Illustrator Tutorial: Saving Swatches

What you’ll learn in this Illustrator Tutorial:

  • Saving swatches

This tutorial provides you with a foundation for working with Adobe Illustrator swatches. It is the first lesson in the Adobe Illustrator CS6 Digital Classroombook. For more Adobe Illustrator training options, visit AGI’s Illustrator Classes.


The Swatches panel allows you to store colors for multiple uses in your document. You can create colors using several different methods in Illustrator, and, by adding them to the Swatches panel, you can store them for frequent and consistent use. Storing a swatch of a color that you plan to reuse guarantees that the color is exactly the same each time it is used. Let’s create a new swatch for your document.

1 Click on the artboard (the white area surrounding the page) to deselect any objects in your document. You can also use the keyboard shortcut, Shift+Ctrl+A (Windows) or Shift+Command+A (Mac OS).

2 Double-click the Fill color at the bottom of the Tools panel.

3 When the Color Picker appears, type the values of C:0 M:70 Y:100 K:0. Press OK.

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Click on Fill.

Enter values into the Color Picker.

4 If the Swatches panel is not open, choose Window > Swatches now, then click on the New Swatch icon () at the bottom of the panel.

5 In the Swatch Name text field, type Hippie Orange, then check the box to the left of Global and press OK. The color has been added to the Swatches panel, and has a white triangle in the lower right side of the swatch indicating that this color has been defined as Global.

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Click on the New Swatch icon.

Name the Swatch, and change it to Global.

What is a Global Color?

Taking advantage of global colors allows you to apply a color to multiple fills and strokes, and make updates to the colors dynamically. This is extremely useful when you want to tweek your color, or perhaps replace it with an entirely different set of color values.

In this part of the lesson, you will apply the new Hippie Orange to several shapes in the bus, and then update them.

1 Hold down on the Direct Selection tool () and select the Group Selection tool.

2 Select any shape on the bus and then click on the newly added Hippie Orange swatch.

3 Assign the Hippie Orange color to at least three other shapes. No specific shapes are necessary.

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Select at least four shapes to apply the new global color to..

4 Choose Select > Deselect, or use the keyboard shortcut Shift+Ctrl+A (Windows) or Shift+Command+A (Mac OS) to deselect everything.

5 Double-click on the Hippie Orange swatch in the Swatches panel; the Swatch Options dialog box appears.

6 Type 50 into the M (Magenta) textbox, and press OK. All the instances of Hippie Orange have been changed.

Selecting the Same color

Editing colors when they have been defined as global is fairly simple, but what if you already used a non-global swatch in multiple instances in your illustration? For these situations you can take advantage of selecting the Same fill, stroke or both.

1 Using the Group Selection tool select the large purple windshield.

2 Choose Select > Same > Fill Color. Any additional objects using that same fill are selected.

To make editing colors easier in the future, you should save this color and convert it to global.

3 With the objects still selected, press the New Swatch button at the bottom of the Swatches panel. The New Swatch dialog box appears.

4 Type Hippie Purple into the Swatch Name text field and check Global, then press OK.

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Collect like colors and convert them to global.

Reusing swatches

When you create swatches in an Illustrator document, those swatches are available only in that document. However, users commonly repurpose swatches in other Illustrator documents. Instead of recreating frequently used swatches in every document, you can choose Save Swatch Library as AI from the Swatches panel menu. This creates a new file containing the swatches in your current document. To reuse the swatches in another document, simply choose Open Swatch Library > Other Library from the Swatches panel menu. Now all those swatches are available to apply to objects in your new document.

There is also an option called Save Swatch Library as ASE (Adobe Swatch Exchange) in the Swatches panel menu. This performs a very similar task to Save Swatch Library as AI, except that the ASE format is interchangeable with other CS6 applications. These swatch libraries can be opened within Adobe Photoshop and Adobe InDesign, making it very easy to share colors between multiple applications. Unfortunately, any swatch patterns that have been added to the swatch library will not be accessible inside programs other than Illustrator.

Saving a set of colors as a group

When working in Illustrator, you’ll often end up with quite a few swatches in your Swatches panel. As you experiment with colors and make adjustments, the number of swatches can increase to a point that makes it difficult to find a particular color. Fortunately, Illustrator simplifies the process of locating specific swatches by allowing you to create color groups to organize swatches into logical categories. Let’s organize the swatches in the Swatches panel into color groups.

1 In the Swatches panel, hold down the Ctrl key (Windows) or the Command key (Mac OS) and select the Hippie Orange, Hippie Purple, CMYK Yellow, CMYK Cyan and CMYK Magenta color swatches.

2 Press the New Color Group button at the bottom of the panel. The New Color Group dialog box appears.

3 In the New Color Group dialog box, type Retro Colors in the Name text field. Choose the Selected Swatches radio button, then press OK. The colors are collected in a group at the bottom of the Swatches panel, making it easy to locate them.

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Select five colors, then press the New Color Group button.

Save them to a color group.

Creating a color group from selected colors

You can also extract colors from existing artwork to create a color group.

1 Choose the Selection tool and then click on the ellipses you created earlier.

2 Click on the New Color Group button at the bottom of the Swatches panel; the New Color Group dialog box appears.

3 Type Base Colors into the Name text field, then select the Radio button to the left of Selected Artwork and make sure that both options, Convert Process to Global and Include Swatches for Tints, are selected. Press OK, the color group is added to your Swatches panel.

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Create a color group from colors already used.

The Color group is added to the Swatches panel.

4 Choose File > Save to save your work. Keep the file open.

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You can add a color to an existing color group by selecting the color in the Swatches panel, then dragging it to the folder to the left of the color group.


Continue to the next Illustrator Tutorial: Using the Color panel >