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My Grayscale Images and Colors Changed Suddenly


Jim wrote:

I played with the Feather effect on one of our documents. When I applied a feather to one graphic, the feathered graphic AND the rest of the graphics on the page got lighter. In another file, applying a dropshadow caused the graphic to become lighter. What could be going on?

This is a common cry from InDesign users… “all the images suddenly changed! What happened?” You identified the cause perfectly: You added a transparency effect. When you add any kind of transparency effect — including placing an image that has tranparency in it, or using any of the features in the Effects panel — the whole spread may change because InDesign forces the display through the transparency blend space.

Each document has a blend space, which you can control in the Edit > Transparency Blend Space submenu. You should set this to your final output. If your document is destined for the screen or an inkjet printer (or perhaps even a laser printer output), then RGB is likely the best choice. If you’re printing to a press, then choose CMYK.

If you’re printing your document to press, this probably won’t make a big difference, but it can make a big difference if you’re printing to a color printer. For example, if your final output is on an inkjet printer, you may notice your colors getting dull when you print. By changing the transparency blend space to RGB, the colors should look more saturated.
As you pointed out, grayscale images seem to change the most. I think that’s because InDesign is trying to decide whether the grays should be imaged to screen as black ink or as “gray light.”

You might wonder why InDesign doesn’t always display everything through the blend space. You can sort of force it to by turning on View > Overprint Preview. When that’s on, you shouldn’t notice a change when you apply a transparency effect.

David Blatner is the co-founder of the Creative Publishing Network, InDesign Magazine, CreativePro Magazine, and the author or co-author of 15 books, including Real World InDesign. His InDesign videos at LinkedIn Learning ( are among the most watched InDesign training in the world.
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  • Klaus Nordby says:

    Due to the terrible “fattening” which occurs to all text when some transparency effect is added and the document is in CMYK blend space, I always work in RGB blend space, only changing to CMYK blend space when I output the final PDF and it’s a CMYK PDF. This fattening/lightening effect may not technically be a bug — but it sure feels like one. It’s a terrible nuisance.

  • Ed says:

    Is it because i always put text (or vector) op the top most layers I never encountered this fattening / dulling problem?

  • Klaus Nordby says:

    Ed, no, that doesn’t help per se, I always do it too. This is a global screen-rendering issue, object stacking order is irrelevant. Maybe you just need new glasses? :-)

  • Actually, I’m not even sure what you’re experiencing, Klaus. Text certainly should not “fatten” when you add transparency — at least not on screen! There can be some issues upon output, depending on what you’re printing on, and where the transparency intersects the text. But nothing should change on screen.

  • Klaus Nordby says:

    Oh, things change on-screen, all right! And they have been doing so forever with many versions of ID on various machines. I’ll shortly make you some screen-grabs of this nuisance (which I’m rather surprised you don’t seem to recognize?)

  • Klaus Nordby says:

    OK, David, here’s a pixel-perfect 24-bit PNG screen grab of before & after transparency:

    Surely, this “fattening” of text and other vector data which kicks in is both noticeable and annoying? Transparency drastically affects the anti-aliasing of vectors. And as I said, I’ve been seeing this effect since forever, on numerous hardware and with many versions of InDesign, so this is not a unique anomaly to me. Have you not noticed this before?

  • Klaus Nordby says:

    Addendum: The “fattening” of text and vectors I’m speaking of ONLY pertains to on-screen display — it’s not a print issue at all.

  • Klaus Nordby says:

    New information on this, which I discovered right now: when my document is in CMYK blend space mode and I turn on Overprint Preview, this “fattening” disappears! So maybe those of you who have not seen the notorious “fattening” usually work with Overprint Preview turned on? I don’t keep it on normally, because I believe it slows down screen redraws. I’m also on Windows, maybe Macs are somewhat different in this respect (as the effect probably concerns very low-level mechanics in the graphics subsystem)?

  • Klaus Nordby says:

    Actually, further investigations right now show that I need to qualify my previous posting. For turning on/off Overprint Preview does not totally eliminate the “fattening” — it just reduces it a lot. But there’s still some amount of “fattening,” compared to when there are no transparent objects on the page.

  • Klaus Nordby says:

    Here’s an animated 256 color GIF, which shows the three states of no transparency, with transparency and transparency viewed with Overprint Preview:

  • Klaus, that’s fascinating! On my system, I can get a teensy tiny almost imperceptible change of text or lines, but nowhere near the change you’re seeing. Could it be a graphics card issue? Obviously, something is happening on your system, but I can’t figure out what.

    Do other Windows users see this dramatic of a change?

  • Josh Gordon says:

    I have ALWAYS seen this issue in Windows. In fact I posted this very same issue years ago (CS2 days) in the Adobe InDesign forums. Most people thought I was crazy for seeing this big a change — it’s nice to FINALLY see others are seeing this. I have always sort of gotten around it by using Overprint Preview. But as Klaus pointed out, it’s not perfect.

  • Wa Veghel says:

    Klaus, how are your colormanagment settings? When you see flattening you see a RGB to CMYK rendering on screen that depends on your profile settings. This can indeed be different from a ‘simple’ preview overprint. And if your images are already CMYK you will see different things then when your images are RGB remember…

  • Klaus Nordby says:

    David, I’ve seen this effect for many years on many different machines, desktops and laptops, so if it’s graphics card related then it’s fairly wide-spread issue on Windows computers. But I’m “glad” its happening also on your system, even if faintly.

    Josh, you are no longer alone! Even David supports our just cause, even if only faintly. :-)

    Wa: I’ll try some various CMS settings and see if that changes anything — but again, across so many years and many ID versions, I’ve had plenty of different CMS settings already. And my sample graphic feature this effect with NO images in my file. So I doubt it’s CMS related.

  • Eugene Tyson says:

    How about this one, I have text like

    (i) text

    and later on in another paragraph there is a word “Sch” which stands for Sch.

    I have my Highlight Spelling errors turned on. Sure enough I can see the wavy underline indicating a spelling mistake.

    When I turn on Overprint Preview, the spelling mistakes are no longer highlighted.

    It seems that when is switch to Overprint Preview, I lose my highlighting of misspelled words.

    I’m sure there’s a logical reason for this?

    By the way, it’s just text, no external images and just a little line for the running headers drawn in InDesign.

  • Eugene Tyson says:

    Sch stands for Schedule. Can my post be ammended please?

  • Klaus Nordby says:

    Eugene, I think it makes supreme sense that with Overprint Preview on we lose highlighting of misspelled words. It’s a preview of our file will print, after all, and spelling highlighting will never print — nor should it. Overprint Preview also hides the edges of all frames — since those edges never print. But, perhaps a bit inconsistently, Overprint Preview does not hide any guides.

  • Eugene Tyson says:

    I realise it’s a PREVIEW. But I thought this feature was simply for simulating Blend Spaces, Transparencies and Overprints. I have preview modes I can go to if I don’t want to see the red wavy lines, and I can turn them off in the preferences if I need to.

    The point was, it was unexpected. So if you have your spell checker turned on, especially for long docs, like I’m working on, then make sure you’re not in Overprint Preview mode, because the errors won’t be highlighted, as you would expect, having turned it on in the Preferences.

  • Maggie H says:

    Do other Windows users see this dramatic of a change?

    David: Yes. I use a Mac at work and a PC at home and I definitely see the fattening of text on my PC. It is a weird phenomenon.

  • I agree that there is some inherent confusion in InDesign’s “preview” settings and what they do and do not show in each mode. For example, why is there a Preview mode and an Overprint Preview mode?

    Clearly “overprint” shows more than just overprinting… it’s a “display more accurately” mode. But it’s not really a replacement for Proof Colors mode.

    Some people want some things visible in each of these modes that others don’t. For example, some folks want the Type > Show Hidden Characters to be visible even in Preview mode. Others don’t. The only good solution would be a Preference setting to say what is visible under what circumstance.

  • Klaus Nordby says:

    Maggie, you seem to confirm that this vector fattening is more a Win issue than a Mac one. David, you have Win systems too, could you double-check on this? And do you agree that the Overprint Preview slows down the screen redraw by a not negligible amount — hence there’s a performance price to pay for keeping it on at all times?

  • David Priest says:

    Could part of this effect be explained by Cleartype? Windows and Apple have different goals in their sub-pixel rendering: Microsoft forces the render to align to grid for better screen appearance at the cost of being true to print; Apple keeps it true to the print output at the cost of being off-grid on-screen.

    Preview may be rendering text as graphics, which would turn off the subpixel rendering system (and perhaps would use Apple’s calculations, as the goal is to closely emulate the print output; this would also explain why the difference is less apparent on Apple.)

  • Klaus, for you I’ll fire up the ol’ Windows machine… hold, on, I need to get a new spark plug…

    [15 minutes later]

    Holy, mackerel! InDesignSecrets readers: don’t read this thread! Just by reading the above comments, my Windows machine was subjected to a terrible virus which makes all the text and thin lines fatten up when I apply some form of transparency on the page! Klaus, I can’t believe you did this to my machine! It was working just fine in my memory, and now, by forcing me to try it, you’ve changed my system to match yours.

    Drat. ;)

    And it’s exactly what you pointed out: Transparency changes it the most; overprint preview changes it a little.

    Almost certainly a difference between how Mac and Windows handles antialiasing.

  • By the way, the issue is the same on both my Windows XP machine (thinkpad) and Windows Vista running under Parallels on my Mac. So it’s clearly not hardware dependent.

  • William Donohue says:

    I’ve been trying to reproduce this effect on my Mac, with no success. The comments so far seem to point to this being more of a Windows problem, so it might be that the Mac’s Quartz Compositor and Core Graphics rendering engines might make a difference, especially when rendering text. See this link for the tech background on this:

  • Klaus Nordby says:

    David, I’m truly sorry for messing up your XP box!

    Is this ClearType related, as David P asks? I’ll shortly try with CT disabled. But AFAIK the Adobe apps use Adobe’s own screen rendering engine — there is no CT anti-aliasing in screengrabs from ID, I know that for a fact, as that CT effect is easily seen when zooming in on my ID screengrabs.

  • Klaus Nordby says:

    OK, I’m back from the lab. I quit ID, disabled ClearType, booted ID and loaded my sample file — and no difference. The fattening occurs with transparency as before, and disappears with no transparent object. The Overprint Preview also behaves as previously. So it’s fair to say that ClearType has no influence in this matter — as I suspected, since I know the AA used in ID is grayscale AA, not the colored sub-pixel type which CT creates. So this is either something very low-level in the Windows graphics sub-system and/or something in the Adobe rendering engine which is coded differently from the Mac.

    I dearly wish Adobe would look into this, and if at all possible improve this “fattening feature” for CD4 — a little diet might be a good thing.

  • Eugene says:

    In my experiments, the weight of the line varies depending the zoom percentage that I’m at, sometimes the change is so minimal (if there is one) that it isn’t noticeable to the eye.

    Ok, so what does all this thickening of lines mean? Should people be worried by it? Should people try to fix it? Is there a fix?

  • Klaus Nordby says:

    Eugene, ah yes, “what does it all mean?” — my good man, many have pondered that, but very few have come up with any sensible answers. ;-)

  • A very interesting response from our friend Matt Phillips at Adobe (some of you may remember him from The InDesign Conference: Master Class, where he spoke eloquently on the topics of transparency and flattening):

    “The fattening is a longstanding, and I agree annoying, behavior that is related to how antialiasing is done. When we have a simple case without transparency the drawing is straight to the RGB monitor space and some well-calibrated antialiasing adjustment curves are applied. However, those curves can only be applied in RGB space. When the blending space gets in the middle AGM can no longer apply them. Thus you get antialiasing, but the curves are different. This should happen on both mac & windows but what’s likely the case is that the obviousness of the
    effect depends on the natural gamma of the display.

    Overprint preview slows down the display in direct and indirect ways. The direct way is that drawing becomes a multistep process involving the generation of per-plate images and subsequent compositing of those images into the RGB values shown on screen. That’s fairly intense image processing, the cost of which increases linearly with the number of spots in the document. The indirect way is that it automatically invokes high resolution previews of everything so that we get proper spot channel contributions from placed content.

    Whether the performance cost of OPP is “significant” depends on whether what it does represents a performance bottleneck. The more firebreathing your cpu and the less high-resolution content in your document (or if you tend to work in high res as a matter of course), the less you’ll notice it.”

  • Klaus Nordby says:

    David, thanks a lot you and Matt Phillips for this very interesting and enlightening technote. So my guess wasn’t so bad, that this was a long-standing issue connected with a low-level effect in the Adobe rendering engine. So it’s not fundamentally a Windows issue, but the slightly different gamma of (most? all?) Mac monitors masks some of this fattening effect more on Macs. Case closed — maybe! :-)

  • Klaus Nordby says:

    And Matt Phillips also confirmed my clear impression that there’s a performance penalty in using Overprint Preview. That this increases linearly with each added color plate is an interesting factoid.

  • Bob Levine says:


    There’s a 10 spot color limit to using the overprint or separations preview. I’m guessing this is a preventive measure to keep ID from locking up trying to generate a preview.

  • Klaus Nordby says:

    Bob, interesting — thanks. But is that 10 color channels in all, i.e., 4 CMYK plus 6 spots, or are those 10 spot channels in addition to the four CMYK ones? Good to know — although I don’t expect to reach any of those limits anytime soon!

  • Klaus Nordby says:

    Hmm, it occurs to me now that, since there’s both a fixed (and modest) limit to spot channel previewing and that each spot channels increases CPU time linearily for preview, that it’s NOT a good idea to use spot colors in a document at all, compared to using CMYK colors — if they are intended to be CMYK’ed in the Ink Managaer anyway. So the seeming convenience of using Pantone colors when designing — as many do — is a bad habit. Only when spot colors are actually needed for making printing plates should we use them, or we are needlessly slowing down our ID workstations.

  • Hello to everybody. I wrote in a recent post and I would like to say hello to all members. hi! Has anybody tested the AA settings of your Graphic Cards? I´ve got three different ones here and with Intel basic Graphic Media… it doesn´t happen. No flattening. I´ll test this afternoon two nvidia at my studio.

  • Klaus Nordby says:

    juanmacastillo, AFAIK the AA setting of graphics cards only pertain to software which uses 3D rendering for their screen display, i.e., games. InDesign is nothing like that, it’s an archetypical 2D application and all AA is handled natively by the Adobe graphics engine — so AA setting of graphics cards can have no effect and it’s a waste of time to test such parameters. That’s my current understanding.

  • Rok says:

    I changed Color Setup settings in Acrobat to defult Photoshop 5 Default spaces and i did the sme in Indesign.
    Now my colors don’t change when i convert to PDF and open the PDF in Acrobat.

  • Rok, I can understand the temptation to do this, but you’re certainly not going to get particularly accurate or consistent color throughout your print process. Are you just trying to make it look good in Acrobat? Or is the final goal to make it look good in print?

    I do not recommend this to people. Color management is not exciting to learn, but as I mentioned in this other post, it’s important that someone take responsibility for good color.

  • T. Latham says:

    I hate technology. Everything worked great with Windows 98. I was able to see videos, listen to music, burn CD’s and the gif animated images worked great.

    Now, I bought a new computer with Pentium 4 and I still have dial-up, but NOTHING works. I can’t watch videos, the music stops and starts, the color is all messed up with png images, the graphics are distorted, the google logo is grey and black and fuzzy instead of multi-colored and the animated gif images don’t animate.

    If this is technology, I’ll pass.

  • T: I’m terribly sorry to hear about your troubles, but your troubles don’t appear to have anything to do with InDesign. Good luck!

  • Aaron says:

    So, I’m still confused about how to resolve the original issue: colors shifting on spreads that have transparency applied.

    As mentioned, everything’s fine in ID when viewing in Overprint Preview mode. How do I mimic that look in an exported PDF? My end product is for press (2-color Pantone and black) but I’ll send several rounds of PDF proofs to the client, and don’t want them confused by color shift on certain spreads.

    Changing the Trans. Blend Space doesn’t appear to make a difference as far as the inconsistency among spreads.

  • @Aaron: You may need to turn on the Simulate Overprint checkbox when creating pdfs to send to a client. Basically, it dumbs down the PDF. Or have them upgrade to Acrobat 9 Reader, which is smarter. Not sure if these will work, but they’re worth a try.

  • Aaron says:

    David, thanks. I had forgotten about that checkbox. But I can’t seem to enable it; under what conditions does it become checkable?

  • @Aaron: I believe you have to make it an Acrobat 4 file in order to enable Simulate Overprint. That’s kind of strange.

  • Eugene Tyson says:

    Yeh, I make all my PDFs to Acrobat 4. I deal with various printing places and I tried sending some the 5, 6,7,8 versions but they don’t fly with them. Mainly because of live transparencies in the 5,6,7,8 versions. Acro 4 seems to work and give the right print results all the time, for me anyway, and printing places don’t have a problem with the pdfs I send them, it works for me.

    In fact, had a terrible time with a .ai file that was enormous. The InDesign file would not PDF quickly at all, in fact I estimated a time of about 4 or 5 hours to PDF. Which was insane. This was because I was exporting to Acrobat 4, and it was trying to flatten it.

    So I went to the Acrobat 5 and it worked, then the printers couldn’t RIP the Acrobat 5 job properly. So I sighed.

  • adobehouses says:

    in reference to the orignal question. this is a common problem, and manifests in many ways, not just grays. I have found the following

    in general:

    do all layout in the same version of color RGB or CMYK. convert all photos, images, etc. tiffs are the most reliable, psd transparencies and effects seem to screw with indesign. try to place in ai file, and export as pdf.

    set transparency and other effects in indesign, then duplicate that in photoshop and place that image, indesign sees as completely opaque(particularly in transparencies)

    set volume to 11 and rock

  • Linda Yaciw says:

    We were having trouble with colours when printing proof copies to our colour laser photocopier if the InDesign file contained any transparencies. The InDesign file printed perfect, and Acrobat 4 pdfs printed perfect, but Acrobat 5 pdfs changed the colours of the entire page to lighter greys and colours. However, our commercial printer could print the Acrobat 5s with no colour problems. So it’s only our colour photocopier that has a problem with transparencies/colours as far as I can tell, and saving to Acrobat 4 lets us print good colour proof copies.

  • Richard D says:

    I have all the symptoms mentioned above when transparencies of any kind are added to grayscale images! Text ‘fattens’ and the grayscale image gets much lighter. I can reduce the on-screen effect by changing to the RGB Transparency Flattner setting. However, it doesn’t seem right to do so when you are outputting to CMYK, cause some pages are colour. The whole spread is affected. Even the PDFs show the effect.

    Adobe’s ‘A Designers Guide to Transparency for Print Output’ is no help, but has some intersting material.

    I also see the effect in the print outs.

  • JGG says:

    I realise this is an old thread, but it is the only thing that came up when searching google for this issue.
    I really need to overprint some PMS spots on top of a few greyscale images, but it is impossible to achieve because the images all lighten up.

    Is there a way to reliably print transparent-looking color over a grayscale image (for a tw0 color printing job, so the final PDF cannot have more than two plates active, i.e. black and the PMS).

    Most of the posts here mention that the visual changes are on the monitor, but in fact the changes are also carried through to the output! First I thought it was just a display glitch, and that it wouldn’t be a problem for print, but it actually is.

  • Xiomara says:

    You are the biggest lifesaver, usually never comment on thing, but this has been such a pain for me and I am so relieved right now!!!! Thank you!!!!!!

  • Rachel says:

    I realize that this post is WAY out-of-date, but I’m seeing a major case of colors changing pretty drastically when I apply transparence in InDesign CS6, and I was wondering: You say “If you’re printing your document to press, this probably won’t make a big difference”–does this mean the colors will print properly when I send them to press?

    • Rachel: The point is that the preview you’re seeing (the more dull colors, etc.) is probably more like what it’ll be like on press (though it’s not a real, proper color soft-proof (I talk more about soft-proofing in this month’s InDesign Magazine.

      • Rachel says:

        Thank you, much appreciated!

        I’m not really using the screen to judge colors (I’ve got an old-timey handy-dandy color book that I use), but when I saw the colors change onscreen, I was afraid it was going to affect output. It’s reassuring to know that it won’t.

  • Piotr says:

    THANK YOU David! You saved my life. Much appreciated.

  • thank you David! You really help me.

  • Renate says:

    I’ve got the same problem and when I export my pdf files it stays that way. The text on only one of my pages is getting brighter only if I change the transparency of an image.
    I can’t send this to my client that way…. is there any solution for this?

  • velu says:

    simply great ……

  • Melissa says:

    I have a variation of this issue. I have a file with a dark blue background (CMYK) and I put text on top with the same CMYK, just at 50% tint (not transparency), which makes it close to gray.

    When I print, no matter what I do, there’s a red hue o the gray text.

    I’ve exported with the transparency flattener on (I have overprint lower in the document). I’ve exported with it off. I’ve printed from InDesign. I’ve printed to multiple printers. I’ve even re-built the color structure in another document to see if the InDesign file was corrupted. I’ve converted the colors to RGB. And the blend space to CMYK and RGB (and tested it both ways).

    No dice. It’s still pink. And not all pink – it’s a strange wave that seems to be more apparent on the left side than the right side. It’s pretty on the screen, but it all goes sideways when I try to print.

    Any ideas? It’s infuriating and I can’t figure it out.

  • Leslie says:

    Thank you for trying to help us with this.
    I’m still using CS3. Never had any problems until TONIGHT, (on deadline, ‘course!). Every time I try to apply an effect (“multiply”, or a drop shadow, for instance), ALL then images on that spread “grey out”. I’m working with greyscale images (a must if you are having something xeroxed). I’ve re-started the program, re-booted my computer, to no avail (iMac). Toggling between “overprint preview” does nothing, as does switching to “preview” mode. It doesn’t matter which “transparency blend space” I select (RGB or CMYK).

  • Chris B says:

    I am having the same problem. I have a grayscale gradient (50% black to white) as my background and all of my images lighten up. This is for magazine printing to my Transparency Blend is set to CMYK. When I change it to RGB they are TOO dark! The Overprint Preview doesn’t change a thing. My images are just like I want them in Photoshop but now too light in InDesign CS6 and looks the same when I export to pdf. What do I do?

  • David Blatner says:

    I wrote more on the “color change” situation here:

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