How to put images inside text in InDesign

Image of Hong Kong inside text saying Creating Outlines

From advertising billboards to TV show opening sequences to movie trailers, images inside text have been a growing trend since 2018. Print advertisers using the look included British Airways and Smart Energy GB, and and on TV the effect was used in various ways including to advertise Star Wars movies, to animate the Channel 5 logo for Christmas, and by the Co-op in its Christmas TV advertisement. Here I explain how to put images inside text in InDesign using the create outlines function. I have posted another article explaining how to put video playing inside text using Premiere Pro.

To demonstrate the technique of creating outlines InDesign, I will use another hugely popular 2018 trend (and my own favourite hobby) — asteroids.

The following graphic was created in InDesign using images of asteroid Ryugu (officially known as 162173 Ryugu as it was the 162,173rd asteroid to be discovered). Just so you know, the images were acquired in by the Japanese Space Agency (JAXA) via its Hayabusa2 spacecraft that arrived at the asteroid at the end of June 2018.

How to put images inside text. Different images of asteroid 162173 Ryugu inside the word Ryugu as an example of how to put images inside text.
Design: Vissiniti. Source images: JAXA.

Asteroid lesson over, let’s get on with creating a graphic like this and put some images inside text.

If you would prefer to skip all the following narrative, you can jump straight to a summary of the five basic steps. But if you read on you will find some useful tips about issues to keep in mind as you create your graphic.

STEP 1: 

Type your text and format it to your desired font, size and weight.

I typed the word “Ryugu” (above) using a big, bold font (Arial black) so that each letter is chunky enough to show enough of the image that will be placed inside it. I did not want my text to have a solid outline (stroke) like the yellow outline in the Star Wars example below (that I found on the website What’s On Netflix) but if you want a stroke you can apply it now or after you have converted the text, it makes no difference.

The Star Wars logo.
Credit: What’s On Netflix

The Star Wars logo is ideal for holding graphics because the thickness of the characters (characters as in letters, not characters as in Luke and Leia) means you can see a good amount of the images placed inside.

However, you can get away with narrow text so long as the image you place into it is distinctive enough for the eye to be able to discern it.

Smart Energy GB use a really narrow script font in one of their advertisements which works because of the contrasting complementary colours in the image, so you can clearly see that the “236” contains a continuation of the block image on the left. If you click on the image it will open a new window showing further examples of this company’s advertisements in the same series.

A Smart Energy GB advertisement.
Credit: Smart Energy GB

STEP 2: 

Select your text and go to Type > Create Outlines. But before you do that, please do make sure your text is correct and set to the font you want because you will not be able to change those two properties once you have converted the text to outlines.

The reason you won’t be able to change the words and font is because the outlines of the text will become compound paths and effectively lose their inbuilt instructions that they are text with an applied font.

However, you will be able to manipulate the edit/anchor points of the outlines afterwards just as you would with a path or shape, so you will be able to resize your text by dragging out a corner anchor point. But you won’t be able to change the words you typed or its font.

As an aside here, don’t get confused with the word “outlines” — as in creating outlines by converting text to a compound path, and applying an outline stroke around your original text — they mean completely different things!

STEP 3:

If your text outlines are only on one line and if you don’t intend to have the image overflowing from a block into the text outlines (like the Smart Energy GB “236” advertisement above) you can skip this step and go straight to Step 4.

If your text outlines span more than one line you will need to combine them into a single container — or if you plan to have a block image flowing into the outlines you will need to combine the block and the outlines. To do either of these, select all of the outlines (text and any blocks) with the Direct Selection tool and select Pathfinder > Add.

STEP 4: 

With the outlines selected, go to File > Place to import your image into the selection.

And that’s all there is to it to get your image into the text. You can then resize or move the image around inside the outlines as you normally would with any imported image in InDesign. If you need a reminder on how to do that, read on.

STEP 5: 

To resize or move the image around inside the text outlines, double-click on the image until you see the brown frame that denotes the edge of the image and then drag the circular content grabber to move the image around inside the text, or drag a corner handle to resize the image.

Clicking on the blue frame will allow you to move or resize the text — but remember, you can’t change the words you typed or the font — if you decide you want a different word or font you will have no choice but to start again at Step 1, in which case just keep doing Ctrl+z back to the point immediately before you created the outlines.

Note that in my asteroid example at the start of this post, I actually created a separate outline for each character in the word “Ryugu” so each one is a separate compound path and I placed a different image of the asteroid into each letter. The Stars Wars example does a similar thing. The Co-op example below doesn’t and uses one image for the whole four character logo. The principle is the same whether you convert a single letter into one compound path outline, or a whole word, or a sentence, or a page of text, or a combination of words and shapes.

The Coop logo.
Credit: The Co-operative Group

Once you know how to put images inside text in InDesign, you’ll find a use for it everywhere. Here is another example that uses a different image in each text character — and note the little kitty popping out of the top of the “E” at the end — that involves using a clipping path and alpha channel and I will explain how to do that in another post.

My Cat Biscuits graphic as an example of how to put different or different images inside text in InDesign.
Design: Vissiniti. Source images: as shown.

To end this post, here is what I think is one of the best uses of an image inside text from a few years ago — the theatrical release poster for the Twentieth Century Fox movie Rise of the Planet of the Apes. It has the perfect font weight to see Caesar’s expression and all of his features are beautifully positioned inside the text characters. A superb design.

Poster for the first Planet of the Apes movie reboot (Rise of the Planet of the Apes) using one image inside title text.
Credit: Twentieth Century Fox
SUMMARY

Here is my QuickStep card that summarises how to put images inside text in InDesign:

The five quick steps explaining how to put images inside text in InDesign using the create outlines function