Inside QuarkXPress: Using Contrast to Fake Transparent Text

Application: QuarkXPress 4.x
Operating systems: Macintosh, Windows

The technique of applying transparent (or screened) text over an image is a useful design approach to enhance a page layout. QuarkXPress can’t actually create transparency, but in this article, we’ll show you how to create the illusion of it, as shown in Figure A.

Figure A
Creating the illusion of transparent text isn’t all that tricky.

Prep work
Creating this effect requires using both the Merge and Contrast options; however, both have certain requirements in order for them to become available. You can only use the Merge option when two items are selected, and the Contrast option is only active when you select an 8-bit TIFF. Also, you must set the Color TIFFs option from the Display panel within the Application Preferences dialog box to 8-bit. This lower-quality setting only affects the preview and won’t alter the image’s print quality, as long as the image isn’t embedded in the document.

To make sure the image you want to use for the background is an 8-bit TIFF, check its size in the editing software in which it was created. In Adobe Photoshop, for example, you choose Image > Mode. An image converted to CMYK mode has two preview choices: 8- and 16-bit. An 8-bit preview is applied by default; you’d have to manually change the setting for it to be a 16-bit TIFF.

Now, open the QuarkXPress document in which you’ll place the TIFF to create the transparency effect. Choose Edit > Preferences > Application ([c][shift][option]Y or [Ctrl][Alt][Shift]Y in Windows). Then, make sure 8-bit is selected from the Color TIFFs pop-up menu that’s in the Display panel, as shown in Figure B. The other choices are 16- and 32-bit–the higher the number, the better the preview (and the more memory that’s required). Click OK to exit preferences.

Figure B
The Contrast option only works on 8-bit TIFF images.

Setting the Stage
What’s next is placing the 8-bit TIFF and creating the text that you want to place over it. For the best results, make sure to choose an image that has a good amount of contrast. To place the TIFF, draw a picture box with the Rectangle Picture Box tool. Then, choose File > Get Picture ([c]E or [Ctrl]E in Windows) and locate the image you want to import. Click Open to import it into the document.

If needed, size the image to the box proportionately by pressing [c][option][shift]F ([Ctrl][Alt][Shift]F in Windows) and then scale the picture box to the image by dragging its handles with the Item tool. Now you can add the text. First, select the Rectangle Text Box tool and make a text box wide enough to fit over a good-sized portion of the image. Then, click the Content tool and enter the text. Format the text using a fairly large, thick font, so the image can be seen inside it.

With the text box still selected, click on the Background Color icon from the Colors palette ([F12]) and choose None. If your page has an Automatic Text Box, change its background to None as well. Now, highlight the text with the Content tool and choose Style > Text To Box to convert the text to Bézier paths. Whenever you use this option, you’ll get the message “Box converted from highlighted text won’t look exactly as text. Ok to continue?” Click OK. Then, choose Item > Edit > Shape or press [shift][F4] ([F10] in Windows) to change the Bézier shape to a solid picture box. (This is optional, but makes life much easier.)

With the Item tool, move the text box out of the way and position the converted text over the image. To finish up, select the converted text and then choose None from the Colors palette, so that the text contains no background color. Now let’s get down to business!

Seeing Double
What you need to do next is clone the image using the Step And Repeat option and then alter the copy with the Contrast option. You make the cloned image lighter by adjusting its contrast, which will give it a screened appearance. To do this, click on the image with the Content tool and choose Step And Repeat from the Item menu or press [c][option]D ([Ctrl][Alt]D in Windows). Enter 1 in the Repeat Count text box and 0″ in both the Horizontal and Vertical Offset text boxes. Then, click OK.

Now, with the top image selected, choose Style > Contrast, or press [c][shift]C ([Ctrl][Shift]C in Windows) to open the Picture Contrast Specifications dialog box. Select CMYK from the Model pop-up menu and click the Hand tool and then the Normal Contrast tool.

With the Hand tool, click on the line in the Input/Output graph and drag it down a notch, as shown in Figure C. Click OK to apply the change. If you don’t like the amount of contrast, just undo it ([c]Z or [Ctrl]Z in Windows), and try it again.

With the image still selected, choose Item > Send To Back (or press [shift][F5]) to place it behind the original image. There’s just one more thing to do to complete this process.

Figure C
Applying less contrast to the cloned image will create the screened portion used to fill the text.

What’s the difference?
Normally, if you place one element over another, it blocks out the image directly below it. The Merge option is the workaround to this limitation. To begin, [shift]-click on the top image and converted text with the Item tool. Now, choose Item > Merge > Difference. Then … look at your finished product!

Smoke and Mirrors
That’s all there is to creating the illusion of transparent text. You cloned an image and created some text capable of accepting an image within it, and merged the two elements together, leaving the original image intact and the text filled with a lighter, or screened, version of the original image. Only you’ll know that it’s just an illusion!

Copyright © 2000, Element K Content LLC. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Element K Content LLC is prohibited. Element K is a service mark of Element K LLC.


Posted on: April 4, 2001

1 Comment on Inside QuarkXPress: Using Contrast to Fake Transparent Text

  1. If you’re going to attempt this Quark effect to an image for monitor display only or for use on the internet, go ahead. But if your design is used in a Quark document destined for printing (ink on paper), then using Quark’s built-in contrast controls are NEVER recommended and you should find another method of creating the illusion of transparent text. This is practical advice from a service bureau professional who knows from experience that any “tweaking” of images using Quark’s built-in controls can sometimes get you very unexpected results. At the very least, you should warn your service bureau that you have modified the image in this way, and definitely request a high-resolution proof (MatchPrint, color key or blueline) before going to press.
    Comments/replies to

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.