Using Text as an Image Mask In Adobe InDesign

A common masking technique is to use a letterform as an image mask.

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We’ve all seen it. An uppercase letter in a magazine layout that is not filled with black ink but is filled, instead, with an image whose subject is directly tied to the subject of the article. It is both noticeable and, if done properly, actually supports the article. If the reader or user can’t understand the context for the graphic then the technique sinks to nothing more than a graphic artist demonstrating how clever he or she is.

The key to the technique is the proper choice of typeface and image. In fact, the type choice is critical because it is the letterform that will be used as an image mask. When it comes to filling letters with images, weight (,: Roman, Bold, Ultra Bold, Black) and style( eg: Italic, Oblique) must factor into the decision to fill a letter with an image because, even though the effect is “cool”, legibility is more important. Also, keep the following in mind:

  • This effect works best when you use a very large character. In the above image, the letters are over 600 points. The upshot, here, is the font should have a distinctive uppercase character set with, perhaps, a well-shaped serif, a slab serif or a strong italic.
  • You should also avoid extremely thin or light fonts.
  • Avoid the use of Grunge or Distressed fonts. These fonts are characterized by the use of brush strokes, artifacts, and textures.

With that in mind, let’s get started.

How To Create A Document in Adobe InDesign

You start with a blank page or new document.
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The first step in the process is to open a new document. When the New Document dialog box is open, use these settings:

  • Intent: Print
  • Number of Pages: 3
  • Start Page #: 1
  • Page Size: Magazine
  • Columns: Defaults
  • Margins: Defaults
  • Bleed: 0p0 all around
  • Slug: 0p0 all around
  • Preview: Selected

Click OK.

How To Create The Letter To Be Used As The Mask in Adobe InDesign

The key to this technique is to us a font that is both legible and readable.
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With the page created, we can now turn our attention to creating the letter to be filled with an image.

Select the Type tool. Move the cursor to the upper left corner of the page and drag out a text box that ends at roughly the midpoint of the page. Enter a capital letter “A”. With the letter highlighted, open the font pop down in the Properties panel at the top of the interface or the Character panel and select a distinctive Serif or Sans Serif font. In this case, we use Myriad Pro Bold and set the size to 600 pt.

Switch to the Selection tool and move the letter to the center of the page.

The letter is now ready to become a graphic, not text. With the letter selected, choose Type>Create Outlines. Though it may not look like much has happened, in actual fact, the letter has been converted from text to a vector object with a stroke and a fill.

How To Create The Text Mask In Adobe InDesign

Instead of a solid colour, an image is used as the fill for the letterform.

With the letter converted to vectors, we can now use that letterform to mask an image. Select the outlined letter with the Selection tool and select File>Place. Navigate to the location of the image, select the image and click Open. The image will appear in the letterform. If you want to move the image around inside of the letterform, click and hold on the image and a “ghosted” version will appear. Drag the image around to find the look you want and release the mouse.

If you want to scale the image, roll over the image and a target will appear. Click on it and you will see a bounding box. From there you can midpoint the image.

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