I will be sending an inDesign layout that I've been working on to a printshop sometime this week.

The main elements of the book I'm doing are the greyscale illustrations on each page – all of which I've imported as tif-files into inDesign. My contractor provided this information: "I want to have my black & white illustrations on a light-yellow/sepia background".

Each page is slightly yellow-toned i.e. the master is set to light-yellow for that "ye olde" look. Should the white background from the illustration be replaced with transparency or replaced with the same yellow-tone used for the pages? I've read that some printers don't understand transparency and that transparency has been dubbed "the forbidden fruit of layouting". Does this still ring true?

I can't really finalize the project until I know for sure. The printers in China don't seem to understand my question.


  • As long as you export your layout in PDF:X-1a, you should be fine. This ancient standard flattens all transparency you used.
    – Vincent
    Jun 4, 2015 at 9:58
  • I wouldn't risk it personally, I would definitely tint the background yellow and not bother with transparency. Jun 4, 2015 at 13:19

2 Answers 2


You do not need any transparency.

If each page has a manually created yellow background....

  • Place your greyscale tiff or psd in InDesign.
  • Select the image - The content, not the image frame.
  • Using the Attributes Panel tick Overprint Fill

enter image description here

  • Choose View > Overprint Preview So you will see it on screen as it will appear when overprinted.

enter image description here

Export the file to PDF/X-1a for print production. Done.

This prints the black on top of the yellow without knocking out the image. Therefore allowing the yellow to show through the image.

This has a few benefits:

  • There's no registration to be concerned with. The photos are just printed on top the yellow, no chance for anything to get misaligned.
  • You don't have to try and match the yellow in any of the photos.
  • You don't need to edit any photos
  • There's zero transparency to worry about
  • It's quick and takes 2 clicks.

(Note: if viewing the resulting PDF, you'll need to ensure Acrobat or Reader's Page Display preferences are set to show overprints. Using inferior PDF viewers, such as Apple's Preview application, is not recommended because they don't support professional print settings such as overprinting.)

A much easier solution is to actually print on a yellow stock rather than creating the yellow. If you print on a yellow stock you don't need to do anything to the InDesign file or it's links at all. You'll essentially get the overprint appearance without any extra work.


There is no need to use transparency nor "replace the white" if by that you mean edit the files. You can tint greyscale tiffs. This allows you to make the change without editing the original file and eliminates any color matching problems between the placed image and the inDesign swatch color(s)

Place the greyscale. Select the image container using the container selection tool (the black arrow). Select a color swatch. (Ensure that the fill gadget is picked, rather than the border gadget).

Deselect, then switch to the content selection tool, then reselect the image, and then pick a different color swatch.

If you need to change the yellow tint throughout, you need only edit the swatch.

In the image below, I have placed two copies of a greyscale tiff and applied tints to one copy. The magenta is the container color, the yellow is the content color.

enter image description here

The image below is a greyscale tiff with a yellow background and a black foreground tint. By default, greyscales are a tint of black with the container marked as "paper".

enter image description here

Note that "tinting" has multiple definitions, one of which means "to colorize a black and white image," which has been done since the invention of photography in the 19th century.

  • As an aside, if you are tinting all pages, you might get a more elegant book if you simply specify a cream-colored paper. (If you still need a true white, this probably isn't an option)
    – Yorik
    Jun 4, 2015 at 16:36
  • While correct, I don't think this answers the question. If you do this, you'll tint the black portion of the photos, not the white. So basically, you'll get yellow photos on a yellow background.
    – Scott
    Jun 4, 2015 at 17:43
  • The white portions are tinted magenta in step one. I only tinted the black as yellow for the example. It can be left black.
    – Yorik
    Jun 4, 2015 at 17:59
  • What you are suggesting just will never work. You get a yellow photo on a yellow background. The white will remain white.
    – Scott
    Jun 4, 2015 at 18:00
  • added another image
    – Yorik
    Jun 4, 2015 at 18:05

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