Tutorial: How-To Fill Type with Artwork in InDesign


How would you fill type with artwork or imagery? Would you do it in Photoshop or Illustrator? If the artwork-filled type is going to end up in your InDesign layout anyway, why not just fill the type directly within InDesign? Lord knows I love Illustrator and Photoshop, but one of the most frequent time–eaters in [...]

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How would you fill type with artwork or imagery? Would you do it in Photoshop or Illustrator? If the artwork-filled type is going to end up in your InDesign layout anyway, why not just fill the type directly within InDesign?

How To:  InDesign:  Fill Type with Artwork

Lord knows I love Illustrator and Photoshop, but one of the most frequent time–eaters in publication layout is jumping over to vector drawing or image-editing programs. Too often we think creating or tweaking simple effects like filling text with an image (or multiple images) requires Photoshop or Illustrator. Although it’s a quick trip to one or the other–especially with the Creative Suite shortcut buttons on InDesign’s PageMaker toolbar–it’s a trip most InDesign users make far more frequently than they need. Staying in your layout application whenever possible will save time and keep your mind on your InDesign workflow without breaking concentration to switch over to Illustrator or Photoshop.

The type in Figure 1 was filled without the aid of Illustrator or Photoshop. It was created solely in InDesign CS2, though the technique in this tutorial works just as well with InDesign CS. In a few quick steps I’ll show you how to not only fill a typed word or phrase with a single image, but also how to fill each character or glyph of a word with its own separate artwork.

Figure 1: Each letter is filled with a separate picture.

Fill a Word with Artwork

1. With the Type tool, click and drag to create a new text frame. Type in your word or single-line phrase. This technique will work with multi-line text, but let’s keep it simple for the moment.

2. Apply your text formatting. For best results, choose a thick, beefy, or bold typeface at a large point size. In Figure 2 you’ll see that I’m using Futura Xtra Black Condensed from Bitstream. Because we’re working with just a single line of text, leading is irrelevant, but adjust the kerning, scaling, OpenType, and any other styling options as needed.

Figure 2: Set a single line of text in a new text frame.

3. Select the text frame with the Selection tool, and then choose Type > Create Outlines. Now, instead of a text frame with live, editable type, you have a text-shaped image frame (see Figure 3).

Figure 3: The text has become a frame–evident by the appearance of the shapes’ paths when selected with the Direct Selection tool.

Note: InDesign will not create a new copy of your text frame. If you might–if there’s even the slimmest chance you might–need to edit the text, make a copy of the original text frame before converting to outlines. Place the copy on the pasteboard, or where I often store “backup” objects, an “unused elements” layer, which remains in my document until just before going to press.

4. With the text-shaped frame still selected, choose File > Place and import an image. The image will appear inside the text-shaped frame just as it would in any other image frame (see Figure 4).

Figure 4: A placed image appears inside the text-shaped frame.

5. To resize or distort only the placed image instead of the text-shaped frame, grab the Direct Selection tool (the white arrow), and click once inside the path. If you see the paths of the frame, you clicked too close to the path edge. When the cursor is over the correct spot, inside the path and over the placed image fill, it will turn into a hand. Once selected, the image’s bounding box will appear, defining the dimensions of the placed image, and allowing it to be repositioned or transformed (see Figure 5).

Figure 5: Selecting the placed image fill with the Direct Selection arrow activates the fill’s bounding box.

Depending on your frame and placed artwork, it may be difficult to discern the fill’s bounding box from the path of the text-shaped frame. An easy way to tell them apart–not just in this case, but with any filled frame–is to compare the color of the bounding box with the layer color. The paths and bounding boxes of frames or other containers will be the same color as the squares beside their containing layers’ names in the Layers palette; bounding boxes belonging to the contents of containers, however, will be the inverse color. For example, the default Layer 1 color is Light Blue, thus the fill bounding box will be brown. (Haul out that color wheel from art school; you’ll see I’m not totally nuts.)

Position and transform your image to fill the text-shaped frame–or not to fill it, if that gives you the effect you want. Figure 6 shows my sized and positioned image filling the “artmedia” logotype.

Figure 6: The finished artwork-filled-text.

Once you have this technique down, you’ll probably wonder if there’s a way to place a separate image inside each letter–without having to repeat the entire process for each letter, creating individual text frames and converting them to image frames. Would I tease you like that if there weren’t such a way? Pshaw!

Fill Each Character with Separate Artwork

1. Follow steps 1-3 in the previous section to create your text-shaped frame, but stopping short of placing your first image.

2. With the text-shaped frame selected, choose Object > Compound Paths > Release. Notice that not only is the word broken into separate glyphs, but each glyph’s constituent compound paths are also released to independent paths. Paths such as the counters (holes) in my As, R, and D (see Figure 7) become free-standing objects.

Figure 7: With the Object > Compound Paths > Release command, all compound paths are released, including counters.

By creating separate frames from each path, InDesign opens the door to interesting creative possibilities. In this particular design, however, I don’t want to fill the counters with their own separate artwork; I want them to be negative space holes like they are in real type.

3. To knock out the counters again, select the outer and inner paths of just one glyph–the outer path and counter path in my first A, for example. And then choose Object > Pathfinder > Subtract to subtract the foremost path (the counter) from the background path. Repeat this step for any other glyphs that should be compound paths.

Note: Depending on how the font was drawn by the type designer, counter paths might actually be behind the outer glyph path upon release. As you can see in Figure 8. releasing the compound paths on my text-shaped fame places the counters of the As in front, though the counters in the R and D end up behind their corresponding outer paths. If this happens in your artwork, simply select only the outer path and send it backward before Shift-clicking on the counter path(s) and using the Object > Pathfinder > Subtract command.

Figure 8: Releasing compound paths in this font results in some counter paths appearing in front of the outer paths and others behind.

4. Once you have all requisite compound paths restored, click on one glyph-shaped frame and place an image into it with File > Place. Keep going, one glyph-shaped frame at a time, to place, size, and position the separate fill artwork for each glyph.

When you’ve finished filling, select all the glyph-shaped frames and group them with the Object > Group command, which will enable you to once again move and work with the word or phrase as a unified object. Apply your finishing touches, and you’re done!

You can see my finished project, a logo for an art supply store, in Figure 9. Although I applied a gradient stroke and drop shadow to the grouped glyph-shaped frames, none of it is unchangeable. Because I did everything in InDesign, I can easily move the artwork to any layout, size and transform it, and even change its fill, path shape, or style attributes without loading up Photoshop or Illustrator.

Figure 9: The finished project.

Last Words

InDesign will convert multiple lines of text to outlines–an entire page, including multiple frames could be converted at once–and each line will become a compound path that may be filled with placed images. In that case, there’s one added step: When converting more than a single line to outlines, InDesign will automatically group the resulting compound paths (one compound path per line). Simply ungroup prior to placing artwork.

Alternative to using the Object > Pathfinder > Subtract command (which, let’s face it, is wrist-intensive) is the same command in button form on the Pathfinder palette. With the counter and outer paths selected, just click the second button from the left along the top row of the Pathfinder palette.

Filling words with pictures can provide dramatic effect, but, like any other cool technique, it’s easily abused. Use this technique only when a project warrants it; don’t try to fit artwork-filled text into a project just because you now know how. That said, it’s easy to create tremendous impact through subtlety. Consider filling large head type with a low-contrast monotone image or photograph isolation. For something even simpler, try creating a flowing, non-linear gradient in Photoshop or Illustrator and using that image to fill type in a way InDesign’s native gradients can’t. Freedom to explore and experiment is, after all, what the butterfly is all about.

Want to learn how to fill type with artwork in QuarkXPress?

Howto, tutorial, InDesign, CS, CS2

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2 Responses Discussing “Tutorial: How-To Fill Type with Artwork in InDesign”
  1. Hello Pariah,

    I am one of your students from your Atlanta class in August.
    I need help finding a book border for a customer, or something related to Halloween.


    08 Sep 2005
    08:52 PT
  2. Great tip, immensely helpful!!! thanx!

    06 Mar 2008
    22:41 PT

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