The Swatch Panel’s Stealth Feature
The Eyedropper Tool has been with us for a long time. It’s a fantastically useful tool, but, as they say in the ads, “Some restrictions apply.”
- It can only select colors from the current document.
- There are some situations, like complex objects pasted from Illustrator, where it won’t read the color at all unless you click through multiple graphic frames to an underlying path.
- It can’t pick the color at a single point in a gradient, only the gradient swatch itself.
- If there’s a frame with a fill of “None” overlaying the part of the object you want to sample, the eyedropper will return “None” unless you hide that frame first.
There was much (deserved) ado about the new Color Theme Tool, which can read colors from complex pasted objects and from gradients, but it makes its own choices about which five colors to pick.
While we were all distracted by the wonders of automated color themes, another wonder slipped in on little cat’s feet, entirely unnoticed. You won’t find it mentioned in the InDesign Help, you won’t find it on InDesign Secrets (well, not until now), and you won’t even find it in James Wamser’s invaluable New Features Guide. (If you don’t have a copy, what were you thinking? Seriously. Go get it now, and we’ll wait.)
See also: Using the Color Theme Tool
The Hex Problem
Until recently, if you wanted to grab the hexadecimal value of an RGB color to use on a web or e-book project, you had to use a script or other workarounds. And you couldn’t create a new swatch directly from a hexadecimal number without a script. All that has changed.
Somewhere between CC and CC 2015 (David says 2014, which is probably right), the InDesign team silently added two items to the Swatches dialog: a new field that allows direct entry of a hexadecimal color, and a new eyedropper that scoffs at the limitations of lesser tools.
You will find this new feature in the New Color Swatch dialog, as above, or Swatch Options, when you switch the Color Mode to RGB. Need to know the hex value of an existing swatch? Right click on the swatch and choose “Swatch Options.” The hex value will display in the “#” field and you can copy from there. Creating a new RGB color from a web spec? Type or paste the hex value into the field.
The usual out-of-gamut warning will show up if your starting point is a color that can’t display correctly in RGB (say, a 100% Yellow CMYK swatch).
Double-click the warning icon to have InDesign automatically adjust the RGB values to
bring them to heel safe values.
See also: InDesign’s Evil Color Picker
Photoshop’s Eyedropper Comes to InDesign
The new eyedropper works exactly like the one in the Photoshop color picker. (It probably is the one from the Photoshop color picker.) Click and hold, then move the mouse cursor over any color anywhere on the screen (even outside of InDesign). The color in the dialog updates continuously as you move.
When you have the color you want, let go of the mouse button. Your new swatch is ready to add to the swatches panel.
Like its Photoshop twin, this eyedropper reads pixels from the display, not from InDesign objects, so if you have the empty part of a text frame overlapping the object you’re trying to sample you won’t get a “None” swatch value, you’ll get the RGB value of that point. And yes, it will only return RGB values, never CMYK or Lab. (If you hear of anyone manufacturing a CMYK display, let me know.)
A couple of advantages to keep in mind:
You can pick the result of a color blend, if you have overlapping objects. The normal eyedropper will give you the assigned color of whichever object is on top, regardless of what the blend looks like.
You can also pull a solid color from any point in a gradient.
These two very useful additions to the Swatches panel are worth making a fuss about, especially if you’re working on any kind of RGB document, such as a web banner, e-book, DPS app, or electronic billboard. With a bit of attention to color management, it can even be pressed into use for CMYK work in situations where the regular eyedropper can’t do what you need.