Illustrator #6: Using Color Palettes

This tutorial will show you how to choose color palettes for your designs, and how to export them to use with other documents

Previous Tutorial

Illustrator #5: Organize Your DrawingsIllustrator files may become very complex so organizing your objects into shapes and groups is an essential part of an efficient workflow.

Using Color Picker

Color Picker is a great tool to choose a color with great precision, and you probably have already used it for previous tutorials, but now we will revisit it in the context of color theory.

Changing Object’s Fill Or Outline Color

You access Color Picker by double clicking either fill color (left) or outline color (right) on the Toolbar.


The Color Picker window will open, and offer you variation on the color that was currently selected, in this case – purple. You can see how we change the color value and brightness in the big gradient-colored rectangle. Also note that you can read the color value in various color modes: HSB, RGB as well as CMYK (although CMYK is only an approximation, not necessarily accurate):


Try clicking on S (Saturation) or B (Brightness) radio button to see how the color selection field changes, for example:


While you’re changing the current color, if you have selected any objects, their fill (or stroke) color will change accordingly. If you didn’t select anything, then the new objects that you draw will have the current color by default (think of it as a painter dipping the brush into paint before starting to draw).

A short video:



Using Color Guide

Illustrator has a very comprehensive set of tools to help you choose color palette for your designs, and they are all grouped in Color Guide panel.

Picking Color From Palette

Click a Color Guide icon in the dock to open a Color Guide panel. Based on currently selected color, It will show a default color palette that match that color and variations in shade and tone:


Now you can click the default palette and see a large number of palettes offered by Illustrator. They are all based on the currently selected color, and among them you will find some basic palettes from color theory such as Monochrome, Analogous, Complementary, Triadic as well as many more:


Finding A Right Shade And Tint

Select a palette to your liking and you will be offered a variety of shades and tints for colors in that palette:


If you click any of the colors/tints, you current color will change, as well as the color of any selected object, if you have them.

Saving Colors Into Palettes

However, if you press CONTROL Key (CMD on Mac) while clicking on them, you can start selecting multiple colors without changing current color. This is what we want to do.

Out of all the color variations, choose (by CONTROL/CMD + click) 3 or 4 that you think work together the best:


When you select color that seem to look good for your palette, click the +||| button at the bottom of Color Guide and your colors will be added to swatches, as a separate palette:


Now you can easily access your palette while working on your drawing.

If you want to use this palette in other drawings, you need to save it to your hard disk (or Adobe Cloud, which we will not cover here).

Here’s the video. You will note at the end of the video that we can change the way the color swatches are displayed, and even give name to the palette we just made:



Reusing Color Palettes

Great feature of Color Palettes in Illustrator is that you can reuse them in other documents or share with your collaborators.

Save Color Palette

Color palettes that you make get saved with the document you’re working on.
However if you want to use these color palettes in other documents (or other Adobe programs), you should save them as a file on your hard disk.

Click on a “more” button at the top-right corner of a Swatches interface (see image below).

Then select Save Swatch Library as ASE

Choose the location and filename of your swatches library and Save File.


Now if you want to use it in other documents, you should do the following steps:

Load Colors ASE File From File

Create new Illustrator file, just for testing purposes.
It will not contain the color palette you just made in other document, but we will load it.

Click on the same “more” button on the Swatches interface, and this time select Open Swatch Library > Other Library…


You can also see that there are a lot of color (and gradients and texture) libraries that come with Illustrator, and you may want to play with that.

At any rate, now select Other Library and then look for the .ASE file you just saved.

When you open it, you will see another panel popping up, with all the color groups that are loaded from .ASE file. You will note that there are not only the palette you saved but EVERYTHING that was in swatches panel in other document.
However, you can choose what you want to import into your document. Simply click on the Color Group Icon next to your palette and it will be imported to the document:


Now the video:


Next Tutorial

Illustrator #7: Stealing Colors Using Eyedropper ToolIn this tutorial you will learn how to manipulate colors using Eyedropper Tool in order to copy colors from one object to another or 'steal' color palettes from existing artwork.

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