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How do I change the background color of text in InDesign?


InDesign allows you to easily customize the look of your text by changing the background color. This can help make certain text stand out or add visual interest to your document. Changing the background color of text in InDesign is a simple process that only takes a few clicks once you know where to look. In this article, we’ll walk through the steps for changing text background colors in InDesign CC. Whether you’re looking to highlight key points in your document or just want to jazz things up, read on to learn how to modify text backgrounds using InDesign’s powerful formatting tools.

Locating Text Background Options

The text background color options are located in InDesign’s Character Styles panel. To access them:

  1. Go to the Window menu and select Styles > Character Styles to open the Character Styles panel.
  2. Select the text you want to modify.
  3. In the Character Styles panel, click on the arrow next to Basic Character Formats to expand the dropdown menu.
  4. Select Background Color.

This will open the color picker window and allow you to choose a new background color for your selected text.

You can also access the text background options through the Control panel across the top of the InDesign workspace. With your text selected, look for the “T” icon in the Control panel and click on it to expand the Character Formatting Controls. Click on the “Background Color” square to open the color picker.

Choosing a Background Color

Once you open the color picker window, you’ll have several options for selecting a background color:

  • Eyedropper tool – Select this to use any color currently on your InDesign page.
  • Color field – Type in hex values or RGB/CMYK numbers to specify an exact color.
  • Color slider – Drag sliders to adjust color hue, saturation, and brightness.
  • Color spectrum – Select a color visually from the spectrum bar.
  • Swatches – Choose from preset swatches pulled from the active color theme.

Choose the color selection method that works best for you. The color you pick will automatically fill in as the background for the selected text as soon as you click “OK.”

Keep in mind that darker, muted shades tend to work best as text backgrounds. Very light or bright colors can sometimes make text harder to read, so opt for deeper hues like blues, greens, grays, and burgundies when possible.

Saving Custom Background Colors

If you use the same text background colors repeatedly, you can save them for easy access using InDesign’s Swatch panel:

  1. After selecting a custom background color for your text, go to Window > Color > Swatches to open the Swatch panel.
  2. Click the “New Color Swatch” icon in the Swatches panel.
  3. Name your new swatch something descriptive.
  4. Click “OK” to add the swatch.

Now whenever you need that exact color again for a text background, you can simply select it from the Swatches panel rather than recreating it each time. This helps streamline your formatting workflow.

Creating a Character Style

For long InDesign documents, you may find yourself applying the same text background color to certain words or phrases over and over again. In these cases, it’s handy to create a custom character style.

Here’s how to save a character style featuring a text background color:

  1. Format one instance of your text with the desired background color.
  2. Go to Window > Styles > Character Styles and click the “Create New Style” icon in the Character Styles panel.
  3. Name your style something like “Pull Quote Background” and click “OK.”

Now you can easily apply that background color to any text by just selecting it and clicking on the style name in the Character Styles panel. Character styles are a great way to work efficiently and ensure design consistency across your InDesign projects.

Applying Gradients

In addition to solid background colors, you can also apply gradient fills to text in InDesign CC. This allows you to blend two different colors together for more visually appealing results.

To use a gradient text background:

  1. Open the Gradient panel under Window > Color > Gradient.
  2. Click on the gradient bar to select a preset gradient or create your own custom one.
  3. Make sure your text box is selected and click the “Apply Gradient to Selected Text” button in the Gradient panel.

The gradient will fill in as the new text background. You can make adjustments to the gradient colors and direction by accessing the Gradient panel with your text selected.

Using gradients is a great way to add depth and dimension to highlighted text elements. Play around with angled or radial gradient options to see what works best for your document.

Troubleshooting Issues

Changing text background colors in InDesign is usually straightforward, but occasionally things don’t go according to plan. Here are some common issues that come up:

Text background reverts to white: If you apply a color that then reverts to the default white, make sure your text box doesn’t have a white fill applied in addition to the text background color. Select the box and check for any fill under the Object Formatting Controls. Remove any white box fill to retain the colored text background.

Entire text box changes color: If clicking on the Background Color option affects the entire paragraph or text box rather than just selected text, you likely have your text set to overprint. Disable the overprint by selecting the text and unchecking Overprint Fill under the Character Formatting Controls.

Color won’t apply to linked graphic: Background colors can only be applied to actual text – if you’re trying to color behind a linked image instead, the background color won’t work. Expand the image into a text box using the Content Collector tool first in order to apply a color.

Color imports incorrectly from Word: Copied text from Word may import with its background color separated from the actual text in InDesign. Select and recombine the shapes under the Pathfinder panel to recreate a single text box in order to apply the background color.

Getting familiar with the various color options and character style tools is the best way to troubleshoot and prevent issues when applying text backgrounds in InDesign. Don’t be afraid to experiment until you get the look you want!

Using the Eyedropper Tool

One handy trick for working with text backgrounds in InDesign is using the eyedropper tool to quickly sample and apply colors that are already on the page. The eyedropper tool is accessed from:

  • The Tools panel
  • The Color Theme panel
  • The Control panel when a color field is selected
  • Within the Color Picker window

To use it:

  1. Select the eyedropper tool from one of the above locations.
  2. Click on any colored area or object on your InDesign page to sample the color.
  3. The sampled color will automatically fill in as the new text background color for any selected text boxes.

You can sample from fills, images, gradients, and any other colored element. The eyedropper makes pulling complementary colors for text backgrounds very simple.

Give it a try next time you want to quickly match a text background to the existing colors used on your page.

Using the Color Theme Tool

Another useful option for working with text backgrounds is the Color Theme tool. The Color Theme panel lets you create a set of five coordinating colors to apply consistently across your InDesign project.

To use Color Themes for text backgrounds:

  1. Go to Window > Color > Color Theme to open the Color Theme panel.
  2. Click the “Create New Color Theme” icon.
  3. Enter a name for your theme.
  4. Double click on each of the five color wells to select your desired hues.

Once saved, you can easily access and apply any of your custom Color Theme swatches as text backgrounds:

  • Select text you want to modify.
  • Click the Background Color picker in the Control panel.
  • Choose colors from the Color Theme swatches that appear.

The Color Theme tool is extremely useful for keeping text backgrounds consistent across long documents or matching them to brand guidelines. Take advantage of it!

Background Colors for Accessibility

When selecting text background colors in InDesign, it’s important to keep accessibility in mind for readers with visual impairments or color blindness. Some tips:

  • Use sufficient contrast between text and background colors.
  • Avoid red/green color combinations.
  • Don’t only rely on color to convey meaning.
  • Make sure text isn’t placed over patterned backgrounds.
  • Provide adequate spacing around colored text.

You can use an online color contrast checker like WebAIM to test combinations and ensure legibility. With the right text/background color pairings, you can create designs that work for all readers.

Complementary Text Effects

Changing up the text background color offers a wide range of design possibilities. To take your formatted text even further, consider pairing background colors with these other effects:

  • Drop Shadow – Add dimension by applying a shadow behind the text.
  • Inner Glow – Make text pop with a glowing internal outline.
  • Outer Glow – Give the impression of a neon sign effect.
  • Bevel & Emboss – Use raised and stamped texture styles.
  • Feathering – Soften text edges for a faded look.

Many of these effects can be found in the Text Effects menu under the Character Formatting Controls. Don’t be afraid to experiment with layering on different styles!

The key is finding the right balance and combination that enhances readability along with the overall visual impact of your text.

Backgrounds for Text Boxes vs. Text

One common point of confusion when working with InDesign is the difference between text box fills and text background colors. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Text Box Fills – These affect the entire shape behind the text box, assigned under Object Formatting.
  • Text Backgrounds – These only modify the color behind each character, assigned under Character Formatting.

Text backgrounds are preferable for highlighting small portions of text without blocking design elements underneath. Text box fills change the entire container shape.

You can combine both to create a text box with a filled shape underneath highlighted passages within that have a different text background applied. Just remember they are controlled separately.

Matching Font Colors

When applying colored text backgrounds, keep in mind that you may need to update the font color as well for readability. Here are some guidelines on adjusting text color:

  • Dark text backgrounds usually pair best with light font colors.
  • Light background colors can typically use darker text.
  • Use a tool like Adobe Color to find complementary hues.
  • Adjust opacity rather than fully changing colors.
  • Avoid very low contrast combinations.

The goal is ensuring your colored text remains easy to read at both large and small sizes. Don’t be afraid to play around with different font colors against your new text backgrounds.

Working with Transparency Effects

When applying background colors to text in InDesign, you may sometimes want the color to be semi-transparent rather than 100% opaque. This allows other design elements underneath to partially show through.

To add transparency:

  1. Select the text you want to modify.
  2. Open the Effects panel under Window > Effects.
  3. Check the box for “Opacity” under Transparency.
  4. Drag the slider to adjust transparency percentage.

Transparency is great for creating layered designs and adding depth to colored text boxes. Just be sure there is still adequate contrast with the content below. The Effects panel offers many other options like applying fills as gradients instead of solid colors.

Troubleshooting Transparency

When working with transparency in InDesign, a few issues can crop up:

  • Overprinting objects can cause unwanted mixing instead of transparency.
  • Some raster effects may not interact well with transparency.
  • Spot colors won’t always display properly when transparent.
  • Flattener Preview can show you any issues with printed output.

Always check your document in Preview mode and correct any artifacts that appear when using transparency effects. Limit the amount of overlapping transparent objects, and convert spot colors to process if needed. Use the Flattener Preview to catch and fix potential printing problems ahead of time.

Exporting PDFs with Transparency

If you plan to export your InDesign layout featuring transparency effects to PDF format, there are a few settings you need to adjust:

  1. Go to File > Export and choose Adobe PDF (Print) as the format.
  2. Click on Compression and uncheck “Compress Artwork.”
  3. Under Output, mark “Preserve Transparency” and set to High Resolution.
  4. Convert spot colors to process colors if artifacts appear.

These options will maintain transparency effects when the PDF is viewed, printed, or sent to press. Always do a test print and have your printer review any PDFs using transparency prior to final output.


The ability to alter text background colors opens up all kinds of creative possibilities within InDesign. A variety of tools and options exist for customizing the look of your documents through colored text backgrounds.

Follow the steps outlined in this article to begin experimenting with different text background colors and effects in your layouts. Keep accessibility and transparency settings in mind as well when utilizing these powerful formatting tools.

With a solid grasp of how to change background colors, you can create eye-catching, informative text elements that will take your InDesign skills to the next level in no time!