Is there a way to create a PDF file that shows a background color or image when viewed in Acrobat Reader, but when printed that background does not get printed by default?

Ideally, this would happen as the default for the PDF, i.e. the user need not be concerned with any settings. I am interested, if this is possible at all, but tool specific answers regarding Creative Suite are welcome, too.

4 Answers 4


The only way I can think to do this is via a watermark.

The basics...

Open PDF in Acrobat. Choose Pages > Watermark > Add Watermark.

Select a jpg or PDF of your background and adjust scaling options as desired.

Then click the Appearance Options.. and uncheck the Show When Printing option.


In this image the PDF is a blank page with the word "Test" on it. The watermark is the stamp and impression (a stock photo jpg).

If you want a solid color background, just create a flat image of the background color for use as the watermark.

This could be saved as an Acrobat Action. I have several watermark actions I use. I don't believe you can't make it a default in anyway. Automation may be possible via scripting and watched folders.

  • With default I was refering to the opening view of the PDF, not the creation thereof. I just don't want to instruct users to this and that to get the background non-printing, but want it to not print by default. Good answer, this might be usable. Pitty there is not a more inherent solution - maybe someone will still come up with something.
    – kontur
    Jan 9, 2013 at 9:52
  • Well if you do this once, every subsequent opening will show the watermark. As an action, it can be just a single click once the PDF is opened. All the options are recordable in the action. The only hiccup is the watermark file needs to be in the correct location when setting the watermark initially. It's then stored in the PDF (when PDF is saved).
    – Scott
    Jan 9, 2013 at 10:00

You can use layers for this as well, e.g. from (note to export the layers you must use PDF ≥ 1.5, unfortunately export doesn't seem to carry over the non-printing property!). Open the pdf in Acrobat Pro, right click the specific layer and change its print initial state to "Never prints".

Acrobat Pro Layer properties

  • How to access the "Layer Properties" dialog? I cannot find it in my Adobe Acrobat XI Pro... Nov 11, 2015 at 8:58
  • 1
    @AlexeyPopkov I'm using DC, where it's hidden in the navigation pane at the left side (press F4 to open it), or use View -> Show/Hide -> Navigation Panes -> Layers Nov 11, 2015 at 9:12
  • Thank you, I have found it at the same place in Acrobat XI. Nov 11, 2015 at 9:17

I actually struggled with this for hours and finally determined that my issue was that, because I am a Mac user, my default output is Preview. I could not get this to work until I installed Acrobat Reader on my Mac. As soon as I did this several methods worked for me.

Ultimately I used the layers method similar to what Tobias laid out. I created my entire document in InDesign and made sure that the full color background for screen was on one layer and my black and white elements for print purposes on a second layer.

Then I opened my interactive PDF in Acrobat Pro on my Mac and opened the Layers panel, right clicked the colored layer that I only wanted to show on screen and not print, and designated the full color background for screen only to "Never Prints" here.

Here's where I set my full color screen only background to "Never Print".

I was having trouble getting this to work no matter what I did until I finally installed Acrobat Reader on my machine. Actually, it worked for Acrobat Pro as well, but most users are not going to have Acrobat Pro installed on their machines... and that was the clue that pointed me toward Acrobat Reader over Preview. The print version (B&W) showed up in my Print Preview pane (FINALLY!!) and it occurred to me that Preview could not "process" the layers in the Adobe created file (for lack of a better way to describe it).

Regardless, this is my solution, it works, this is what was causing me so many problems and how I overcame them... and I hope this helps others that are trying to do something similar using a Mac!


FYI, this works the same as Josh's method in Adobe Illustrator as well. Put the stuff you don't want to print on a separate layer in Illustrator, likely the bottom layer. If you save out a PDF in Adobe Illustrator, check off "Create Acrobat Layers from Top-Level Layers". Then follow Josh's method above for setting that layer NOT to print. Go to Layers Panel in left sidebar in Acrobat, right-click on that layer and select Properties, then Initial State > Print > Never Prints. Doesn't print anything on that layer. Thanks to the folks above.

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