One of the tru­isms about pro­gram­mers is that they pre­fer not to have to do the same thing twice. That’s why the good ones tend to start keep­ing code libraries, and the really good ones start doing sub­tle and ele­gant things with objects.

Coming from a programming-​​for-​​clients back­ground I even­tu­ally ended up in graph­ics (which was what I’d started doing long before any­thing else), at least partly because when you’re work­ing on some­thing for a client you’re never really fin­ished. You’re always doing the same thing twice. And con­sid­er­ably more often than that as well.

So it is that I don’t par­tic­u­larly like hav­ing to do the same design twice, nor do I like sloppy or inel­e­gant solu­tions to situations.

Some time back I did a design for our local char­ity race. That design works pretty well on shirts and in smaller scales, but on a poster it’s basi­cally a big field of white with­out a lot to bring the sub­jects into promi­nence. So what I’d done before (last year) was invert the col­ors in the art, trans­pos­ing black with white and vice versa.

This is triv­ial to do in Illustrator, but since I’m using InDesign as my lay­out tool, the issue I start bump­ing into is hav­ing to keep two dif­fer­ent ver­sions of the art around — the stan­dard black-​​over-​​white, and the inverted version.

This is not good, for a cou­ple of reasons.

1 If I make changes in one, for what­ever rea­son, they won’t nec­es­sar­ily get reflected in the other.

2. Having more than one copy of a work­ing file is pretty damn sloppy.

Another prob­lem is that InDesign doesn’t eas­ily let you invert col­ors in placed art, unless it’s a TIFF. (I have no idea why, but it’s appar­ently been that way for­ever.) There’s no Invert option in the ink effects choices, and Difference and Exclusion are both inad­e­quate for truly invert­ing black and white. All you end up with is some­thing black sit­ting atop some­thing else that’s char­coal grey. Hardly ade­quate con­trast, and def­i­nitely not an inversion.

Thus pre­sented with a chal­lenge (remem­ber, I didn’t want to have to invert the col­ors in Illustrator, though I could have in less than 60 sec­onds), I started mess­ing about. This is the image I began with. Note that the fig­ures are black on a white field, as orig­i­nally cre­ated in Illustrator.

My lit­tle jour­ney of dis­cov­ery wasn’t as ardu­ous as I’d feared. All I needed to do in the end was cre­ate two addi­tional graph­ics — both InDesign shapes — and place one below the art, the other atop it. To make it obvi­ous what I’ve done, I’ve added some lay­ers to the image, labelled fore­ground — white, art, and back­ground — black. The art is, as you’d expect, on the art layer.

On the back­ground layer, I cre­ated a black rec­tan­gle with no ink effects. The art is placed on top of that in its own layer, with its ink effect set to Difference at 100% opac­ity. That gave me a black-​​on-​​charcoal effect, which obvi­ously is not where I want to be. Click the screen­shot here to see what I mean.

To rec­tify this, I placed a white (Paper) filled rec­tan­gle above the art, again on its own layer to make it clearer how things are stacked. This, too, is set to Difference ink at 100% opac­ity. Click the final screen­shot here to see the results.

The black and white val­ues in the art are inverted, with­out my hav­ing to alter the source file in any way.

Direct export to PDF works with the final ver­sion, as does out­put to EPS and then dis­till­ing. The “inver­sion” to black is less than per­fect — the black is actu­ally a dark grey, though it looks bet­ter in a direct PDF export than in some­thing passed through Distiller — but for many uses, I think this is a work­able alter­na­tive to edit­ing your source art to invert black and white in InDesign CS5.

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