How do I need to change the transparent objects in an inkscape file to be able to export them correctly to pdf? So far it seems the defaults render the transparent objects either invisible or opaque.

  • 4
    Exporting transparency used to be a problem in general, and with PostScript in particular, but from what I've read the transparency support with PDF should be working OK nowadays. The changelog for Inkscape 0.47 says that PDF export supports vector transparency, and that version was released in 2009. Make sure you have a somewhat recent version of Inkscape (and libcairo), and make sure your PDF reader supports transparency. In any case, the fallback for the cases where Inkscape can't export transparency "should" be rasterization of the effect, but I know I've battled with the same thing once. Feb 12, 2013 at 19:05

4 Answers 4


Since exporting transparent shapes into PDFs still doesn't work properly (at least for me, right now) and the exporting of Bitmaps is (as far as I can tell) a lot of work when you're updating your figure a lot, here's my simple workaround for shapes.

Again, this only works for shapes, not embedded images.


Basically, it boils down to setting the alpha channel of the color instead of it's opacity. I would have thought these are the same property, but apparently they are not.

Cheers, Jan

  • 1
    Reducing alpha channel instead of opacity works fine so far. Thanks.
    – fuma
    Jan 4, 2017 at 16:46

For an embedded image, if you have the SVG file without a background, just:

  • export it using File → Save a copy;
  • choose the PDF format;
  • click Save;
  • in the PDF-export window that pops up, select Export drawing and unselect Export page.

When opening the exported PDF with a PDF reader, it may look like there is a white background. But if you include it in a presentation or poster file, you will see that there is no background.

  • 1
    This worked in Inkscape 0.91. Indeed Mac OS Preview & QuickLook show a white BG which was throwing me off, but inserting the PDF into PowerPoint showed that it is in fact transparent.
    – Demis
    Nov 7, 2017 at 3:54
  • 2
    This doesn't work in Inkscape 1.0.2, which no longer has a PDF export dialog.
    – Psychonaut
    May 5, 2021 at 9:54

Check that it is not rather your PDF reader that is unable to render transparency. Use Adobe Acrobat or Okular (linux), these can render most of the type of transparencies in my experience (including gradients).

The easy silly solution is to export bitmap, then the transparencies over solid objects are rendered. You can then convert to PDF, but this is not scalable anymore.

However, to the best of my knowledge, there is no automatic "robust" way of exporting a scalable PDF with transparencies from inkscape.

You can do it manually though:

  1. export a bitmap and open it in e.g. GIMP
  2. for any transparent solid colour object, duplicate it as many times as it overlays other objects, intersect each of these bits (Ctrl+*) with a duplicate of the overlaid object, and give the intersection the colour you obtain with the pipette in GIMP for this part of your drawing.

A little of a hassle, isn't it? It should be scriptable... See my post at inkscape forum: http://www.inkscapeforum.com/viewtopic.php?f=28&t=15739&e=0

EDIT: OK, thinking a little more of the problem, there's a better way:

  1. create a layer "Transparent" at the depth of the transparent objects, move transparent objects to this layer;

  2. view only this layer and "Edit > Make a bitmap copy" (ALT-B)

  3. move this copy to a new layer "Bitmap" next to the layer "Transparent"

  4. Turn off the viewing of layer transparent and on the layer bitmap before exporting your PDF.

This way, you have a combined Bitmap+Scalable Vector document: only the tranparent fill is not scalable, but it will be rendered correctly in PDF viewers.


  1. You need to repeat this operation each time you modify any of your transparent objects.

  2. You also need to repeat this if you have transparent objects at different depths.

  3. There may be PDF viewers not even handling bitmap tranparency, in which case vector elements in layers below the "Bitmap" layer may not be rendered properly.


Ungrouping the images in question a couple of times, until the status bar said "image" instead of "group of 1 object", fixed the problem. Some of the empty groups had mask and clip effects applied to them, and the stacking of these effects is what caused the bug. The groups/effects can be safely removed without distorting the images.


  • 1
    Please clarify what you are suggesting further. Sep 25, 2017 at 17:51
  • So, basically, you’re telling the OP (the author of the question) that their problem isn’t what they think it is, and that they don’t know what they’re doing (and/or they don’t know what they’re talking about)? Sep 25, 2017 at 18:18
  • Thanks. This was the issue with mine. My wife had imported the PDF of what she was working on rather than the SVG and it had performed this multi-level grouping. Undoing it fixed things but she had found and edited the original SVG at that point which is the better solution but yours would have got us there. Jun 4, 2021 at 14:25

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .