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How to Place CC Library Items with Transparency

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If you’ve ever placed an Illustrator graphic from a CC Library into InDesign you might have been dismayed to see it come in with a white background instead of transparency.

Fortunately, the fix is simple, if a little silly. The problem seems to stem from the fact that CC Libraries have no equivalent to the Show Import Options feature you can access when using InDesign’s File > Place command.

So, when you place library items InDesign just assumes you want the same options with regard to transparency that you last used with the Place command.

Seriously? C’mon, only barbers and baristas should assume you want the same thing every time.

To tell InDesign you want transparency when placing library items, you need to use the Place command to place a PDF or AI file. If it’s a PDF, it doesn’t matter where it’s from. Could be Acrobat, Illustrator, Photoshop, etc.

In the Place dialog box, hold the Shift key as you click the Open button. This will show the Import Options, where you can select Transparent Background.

Click OK, so you have a loaded Place cursor in InDesign. At this point you can press Esc to cancel the operation since you’ve already conveyed the message to InDesign that you want transparency.

Now, go back to your library and place the item again. If you want to replace a non-transparent version already in your layout, hold the Option/Alt key and click on it with your loaded cursor.

The newly placed version will have a transparent background.

Maybe someday Adobe will get around to giving us a chance to choose Import Options when placing library graphics. Until then, this little workaround will do the trick.

Just remember that if you do turn off Transparent Background the next time you use the Place command with a PDF or AI file, that choice will also apply when you place CC Library items thereafter. And you’ll have to perform the Transparency Two-Step all over again.

Bonus Tip: Not sure which of your library graphics have transparent backgrounds? Go to the Libraries panel menu and choose Show Transparency Grid.

Editor in Chief of CreativePro and InDesign Magazine. Instructor at LinkedIn Learning with courses on InDesign, Illustrator, GIMP, Inkscape, and Affinity Publisher.
  • Anne-Marie Concepcion says:

    Sweet tips!!!

  • Theresa Jackson says:

    Excellent! I didn’t even realize this was a problem. CC Libraries are awesome but they could be so much more awesomer (yeah I know that’s not a real word). They have so many unexpected and weird behaviors that make no sense.

  • Dov Isaacs says:

    @Mike

    Thanks for the clever hack, but quite frankly, I would think that you should report this to Adobe as an actual “bug” as opposed to a limitation. And put some pressure on them to fix this!!!

    There are numerous ramifications of forcing a “white background” beyond the obvious ones when there is actual transparent content, especially when placing vector and text content (as opposed to a simple rectangular raster image). One possibility is that the opaque white background can in fact render as a tint depending upon color management settings and the color space of the placed content.

    – Dov

  • Holly Tarquinio says:

    Good to know. The other day a fellow designer and I were talking about how annoying it is when you try to replace an existing element in libraries. It doesn’t override existing elements. It doesn’t even ask. It made me think I need to read more about how Libraries work.

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