I'm trying to link Illustrator line drawings, that are made of shapes with black strokes and white fills (hiding parts of other shapes behind them), to an InDesign document. The images will sit on a background color, and I want the white fills to be transparent, and the strokes to be white.

Is there any way I can do this without:

  • copying and pasting into InDesign [harder to manage and update]
  • or adding the background color to the Illustrator file [want the flexibility to change the color or use different colors]
  • or using pathfinder and changing the fill to none and strokes to white in Illustrator? [maybe the best option, but will be time-consuming]

Using multiply blending mode in InDesign, I can get black lines with the background showing through fine, but I need the lines white. I don't mind changing the colors of the Illustrator line drawings.

Picture worth a thousand words

  • I think it would be best to include an image / example of what your are describing. The description you've given indicates you want a masking layer that you can edit in illustrator but link to INDD... is this correct?
    – user51113
    Nov 20, 2015 at 18:04
  • I've added an example of what I'm trying to achieve. I don't mind using a masking layer in Illustrator or in InDesign.
    – Tenz
    Nov 20, 2015 at 18:44

3 Answers 3


Change the Illustrator files.

To do this effectively you need to set up the Illustrator files correctly. You don't want to use the old "white fills make it look transparent" working method. You actually want the areas transparent in Illustrator.

How you go about adjusting the Illustrator art depends a great deal on the artwork.

In your sample images, it would be a very easy thing to select all, expand, Pathfinder Merge, then delete the fills.

However there are many questions here regarding making white areas transparent:

Removing a section of a stroked path in Illustrator

Transparent path/stroke fill in Illustrator

I don't know if the above questions will specifically help you without seeing the artwork, but they should provide some general direction.

If the Illustrator artwork is set up so they actually only contain areas you want to be visible, then it's an easy matter to set the strokes/fills to white and place them over any background color in InDesign.

  • Scott beat me to it, but is exactly right.
    – user51113
    Nov 20, 2015 at 19:29
  • Thanks, I think this is the third option I mentioned in my question, but you're right, it's not that time-consuming. However, it does make it harder to change the (technical) line-drawings, e.g. circles that when expanded will be irregular shapes. If I set the strokes to white in Illustrator, will this method work on a white background?
    – Tenz
    Nov 20, 2015 at 20:26
  • You can have a 2-file workflow.. Save the unexpanded file. Then expand merge and delete pieces. And save as a working file. If you need to edit the original art, go back to the unexpanded file and repeat. I'm not sure what you mean by "will this work on a white background" Background color should be irrelevant. But again, I don't really understand what you mean.
    – Scott
    Nov 20, 2015 at 21:38
  • This workflow will work, but was hoping there would be a more elegant way of handling this. Expanding my last q: if I have a white stroked Illy file with deleted fills, then this is perfect for colored backgrounds, but if I want to place that file on a white background in ID can I use the same file, and e.g. use a blending mode (difference?) to get the strokes to be black.
    – Tenz
    Nov 20, 2015 at 21:50
  • No. You'd have to have a white stroke file and a black stroke file. There's no real easy mechanism to alter colors in placed files (other then blending modes).
    – Scott
    Nov 20, 2015 at 22:55

InDesign is not a great tool for working with images or line art. Your intuition for editing in Illustrator is correct, and it sounds like you know how to do it there. I think your first bullet is key: linking the images in such a way that any updates you make later on in Illustrator are automatically reflected in InDesign.

Here's how:

You can important an Illustrator project (.ai) to an Indesign document as a smart object. You can open the Illustrator project back up and make changes so long as you save it when you're done. Then, to apply your changes all you need to do is 'refresh' the smart object in InDesign. The nice thing about smart objects is that InDesign will remember any resizing or placement you did with the .ai file -- it essentially 'swaps out' the old version for the new version on each refresh. Smart objects also remember transparency so you don't need to apply backgrounds to your line art in Illustrator -- you can do that as the frame background of the .ai file in InDesign.

HHhope I understand you well -- let me know if you had a slightly different question in mind.

  • Thanks for the answer, but I know how to place an Illustrator file in InDesign and have that update when the Illustrator file changes. The issue is the colors of the strokes and fills in relation to the background in InDesign.
    – Tenz
    Nov 20, 2015 at 15:16

Select all of your shapes. Set the fills to none and strokes to whatever you need. Make the selected shapes into a Live Paint object. Use the Live Paint Bucket tool to paint strokes (the line sections you don't want to appear) as none. This method will maintain your shapes which can be selected and moved with the Group Select tool.

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