Friday, June 15, 2012

Opacity vs Tints

I know this is probably one of those basic "well, I know that!" things, but I had to learn this one the hard way here at MMP and it is something that everyone should be sure to know... especially if you are designing for press.

I think the opacity settings threw me off originally because I started designing in Photoshop, and I had no idea where or even if the Tint setting was available. Once I moved into other design programs I took my habitual use of Opacity with me and ignored the Tint setting option all together.

The above image is an example of a press print when the opacity of a color turned down. The section on the left has the opacity turned down to 40% and the section on the right has the opacity turned down to 20%. Notice how the dots in the image get smaller and further apart as the opacity or tint  is turned down.

is the translucence of a color or layer. It can be 100% opaque meaning that it is full color and you can not see anything behind it, 99-1% opaque which makes it to where you can still see the front color as well as the color behind it, or 0% opaque meaning the color is completely translucent.

When the opacity of a color is turned down, if there is a color behind the color you are adjusting, that back color can affect the hue of your front color. In the first image above, both shapes are at 100% opacity and tint. In the second image, the blue square's opacity has been turned down to 50% making the yellow square behind it visible through the blue, as well as changing where the squares overlap to green.

Opacity in Photoshop, can be found in the Layers panel above all of the layers. If your Layers panel is not shown in your sidebar, go to 'Windows' at the top of your program window and select 'Layers' to activate it in your sidebar.

Don't get confused between the Opacity and the Fill options in this panel. There is a small but major difference between the two. Opacity takes the opacity down on EVERYTHING on that layer (including layer styles), whereas adjusting the Fill only affects the pixels in the layer but leaves the layer styles as is.
Opacity in Illustrator can be found in the Transparency panel. If your transparency panel is not active in your sidebar, simply go to 'Window' at the top of your program window and select 'Transparency', and it will appear in your sidebar.
Opacity in InDesign is in your Control Panel located at the top of your program window. If you do not see it, simply go to 'Window' and select 'Controls' to activate the control panel.

Tint is a field of color made out of dots that creates any available shade lighter than your original color. No matter how much you change the tint, the opacity of the hue never changes.

Unlike opacity, when the tint of a color is changed any color behind the color you are adjusting will not affect the front color. In the first image above, both shapes are at 100% opacity and tint. In the second image, the blue square's tint has been turned down. As you can see, unlike in the opacity example, no matter what you change the tint to you can not see the color behind it.

Tint in InDesign is in the Swatches palette on the panel on the right side of your program window. Just like finding any other available panels, go to 'Window' and select 'Swatches' to activate.

Tint in Illustrator can only work and be found if you have an item selected that is a Pantone color. If you have a Pantone selected, click on 'Colors' in your sidebar and you can change the tint.
Changing the tint is also an option in Photoshop, but only through the Duotone mode.

You might think it's strange that Illustrator only allows you to change the tint if you are using Pantones, but if you think about it it really makes more sense than trying to change the tint of a CMYK color. When you have a Pantone, if you need a lighter or darker shade you would have to search for a completely new Pantone swatch [refer back to Digital Printers vs DI Printers], thus making press jobs more complicated as well as expensive. Whereas, if you are working with CMYK all you have to do is move the color selector to a lighter or darker shade.

Knowing the difference between the two and knowing how to change them can save you from nasty color changes and printing blunders.


  1. To change the tint of a CMYK color in Illustrator, double click a swatch and check Global.

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