I have some complex code that creates a tikz picture, called image A. The background areas of this picture are white, as are some foreground areas, which are painted with a white fill. I now want to lay this picture on top of image B, such that all white parts of image A are rendered transparent.

It would be ideal if image A could be created so that the white areas were simply not painted, but this is not possible, because many of the white areas are curve paths---so it's easy to draw them directly, but hard to draw their complement.

Can this be done? At the moment I'm having to render images A and B separately, take screenshots, and do this layering in GIMP.

  • 2
    Yes, I think so. But I need an example to play with. You probably need to do it all in one picture, but presumably that shouldn't be a problem. At least, the way I'm thinking might work probably needs that. But, like I say, hard to know without something to fiddle with.
    – cfr
    Oct 29, 2016 at 0:27
  • tikzfadingfrompicture or transparency group. Cannot tell for sure. Perhaps tex.stackexchange.com/a/323315/51022 helps
    – Symbol 1
    Oct 29, 2016 at 5:12

1 Answer 1


I'm not aware of a way to do this while keeping the images in a vector format. However, as you are already using GIMP, and thus converting to bitmap, I assume you don't mind that too much. If so, the process can be automated using some command line tools. Here is a bash script that does this:

# input files expected in pdf, output in png

# generate png file names

# first, convert both pdf files to png. The best tool for this
# is pdftoppm from popplerutils. We switch off antialasing
# of fonts (-aa no) and other elements (--aaVector no) in
# order to avoid ghosting at the edges. The -r option sets the
# resolution (pixels in the output image per inch of input image).
# Use a high enough resolution, you can always reduce image size 
# (and maybe apply antialising) later. 

pdftoppm -r 300 -png -aa no -aaVector no $bg_pdf > $bg_png
pdftoppm -r 300 -png -aa no -aaVector no $fg_pdf > $fg_png

# now, we use imagemagick's convert to convert white to transparency in the
# foreground image

convert $fg_png -transparent white $fg_png

# finally, we use imagemagick's composite to stack them on top of each other.
# the -gravity center option centers the images to each other; it is not
# needed if they are of equal size.

composite -gravity center $fg_png $bg_png $output_png

# you could also use convert to reduce size and apply antialias
# convert $output_png -antialias -resize 50% halfsize.png

Save this as script.sh and make executable (chmod +x script.sh). Call this like

./script.sh background.pdf foreground.pdf composite.png

A breathtakingly beautiful example (input files uploaded as PNG, but I tested at home on the PDF originals):

Background background

Foreground foreground

Composite enter image description here

  • 1
    I don't doubt that it is a good answer, but I see no TeX-LaTeX code in it...
    – CarLaTeX
    Oct 29, 2016 at 6:12

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