.

  5. Choose options and settings for the effect. (See Common transparency settings and options.)

  6. Click OK.

Edit a transparency effect

  1. Select the object or objects to which the effect has been applied.
  2. Do one of the following to open the Effects dialog box.
    • On the Effects panel, double-click the FX icon to the right of Object (not at the bottom of the panel). You may need to click the triangle next to the word Object to display the FX icon.

    • Select the level with the effect you want to edit, click the FX button  in the Effects panel, and choose the name of an effect.

  3. Edit the effect.

Copy transparency effects

  1. Do any of the following to copy transparency effects:
    • To copy effects between objects, select the object with the effect you want to copy, select the object’s FX icon  in the Effects panel, and drag the FX icon to the other object. You can drag and drop effects between objects only to and from the same level.

    • To copy effects between objects selectively, use the Eyedropper tool . To control which transparency stroke, fill, and object settings are copied with the Eyedropper tool, double-click the tool to open the Eyedropper Options dialog box. Then select or deselect options in the Stroke Settings, Fill Settings, and Object Settings areas.

    • To copy effects from one level to another in the same object, Alt-drag (Windows) or Option-drag (Mac OS) the FX icon from one level to another (Stroke, Fill, or Text) on the Effects panel.


    You can move effects from one level to another in the same object by dragging the FX icon.

Clear transparency effects from an object

  1. Do any of the following:
    • To clear all effects from an object as well as change the blending mode to Normal and the Opacity setting to 100%, click the Clear All Effects button  in the Effects panel or choose Clear All Transparency on the Effect panel menu.

    • To clear all effects but maintain the blending and opacity settings, select a level and choose Clear Effects on the Effects panel menu or drag the FX icon  from the Stroke, Fill, or Text level in the Effects panel to the Trash icon.

    • To clear multiple levels (Stroke, Fill, or Text) of an effect, select the levels and click the Trash icon.

    • To remove an individual effect from an object, open the Effects dialog box and deselect a Transparency effect.

Transparency effects

InDesign offers nine transparency effects. Many of the settings and options for creating these effects are similar.


A. Drop Shadow B. Inner Shadow C. Outer Glow D. Inner Glow E. Bevel and Emboss F. Satin G. Basic Feather H. Directional Feather I. Gradient Feather 

Drop Shadow

Adds a shadow that falls behind the object, stroke, fill, or text.

Inner Shadow

Adds a shadow that falls just inside the edges of the object, stroke, fill, or text, giving it a recessed appearance.

Outer Glow and Inner Glow

Add glows that emanate from the outside or inside edges of the object, stroke, fill, or text.

Bevel and Emboss

Adds various combinations of highlights and shadows to give text and images a three-dimensional appearance.


Adds interior shading that makes a satiny finish.

Basic Feather, Directional Feather, and Gradient Feather

Soften the edges of an object by fading them to transparent.


In addition to the descriptions covered here, see Common transparency settings and options.

Common transparency settings and options

Many transparency effect settings and options are the same across different effects. Common transparency settings and options include the following:

Angle and Altitude

Determine the lighting angle at which a lighting effect is applied. A setting of 0 is equivalent to ground level; 90 is directly above the object. Click the angle radius or enter a degree measurement. Select Use Global Light if you want a uniform lighting angle for all objects. Used by the Drop Shadow, Inner Shadow, Bevel and Emboss, Satin, and Feather effects.

Blending Mode

Specifies how colors in transparent objects interact with the objects behind them. Used by the Drop Shadow, Inner Shadow, Outer Glow, Inner Glow, and Satin effects. (See Specify how colors blend.)


Along with the Size setting, determines how much of the shadow or glow is opaque and how much is transparent; large settings increase opacity and small settings increase transparency. Used by the Inner Shadow, Inner Glow, and Feather effects.


Specifies the offset distance for the Drop Shadow, Inner Shadow, or Satin effect.


Specifies the amount of random elements in the opacity of a glow or shadow as you enter a value or drag the slider. Used by the Drop Shadow, Inner Shadow, Outer Glow, Inner Glow, and Feather effects.


Determines the opacity of an effect; drag the slider or enter a percentage measurement. (See Set the opacity of an object.) Used by the Drop Shadow, Inner Shadow, Outer Glow, Inner Glow, Gradient Feather, Bevel and Emboss, and Satin effects.


Specifies the amount of shadow or glow. Used by the Drop Shadow, Inner Shadow, Outer Glow, Inner Glow, and Satin effects.


Determines the transparency of the blur within the shadow or glow effect as established by the Size setting. A higher percentage makes the blur more opaque. Used by the Drop Shadow and Outer Glow.


These settings determine how the edge of a transparency effect interacts with background colors. Softer and Precise are available for the Outer Glow and Inner Glow effects:


Applies a blur to the edge of the effect. At larger sizes, doesn’t preserve detailed features.


Preserves the edge of the effect, including its corners and other sharp details. Preserves features better than the Softer technique.

Use Global Light

Applies the global light setting to the shadow. Used by the Drop Shadow, Bevel and Emboss, and Inner Shadow effects.

X Offset and Y Offset

Offsets the shadow on the x- or y-axis by the amount you specify. Used by the Drop Shadow and Inner Shadow effects.

Drop Shadow

The Drop Shadow effect creates a three-dimensional shadow. You can offset the drop shadow along the x or y axis, as well as vary the blending mode, color, opacity, distance, angle, and size of the drop shadow. Use these options to determine how the drop shadow interacts with objects and transparency effects:

Object Knocks Out Shadow

The object appears in front of the drop shadow that it casts.

Shadow Honors Other Effects

The drop shadow factors in other transparency effects. For example, if the object is feathered on one side, you can make the drop-shadow disregard the feathering such that the shadow doesn’t fade out, or make the shadow look feathered in the same way as the object is feathered.

Click the Drop Shadow button  on the Control panel to quickly apply a drop shadow to or remove a drop shadow from an object, a stroke, a fill, or text.


To select a color for a drop shadow, click the Set Shadow Color button (next to the Blending Mode menu) and choose a color.

Inner Shadow

The Inner Shadow effect places the shadow inside the object, giving the impression that the object is recessed. You can offset the inner shadow along different axes and vary the blending mode, opacity, distance, angle, size, noise, and choke of the shadow.

Outer Glow

The Outer Glow effect makes the glow emanate from under the object. You can set the blending mode, opacity, technique, noise, size, and spread.

Inner Glow

The Inner Glow effect causes an object to glow from the inside out. Choose the blending mode, opacity, technique, size, noise and choke settings, as well as the Source setting:


Specifies the source for the glow. Choose Center to apply a glow that emanates from the center; choose Edge to apply a glow that emanates from the object’s boundaries.

Bevel and Emboss

Use the Bevel and Emboss effect to give objects a realistic, three-dimensional look. The Structure settings determine the object’s size and shape:


Specifies the bevel style: Outer Bevel creates the bevel on the outside edges of the object; Inner Bevel creates the bevel on the inside edges; Emboss simulates the effect of embossing the object against underlying objects; Pillow Emboss simulates the effect of stamping the edges of the object into underlying objects.


Determines the size of the bevel or emboss effect.


Determines how the edge of the bevel or emboss effect interacts with background colors: Smooth blurs the edges slightly (and doesn’t preserve detailed features at larger sizes); Chisel Soft blurs the edges, but not as much as the Smooth technique (it preserves detailed features better than the Smooth technique but not as well as the Chisel Hard technique); Chisel Hard provides a harder, more conspicuous edge (it preserves detailed features better than the Smooth or Chisel Soft techniques).


In addition to the Technique setting, blurs the effect to reduce unwanted artifacts and rough edges.


Choose Up or Down to make the effect appear pushed up or down.


Specifies the depth of the bevel or emboss effect.

The Shading settings determine how light interacts with the object:

Angle and Altitude

Sets the height of the light source. A setting of 0 is equivalent to ground level; 90 is directly above the object.

Use Global Light

Applies the global light source as specified for all transparency effects. Choosing this option overrides any Angle and Altitude settings.

Highlight and Shadow

Specifies the blending mode for the bevel or emboss highlight and shadow.


Use the Satin effect to give objects a smooth, satin-like finish. Choose the blending mode, opacity, angle, distance, and size settings, as well as whether to invert colors and transparencies:


Select this option to reverse the colored and transparent areas of the object.

Basic Feather

The Feather effect softens (fades) the edges of an object over a distance that you specify:

Feather Width

Sets the distance over which the object fades from opaque to transparent.



Along with the Feather Width setting, determines how much of the softening glow is opaque and how much is transparent; a large setting increases opacity and a small setting increases transparency.



Choose Sharp, Rounded, or Diffused:

 Sharp  Follows the outer edge of the shape, including sharp corners. This option is appropriate for star-like objects and a special effect on a rectangular shape.

Rounded  Rounds the corner by the feather radius; essentially, the shape is first inset, then outset, to form the two contours. This option works well with rectangles.

Diffused  Uses the Adobe Illustrator method, which makes the edges of the object fade from opaque to transparent.


Specifies the amount of random elements in the softening glow. Use this option to soften the glow.

Directional Feather

The Directional Feather effect softens the edges of an object by fading the edges to transparent from directions that you specify. For example, you can apply feathering to the top and bottom of the object, not the left or right side.

Feather Widths

Set the distance over which the top, bottom, left side, and right side of the object fade to transparent. Select the Lock option to fade each side of the object by the same distance.


Specifies the amount of random elements in the softening glow. Use this option to create a softer glow.


Along with the Width settings, determines how much of the glow is opaque and how much is transparent; large settings increase opacity and small settings increase transparency.


Choose an option—First Edge Only, Leading Edges, or All Edges—to demarcate the object’s original shape.


Rotates the frame of reference for the feathering effect such that, as long as you don’t enter a multiple of 90 degrees, the feathering edges are skewed rather than parallel to the object.

Gradient Feather

Use the Gradient Feather effect to soften the areas of an object by fading them to transparent.

Gradient Stops

Create one gradient stop for each gradation in transparency that you want for your object.

  • To create a gradient stop, click below the Gradient Slider (drag a gradient stop away from the slider to remove a stop).

  • To adjust the position of a stop, drag it left or right, or select it and then drag the Location slider.

  • To adjust the mid-point between two opacity stops, drag a diamond above the Gradient Slider. Where the diamond is located determines how abrupt or gradual the transition between stops is.

Reverse Gradient

Click to reverse the direction of the gradations. This box is located to the right of the Gradient Slider.


Specifies the transparency between gradient points. Select a point and drag the Opacity slider.


Adjusts the position of a gradient stop. Select a gradient stop before dragging the slider or entering a measurement.


Linear shades from the starting gradient point to the ending gradient point in a straight line; Radial shades from the starting point to the ending point in a circular pattern.


For linear gradients, establishes the angle of the gradation lines. At 90 degrees, for example, the lines run horizontally; at 180 degrees, the lines run vertically.

Use Global Light

You can apply a uniform lighting angle to transparency effects in which shading is a factor: Drop Shadow, Inner Shadow, and Bevel and Emboss. When you choose Use Global Light with these effects, lighting is determined by the global setting in the Global Light dialog box.

  1. Do any of the following to open the Global Light dialog box:

    • Choose Global Light from the Effects panel menu.

    • Choose Object > Effects > Global Light.

  2. Enter a value or drag the angle radius to set the Angle and Altitude, and click OK.

Set the opacity of an object

You can apply transparency to a single object or selected objects (including graphics and text frames), but not to individual text characters or layers. However, imported graphics with those types of transparency effects will appear and print correctly.

  1. Select the object or objects.

    The word mixed appears in the Effects panel if you select multiple objects and their opacity settings conflict. For example, if the Fill opacity setting is different in objects you selected, the Transparency palette reads, “Fill: Opacity (mixed).”

  2. Choose Object, Stroke, Fill, or Text with any of these techniques:
    • Click the Apply Effects button  on the Control panel and choose an option.

    • Click an option on the Effects panel (click the triangle next to the word Object, if necessary, to see the options).

  3. On the Control panel or Effects panel, type a value for Opacity or click the arrow next to the Opacity setting and drag the slider. As the opacity value of objects is reduced, the transparency increases.

If you direct-select and cut or copy an object from a transparent group in InDesign, and then paste the object somewhere else in the document, the pasted object won’t be transparent unless it was previously selected individually and had transparency applied.

Apply transparency to groups

Besides applying transparency effects to single objects, you can apply them to groups.

If you simply select objects and change their individual opacity settings, the selected objects’ opacity will change relative to that of the others. Any overlapping areas will show an accumulated opacity.

In contrast, if you target a group that has been created with the Group command, and then change the opacity, the group is treated as a single object by the Effects panel (the Effects panel shows only one level option—Group), and the opacities within the group don’t change. In other words, objects within the group don’t interact with each other in transparency.

Individual objects selected and set to 50% opacity (left) and group selected and set to 50% opacity (right)

Change the appearance of transparent artwork on screen

Use the Display Performance dialog box to set transparency preferences. These preferences determine the on-screen quality of transparent objects in new documents and in documents saved with modified preferences. You can also set the preferences to turn on or off the display of transparency in the document. Turning off transparency in the display preferences doesn’t turn off transparency when printing or exporting the file.


Before you print a file containing transparency effects, make sure that you check the transparency preferences first. Printing automatically flattens the artwork, and may affect the appearance of the transparency effects.

  1. Choose Edit > Preferences > Display Performance (Windows) or Adobe InDesign > Preferences > Display Performance (Mac OS).
  2. Select an option (Fast, Typical, High Quality) in the Adjust View Settings section to determine the on-screen resolution of any effect in the document. The settings you change apply only to the option you select here:
    • Fast turns off transparency and sets the resolution to 24 dpi.

    • Typical displays low-resolution effects and sets the resolution to 72 dpi.

    • High Quality improves the display of effects, especially in PDF and EPS files, and sets the resolution to 144 dpi.

  3. Drag the Transparency slider. The default setting is Medium Quality, which displays drop shadows and feathering.
  4. Click OK.
  5. When inks overlap with blend modes, choose View >Overprint Preview. This option ensures that you can see on screen how any inks interact with transparency.

Use the View menu to quickly change transparency display between Fast Display, Typical Display, and High Quality Display.

Stop displaying transparency

To improve display performance, you can turn off the display of transparency. Turning off transparency on screen doesn’t turn off transparency for printing or exporting the file.

  1. Choose View > Display Performance > Fast Display.

Remove white box effect in documents with transparency

In some instances, a white box or ghost border appears where a transparency effect is applied, usually in documents that contain drop shadows or gradients. This problem may occur if the transparency effect interacts with a spot color.

To fix this problem, you can either avoid using spot colors with transparency or you can turn on overprinting.

To view and print a PDF document without the white box effect, in Acrobat enable Simulate Overprinting. In Acrobat 9, choose Advanced > Print Production > Output Preview. In Acrobat X, choose Tools > Print Production > Output Preview.

If you’re sending the document to a printer that’s experiencing this white box effect, ask the service provider to turn on PostScript Overprint at the RIP. If this doesn’t work, you can flatten the transparency and select the Simulate Overprint option before you send the file. In InDesign, this option is found on the Output panel of the Print dialog box when you select the Composite CMYK option.


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