Is there any way to make a transparent text cut out of a background effect like the one in the following image, with CSS?
It would be sad to lose all precious SEO because of images replacing text.

Transparent text cut out of background

I first thought of shadows but I can't figure anything out...

The image is the site background, an absolute positioned <img> tag

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"lose all precious SEO because of images replacing text." There are also existing image replacement techniques, that still are SO friendly. BTW: actually the background behind the letters also need to stay transparent, which is the problem here… – feeela
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yeap, this would be a great practice, if possible with css... – Jessica Lingmn
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I don't see a reason why <h1><img alt="Some Text" /></h1> is any less SEO friendly than <h1>Some Text</h1>. Traditionally, the problem with images has been that they've just been dumped on the page with no supporting markup. – cimmanon
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@cimmanon Yeah, you're right. I could probably use images without losing SEO points, but you can't still select text, search on page, linking will be more complicated, and it will be a lot more work to update the text... :/ – Love Dager
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Just so you know, Google is totally cool with CSS image replacement techniques: mezzoblue.com/archives/2008/05/05/image_replac – cimmanon
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Not sure if this is the same: css-tricks.com/how-to-do-knockout-text – mbomb007

11 Answers 11

Not possible with CSS just now I'm afraid.

Your best bet is to simply use an image (probably a PNG) and and place good alt/title text on it.

Alternatively you could use a SPAN or a DIV and have the image as a background to that with your text you want for SEO purposes inside it but text-indent it off screen.

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Yeah, you're right. I could probably use images without losing SEO points, but you can't still select text, search on page, linking will be more complicated, and it will be a lot more work to update the text... :/ – Love Dager

I guess you could achieve something like that using background-clip, but I haven't tested that yet.

See this example:
http://www.css3.info/wp-content/uploads/2008/03/webkit-backgroundcliptext_color.html
(Webkit only, I don't know yet how to change the black background to a white one)

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Yeah, that might work! Thanks, now to align everything correctly.. Damn.. -.- – Love Dager

It is possible, but so far only with Webkit based browsers (Chrome, Safari, Rockmelt, anything based on the Chromium project.)

The trick is to have an element within the white one that has the same background as the body, then use -webkit- background-clip: text; on the inner element which basically means "don't extend the background beyond the text" and use transparent text.

section
{
    background: url(http://norcaleasygreen.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/turf-grass1.jpg);
    width: 100%;
    height: 300px;
}

div
{
    background: rgba(255, 255, 255, 1);
    color: rgba(255, 255, 255, 0);

    width: 60%;
    heighT: 80%;
    margin: 0 auto;
    font-size: 60px;
    text-align: center;
}

p
{
    background: url(http://norcaleasygreen.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/turf-grass1.jpg);
    -webkit-background-clip: text;
}
​

http://jsfiddle.net/BWRsA/

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Cool trick! But now to align everything properly will be a bitch.. -.- – Love Dager
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Yeah, that's another problem with it. It's still in development and I sincerely hope we see something like this soon! :) – Kyle
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Also, you can always layer over transparent text on the image, so that it's still selectable. But I am sure that it's bad practice for SEO.. Hidden messages/keywords and such. – Kyle
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aligned the easy way jsfiddle.net/BWRsA/2 – Gijs
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I am sure it is looks very nice in Webkit browsers, but for everyone else it is a semi-transparent white box on top of some grass. – cimmanon
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That's why I said it only works in webkit.... – Kyle
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Without a graceful fallback, this is 100% useless in production. It's not like box-shadow or border-radius where if the browser doesn't support those properties the page is still usable, it just doesn't look as pretty. That's not the case with this property. – cimmanon
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The OP's question was "is it possible." Yes, it is. In Webkit browsers only. It is in development and I hope it becomes a standard feature sometime. But to use this in production would not be a great idea. – Kyle
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The fact that he is worried about SEO implies that his plan is to use it in production. There's also a large number of designers out there who think Webkit is the only browser that matters: glazman.org/weblog/dotclear/index.php?post/2012/02/09/… – cimmanon
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Aye. It may have most of the market share, but there are still millions of users using other browsers, it's folly to only support one. – Kyle
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Ah, come on guys... Yes I plan on using it in production. But of course not without a fallback! @cimmanon – Love Dager
up vote 38 down vote accepted

It's possible with css3 but it's not supported in all browsers

With background-clip: text; you can use a background for the text, but you will have to align it with the background of the page

body {
    background: url(http://www.color-hex.com/palettes/26323.png) repeat;
    margin:10px;
}
h1 { 
    background-color:#fff;
    overflow:hidden;
    display:inline-block; 
    padding:10px; 
    font-weight:bold;
    font-family:arial;
    color:transparent;
    font-size:200px;
}span { 
    background: url(http://www.color-hex.com/palettes/26323.png) -20px -20px repeat;
    -webkit-text-fill-color: transparent;
    -webkit-background-clip: text;
    display:block;
}
<h1><span>ABCDEFGHIKJ</span></h1>

http://jsfiddle.net/JGPuZ/1/

Automatic alignment

with a little javascript you can align the background automatic:

$(document).ready(function(){
  var position = $("h1").position(); //Position of the header in the webpage
  var padding = 10; //Padding set to the header
  var left = position.left + padding;
  var top = position.top + padding;
  $("h1").find("span").css("background-position","-"+left+"px -"+top+"px"); 
});
body {
    background: url(http://www.color-hex.com/palettes/26323.png) repeat;
    margin:10px;
}
h1 { 
    background-color:#fff;
    overflow:hidden;
    display:inline-block; 
    padding:10px; 
    font-weight:bold;
    font-family:arial;
    color:transparent;
    font-size:200px;
}span { 
    background: url(http://www.color-hex.com/palettes/26323.png) -20px -20px repeat;
    -webkit-text-fill-color: transparent;
    -webkit-background-clip: text;
    display:block;
}
<script src="https://ajax.googleapis.com/ajax/libs/jquery/2.1.1/jquery.min.js"></script>
<h1><span>ABCDEFGHIKJ</span></h1>
http://jsfiddle.net/JGPuZ/2/

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A you people are TOO fast :D – Gijs
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Oh great! I will test the auto alignment as fast as I get home! Thank you! :D – Love Dager
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you maby need to alter the code a bit, depends on the situation, now it could conflict with other elements and this one was written really fast, if you have any questions i will hear them – Gijs
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Yeah sure, but I know jQuery like the palm of my hand (okay.. let's say almost). I will probably make a nifty little plugin for it! Also thank you, marked as correct! – Love Dager
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Not to disregard the answer, which is a really nice solution, but background-clip:text is a Webkit-only, non-standard option. CSS3 does not allow the text value for this attribute (see). – tanius
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Confirmed that this unfortunately does not work in firefox – larpo
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This technique allows you to see the background of the element where the text would normally be. I'm looking for a way to see what's under the element with the text through the place where the text would normally be. – Vince

Although this is possible with CSS, a better approach would be to use an inline SVG with SVG masking. This approach has some advantages over CSS :

CodePen Demo : SVG text mask

transparent text clipping background

body,html{height:100%;margin:0;padding:0;}
body{
  background:url('https://farm9.staticflickr.com/8760/17195790401_94fcf60556_c.jpg');
  background-size:cover;
  background-attachment:fixed;
}
svg{width:100%;}
<svg viewbox="0 0 100 60">
  <defs>
    <mask id="mask" x="0" y="0" width="100" height="50">
      <rect x="0" y="0" width="100" height="40" fill="#fff"/>
      <text text-anchor="middle" x="50" y="18" dy="1">SVG</text>
      <text text-anchor="middle" x="50" y="30" dy="1">Text mask</text>
    </mask>
  </defs>
  <rect x="5" y="5" width="90" height="30" mask="url(#mask)" fill-opacity="0.5"/>    
</svg>

If you aim on making the text selectable and searchable, you need to include it outside the <defs> tag. The following example shows a way to do that keeping the transparent text with the <use> tag:

body,html{height:100%;margin:0;padding:0;}
body{
  background:url('https://farm9.staticflickr.com/8760/17195790401_94fcf60556_c.jpg');
  background-size:cover;
  background-attachment:fixed;
}
svg{width:100%;}
<svg viewbox="0 0 100 60">
  <defs>
    <g id="text">
      <text text-anchor="middle" x="50" y="18" dy="1">SVG</text>
      <text text-anchor="middle" x="50" y="30" dy="1">Text mask</text>
    </g>
    <mask id="mask" x="0" y="0" width="100" height="50">
      <rect x="0" y="0" width="100" height="40" fill="#fff"/>
      <use xlink:href="#text" />
    </mask>
  </defs>
  <rect x="5" y="5" width="90" height="30" mask="url(#mask)" fill-opacity="0.5"/>
  <use xlink:href="#text" mask="url(#mask)" />
</svg>

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This seems to be the only solution which works cross browser today: IE11, FF, Chrome, Safari. And doesn't need image as a background as many other solutions provided to the problem all around the web. – Timo Kähkönen
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Inspired from this answer I made a keyframes animation, where transparent SVG-text on white rounded rectangle rotates. The background has text and images. Go and see: jsbin.com/nipuqu/3 (The World championship is coming:)) – Timo Kähkönen
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Nice solution, but since "select text and search on page" seem to be in OP's requirements, you may want to include the <text> outside of the <defs> part. (btw I'm not sure how SE crawlers do deal with SVG content in defs). Here is a way to keep what OP wants, with an horrible FF bug exploit : jsfiddle.net/tfneqxxb – Kaiido
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What if the text is dynamic? It dosesn't auto adjust the width. – Imran Bughio
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@ImranBughio no it doesn't. SVG text doesn't act like plain HTML text. You nee to position it . For more in for info see here – web-tiki
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This should be the accepted answer – BrassApparatus

You can use myadzel's Patternizer jQuery plugin to achieve this effect across browsers. At this time, there is no cross-browser way to do this with just CSS.

You use Patternizer by adding class="background-clip" to HTML elements where you want the text to be painted as an image pattern, and specify the image in an additional data-pattern="…" attribute. See the source of the demo. Patternizer will create an SVG image with pattern-filled text and underlay it to the transparently rendered HTML element.

If, as in the question's example image, the text fill pattern should be a part of a background image extending beyond the "patternized" element, I see two options (untested, my favourite first):

  • Use masking instead of a background image in the SVG. As in web-tiki's answer, to which using Patternizer will still add automatic generation of the SVG and an invisible HTML element on top that allows text selection and copying.
  • Or use automatic alignment of the pattern image. Can be done with JavaScript code similar to the one in Gijs's answer.

You can use an inverted / negative / reverse font and apply it with the font-face="…" CSS rule. You might have to play with letter spacing to avoid small white gaps between letters.

If you do not require a specific font, it's simple. Download a likeable one, for example from this collection of inverted fonts.

If you require a specific font (say, "Open Sans"), it's difficult. You have to convert your existing font into an inverted version. This is possible manually with Font Creator, FontForge etc., but of course we want an automated solution. I could not find instructions for that yet, but some hints:

One way that works on most modern browsers (except ie, edge), although only with a black background, is to use

background: black;
color: white;
mix-blend-mode: multiply;

in your text element and then put whatever background you want behind that. Multiply basically maps the 0-255 color code to 0-1 and then multiplies that by whatever is behind it, so black stays black and white multiplies by 1 and effectively becomes transparent. http://codepen.io/nic_klaassen/full/adKqWX/

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For white background with black color use color-dodge , lighten or screen on mix-blend-mode – Imran Bughio

Demo Screenshot

I needed to make text that looked exactly like it does in the original post, but I couldn't just fake it by lining up backgrounds, because there's some animation behind the element. Nobody seems to have suggested this yet, so here's what I did: (Tried to make it as easy to read as possible.)

var el = document.body; //Parent Element. Text is centered inside.
var mainText = "THIS IS THE FIRST LINE"; //Header Text.
var subText = "THIS TEXT HAS A KNOCKOUT EFFECT"; //Knockout Text.
var fontF = "Roboto, Arial"; //Font to use.
var mSize = 42; //Text size.

//Centered text display:
var tBox = centeredDiv(el), txtMain = mkDiv(tBox, mainText), txtSub = mkDiv(tBox),
ts = tBox.style, stLen = textWidth(subText, fontF, mSize)+5; ts.color = "#fff";
ts.font = mSize+"pt "+fontF; ts.fontWeight = 100; txtSub.style.fontWeight = 400;

//Generate subtext SVG for knockout effect:
txtSub.innerHTML =
"<svg xmlns='http://www.w3.org/2000/svg' width='"+stLen+"px' height='"+(mSize+11)+"px' viewBox='0 0 "+stLen+" "+(mSize+11)+"'>"+
    "<rect x='0' y='0' width='100%' height='100%' fill='#fff' rx='4px' ry='4px' mask='url(#txtSubMask)'></rect>"+
    "<mask id='txtSubMask'>"+
        "<rect x='0' y='0' width='100%' height='100%' fill='#fff'></rect>"+
        "<text x='"+(stLen/2)+"' y='"+(mSize+6)+"' font='"+mSize+"pt "+fontF+"' text-anchor='middle' fill='#000'>"+subText+"</text>"+
    "</mask>"+
"</svg>";

//Relevant Helper Functions:
function centeredDiv(parent) {
    //Container:
    var d = document.createElement('div'), s = d.style;
    s.display = "table"; s.position = "relative"; s.zIndex = 999;
    s.top = s.left = 0; s.width = s.height = "100%";
    //Content Box:
    var k = document.createElement('div'), j = k.style;
    j.display = "table-cell"; j.verticalAlign = "middle";
    j.textAlign = "center"; d.appendChild(k);
    parent.appendChild(d); return k;
}
function mkDiv(parent, tCont) {
    var d = document.createElement('div');
    if(tCont) d.textContent = tCont;
    parent.appendChild(d); return d;
}
function textWidth(text, font, size) {
    var canvas = window.textWidthCanvas || (window.textWidthCanvas = document.createElement("canvas")),
    context = canvas.getContext("2d"); context.font = size+(typeof size=="string"?" ":"pt ")+font;
    return context.measureText(text).width;
}

Just throw that in your window.onload, set the body's background to your image, and watch the magic happen!

just put that css

    .banner-sale-1 .title-box .title-overlay {
      font-weight: 900;
      overflow: hidden;
      margin: 0;
      padding-right: 10%;
      padding-left: 10%;
      text-transform: uppercase;
      color: #080404;
      background-color: rgba(255, 255, 255, .85);

      /* that css is the main think (mix-blend-mode: lighten;)*/
      mix-blend-mode: lighten;

    }

I just discovered a new way to do this while messing around, I'm not entirely sure how it works ( if someone else wants to explain please do ).

It seems to work very well, and requires no double backgrounds or JavaScript.

Here's the code: JSFIDDLE

body {
  padding: 0;
  margin: 0;
}

div {
  background: url(http://www.color-hex.com/palettes/26323.png) repeat;
  width: 100vw;
  height: 100vh;
}

body::before {
  content: '$ALPHABET';
  left: 0;
  top: 0;
  position: absolute;
  color: #222;
  background-color: #fff;
  padding: 1rem;
  font-family: Arial;
  z-index: 1;
  mix-blend-mode: screen;
  font-weight: 800;
  font-size: 3rem;
  letter-spacing: 1rem;
}
<div></div>

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