10 Essential Tips for Working With Color Swatches in Illustrator


1. Creating Swatches. To create a process color swatch, select an object with the color you want, or use the Color Picker or the Color panel to define the color, then drag the color to the Swatches panel or click the New Swatch button.

Creating a Color Swatch

To define the swatch as a spot color, hold Command/Ctrl as you drag or click the New Swatch button.

2. Control the Swatch panel display. You can create swatches to save named colors, tints, gradients, and patterns in the Swatches panel. You can filter the display by choosing a specific type of swatch from the Show Swatch Kinds menu at the bottom of the panel.

Illustrator Swatches panel

3. Create groups of swatches to organize them in the panel. To add color swatches to a group, select the swatches and click the New Color Group icon at the bottom of the Swatches panel and give the group a name.

Illustrator Swatches panel

A color group appears with a folder to the left of it when the panel is in thumbnail view, and as a collapsible list when the panel is in list view.

Illustrator Swatches panel

Illustrator Swatches panel

4. Edit swatches. Double click on a swatch thumbnail to open the Swatch Options dialog box where you can change a color’s name, definition, color type, color mode, etc.

Illustrator Swatches panel

You can also just double click on a swatch name or a color group name to change it.

Illustrator Swatches panel

5. Using Global Swatches. Process colors can be either global colors or local colors. If you want a process color to be automatically updated throughout your document when you edit that color, make it a global color in the Swatch Options dialog box.

Illustrator Swatches panel

A global color has a square icon to the right of its name when the Swatches panel is in list view,

Illustrator Swatches panel

and a triangle in the lower corner of its thumbnail when the panel is in thumbnail view.

Illustrator Swatches panel

6. Replacing Swatches. To replace a swatch, hold down Option/Alt and drag and drop a color or gradient onto the swatch you want to replace. You can drag colors from several places including the Color panel, the Tools panel, the Gradient panel, or an object in your document.

7. Using Swatch Libraries. Illustrator comes with several collections of colors, patterns, and gradients called swatch libraries. Some are ink libraries like PANTONE, Trumatch, etc, and others are thematic libraries like Skintones, Wood, Metal, Water, Pastels, etc. To access these libraries, choose Open Swatch Library from the Swatches panel menu.

Illustrator Swatch Libraries

Swatch libraries open in separate panels.

Vonster Patterns Library

You can make them appear each time Illustrator is opened by selecting Persistent from the library panel menu.

Persistent option for swatch libraries

And you can also add an individual swatch or a group from a swatch library to the Swatches panel, by dragging and dropping it to the Swatches panel.

Adding swatches from a library

8. Merging Swatches. To merge multiple swatches, select two or more swatches, and select Merge Swatches from the Swatches panel menu. The name and color value of the first selected swatch replaces all other selected swatches.

9. Adding Colors as Swatches. To add colors from a selected object, choose Add Selected Colors from the Swatches panel menu. The new swatches will be global.

Adding swatches from an object

You can also click on the New Color Group button at the bottom of the the Swatches panel.

To add all colors in a document, make sure nothing is selected and choose Add Used Colors from the Swatches panel menu.

Adding all colors from a document as swatches

Adding all colors from a document as swatches

10. Searching Swatches. When you have a large collection of swatches it can be hard to locate the exact one you want. Fortunately, you can choose Show Find Field from the panel menu, and then enter the word(s) that will filter the display so it shows only the swatches you want.

screenshot of Adobe Illustrator Swatches panel showing the ability to search for swatches by name

Editor in Chief of CreativePro. Instructor at LinkedIn Learning with courses on InDesign, Illustrator, Photoshop, GIMP, Inkscape, and Affinity Publisher.
  • Rufus Deuchler says:

    Talking about swatches, it is interesting to note that Kuler themes (in the new Kuler panel) do not need to be added to the Swatches panel. Instead, they can be applied to selections directly from the panel itself. (kuler.adobe.com)

  • Mike Rankin says:

    Great tip, Rufus! Thanks.

    Also nice is that you can just double click on the folder or heart-shaped icons in the Kuler panel to add themes and favorites to the Swatches panel if you wanted to.

  • kennyosa says:

    Thanks for these wonderful tips

  • Mike Rankin says:

    Thanks! Glad you enjoyed them.

  • Alisa De Backer says:

    Or you create your own theme in the Kuler panel which when reloaded ->added in the Swatches.


  • David Creamer says:

    Just a note: the global swatch option needs to be selected BEFORE it is used; turning it on after the fact does not make previous objects global. Although, one could use the Select options to grab the objects and (re)apply the global swatch.

    I like using the Swatches panel menu to create swatches (New Swatch…). It lets me create a number of swatches at once (via the Add button). I hardly ever use the Color panel except for creating tints (The Color Guide panel is useful for this too.)

  • Nemah73 says:

    Great tips!!  TY

  • Guest says:

    how can you print your colour swatches once you have saved it? I can’y figure it out and I don’t have illustator, only photoshop. 

    thanks, Jo

  • john p says:

    Every time i select the default RGB swatch, i have to go through 4 panels to get there. And every time, in the same document, that i click on a new item, the swatch disappears and i have to go through all those steps to get it again. How can I avoid that?

  • nanker says:

    I wonder if there is a way in illy to set new swatches to be global rather than having to check the global box each time a swatch is saved? I save all my new swatches as global and when creating a handful of new palettes at a time it would be a time saver if the global option was selected by default.

  • Robert O says:

    Great write up!
    Discovered any way to add gradient swatches to CC libraries yet?

  • >