Setting a Background in InDesign

By Elizabeth Mott

Background colors influence the perception of foreground subject matter.
i Martin Poole/Digital Vision/Getty Images

In graphic design, background color provides what paint and wallpaper offer interior decorators: a context, a canvas, a backdrop, a foundation. Whether it comes from the color of non-white paper, from graphics or from photos, background color sets the tone and mood of the visual materials you create. When it surrounds a work in progress inside a page-layout application such as Adobe InDesign, background color also influences the designer's reaction to the work itself.

Paper Color

The Adobe InDesign Swatches panel automatically includes a color called Paper, white by default, which appears as the color of blank document pages. If you change the color of this swatch, you also change the appearance of your pages. Regardless of the color you assign to Paper, however, the objects to which you apply it -- and the blank areas of your pages -- print in white. If you plan to output a project on colored paper, you can set Paper to match your output medium so your InDesign document serves as a rough preview. You won't see how ink colors change on and interact with non-white surfaces unless you activate "Overprint Preview" from the View menu.

Preview Background

When you turn on Adobe InDesign's Preview feature, either from the View menu or the icon at the bottom of the toolbox, you view your document against the application's pasteboard without the distractions of guides and margins. To change the color of the pasteboard to something other than its default gray, open InDesign's "Preferences" dialog box and choose its "Guides & Pasteboard" section. The Preview Background drop-down menu provides a long list of prefabricated pasteboard colors. The Custom option at the end of the list enables you to formulate and select your own background shade.

Full-Bleed Pages

To create a document that uses a solid background behind text and graphics, you need an overall area of color as the bottom-most object on the page. Either the Rectangle or the Rectangle Frame tool can produce a box you can fill with a solid color or gradient to serve as the base for your page. If you need this form of all-over background on every page of your document, add the box to your master pages so it appears automatically. For projects you plan to print, create a box that exceeds the size of your page by at least 0.125 inches on all edges.

Text Beds

To layer type on top of a graphic or photo, you often need a bed of background color to maintain readability against the image's variegated tones. If you fill your text frame with a suitable background color, you can open the "Effects" panel and change the fill color's opacity so the image shows through it just enough to integrate type and visual together. For greater flexibility, you can assign a glow or drop shadow to your text and use it as the background that differentiates it against the underlying image.


Information in this article applies to Adobe InDesign CS6 and Adobe InDesign CC. It may differ slightly or significantly with other versions.