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Color groups (harmonies)

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Learn how to create color groups, edit, assign, and reduce colors in Adobe Illustrator.

About color groups

A color group is an organization tool that lets you group related color swatches in the Swatches panel. In addition, a color group can be a container for color harmonies, which you create using the Edit Colors/Recolor Artwork dialog box or the Color Guide panel. Color groups can contain only solid colors that include spot, process, or global colors. Gradients and patterns cannot be grouped.

You can choose a harmony rule to instantly generate a color scheme based on any color you want. For example, select the Monochromatic harmony rule to create a color group containing all the same hues but with different saturation levels, or select the High Contrast or Pentagram harmony rule to create a color group with contrasting colors for more visual impact.

For more information, see the Color Themes website.

Color Guide panel overview

You can use the Color Guide panel as a color inspiration tool while creating your artwork. To display the Color Guide panel, go to Windows > Color Guide.

You can manipulate the colors that the Color Guide panel generates in several ways, including changing the harmony rule or adjusting the variation type and the number of colors that appear.

 

Color Guide panel dialog box
Color Guide panel

A. Harmony Rules menu and active color group B. Set as base color C. Active colors D. Color variations E. Limits colors to specified swatch library  F. Edit Colors or Edit Or Apply Colors depending on selection (opens the colors in the Edit Colors/Recolor Artwork dialog box)  G. Save group to Swatches panel  H. Color variations I. Color Guide panel menu 

Note:

To edit the selected color group, make sure that no artwork is selected and select Edit Colors  . To edit the selected color group and apply the edits to selected artwork, select Edit or Apply Colors  . For more information, see Edit colors in the Edit Colors dialog box.

Select Color Guide Options from the Color Guide panel menu   to specify the number and range of color variations that appear in the panel. You can also specify the type of color variations. Choose from the following:

Show Tints/Shades

Adds black to variations on the left and white to variations on the right.

Show Warm/Cool

Adds red to variations on the left and blue to variations on the right.

Show Vivid/Muted

Decreases the saturation toward gray in variations on the left and increases saturation toward gray in variations on the right.

Note:

If you’re using spot colors, use only the Tints/Shades variation and choose colors from the tint (right) side of the variation grid. All other variations cause spot colors to be converted to process.

Edit Colors/Recolor Artwork dialog box overview

To open the Edit Colors/Recolor Artwork dialog box, select   on the Color Guide panel.  The name of this dialog box changes depending on whether the artwork is selected or not.

  • Select the artwork, and select   on the Color Guide panel. The dialog box opens as the Recolor Artwork dialog box, and you've access to the Assign tab and the Edit tab.
  • Deselect the artwork, and select   on the Color Guide panel. The dialog box opens as the Edit Colors dialog box, and you've access to the Edit tab only.

The right side of Edit Colors/Recolor Artwork dialog box always displays the color groups for the current document, along with two default color groups: Print Color and Grayscale. You can select and use these color groups at any time.

edit-assign-color group dialog boxes
Create or edit color groups, and assign colors using the Edit Colors/Recolor Artwork dialog box.

A. Create and edit a color group in the Edit tab B. Assign colors in the Assign tab C. Select a color group from the Color Groups list  

The Recolor Art option at the bottom of the dialog box lets you preview colors on selected artwork, and specifies whether artwork is recolored when you close the dialog box.

The main areas of the dialog box are:

Edit

Use the Edit tab to create new color groups or edit existing color groups. Use the Harmony Rules menu and the color wheel to experiment with color harmonies. The color wheel shows you how colors in a harmony are related, while the color bars let you see and manipulate individual color values. In addition, you can adjust brightness, add and remove colors, save color groups, and preview the colors on selected artwork.

Assign

Use the Assign tab to view and control how colors from a color group replace the original colors or to reduce the number of colors in the current artwork. You can assign colors only if you've artwork selected in the document.

Color Groups

Lists all saved color groups for the open document (these same color groups appear in the Swatches panel). While in the dialog box, you can edit, delete, and create new color groups using the Color Groups list. All your changes are reflected in the Swatches panel. The selected color group denotes which color group is currently being edited. You can select any color group and edit it or use it to recolor selected artwork. Saving a color group adds the group to this list.

Work with the Color Group list

  • To show or hide the Color Group list, select the Hide color group storage icon  on the right side of the Edit Colors/Recolor Artwork dialog box. To display the list again, select the icon again.

  • To add a new color group to this list, create or edit a color group, and then select New Color Group   . A new color group appears in the list.

  • To edit a color group, select it in the list. Change the color group using the Edit tab, and then select Save changes to color group .  

  • To delete a color group, select it and select Delete Color Group  .

Create color groups

You can create color groups using the Color Guide panel or the Edit Colors/Recolor Artwork dialog box. You can also create and share color groups on the Adobe Color Themes website.

Create a color group in the Color Guide panel

Make sure that no artwork is selected when you set the base color; otherwise, the selected artwork will change to the base color.

  1. Open the Color Guide panel, and do any of the following to set the base color for the color harmony:

    • Select a color in the Color panel. (You may want to drag out the Color panel so that you can use it along with the Color Guide panel.)

    • Select a color variation in the Color Guide panel, and then select the Set base color to the current color icon Set Base Color To The Current Color icon.

  2. Choose a rule from the Harmony Rules menu.

    Note:

    To confine colors to a swatch library, select the Limits the color group to colors in a swatch library button Colors In A Swatch Library, and choose a library from the list.

  3. To save the color group or an individual color to the Swatches panel, select save color group to swatch panel  . To name the new group, select the group in the Swatches panel and choose Color Group Options from the panel menu.

  4. To color your artwork with a color from the color group, select your artwork and select any color in the Color Guide panel.

    Note:

    To color all objects in a grouped object, select it, choose Edit > Recolor Artwork, and specify options in the Recolor Artwork dialog box. (See Assign colors to your artwork.)

Create a color group in the Edit Colors dialog box

You create a color group in the Edit Colors/Recolor Artwork dialog box by choosing a base color and a harmony rule. The harmony rule uses the base color as the basis for generating the colors in the color group. For example, if you choose a blue base color and the Complementary harmony rule, a color group is created using the base color, blue, and its complement, red.

As you manipulate the colors in the color wheel, the selected harmony rule continues to govern the colors that are generated for the group. To break the harmony rule and edit the colors freely, select the Unlink harmony button  .

  1. Open the Edit Colors/Recolor Artwork dialog box, and choose a color harmony from the Harmony Rules menu, if desired.

    Note:

    To confine colors to a swatch library, click the Limits The Color Group To Colors In A Swatch Library button Swatch Library button, and choose a library from the list.

  2. If the color bars are showing, select the Display smooth color wheel   to display the color wheel instead.

  3. Set the base color by doing one of the following:

    • Drag the base color marker (the largest, double-ringed color marker) around the wheel to set the base color you want.

    • Adjust the color sliders at the bottom of the dialog box.

  4. Choose a new harmony rule or move the color markers, as desired.

  5. To preview the new colors on selected artwork, select Recolor Art.

    Note:

    Recolor Art will recolor selected artwork when you click OK to close the dialog box. If you don’t want to recolor the selected art, make sure to deselect this option before clicking OK.

  6. Type a name in the Name box to the right of the Harmony Rules menu, and select New Color Group   .

    Note:

    If the New Color Group icon   isn't visible, select the Show color group storage icon  .

  7. To save the new color group to the Swatches panel, select OK and close the Edit Colors/Recolor Artwork dialog box.

Note:

You can also create a color group by using the Color Guide. (See Create a color group in the Color Guide panel.)

Edit colors in the Edit Colors dialog box

Editing colors in the Edit Colors/Recolor Artwork dialog box is a convenient way to globally adjust the colors in selected artwork. It's especially useful when global colors weren't originally used in the artwork’s creation. You can edit colors and color groups in the Edit Colors/Recolor Artwork dialog box and apply your edits to selected artwork or save the edited colors for later use.

When editing colors, you use the smooth color wheel  , the segmented color wheel  , or the color bars  .

Editing colors by moving color markers on the smooth color wheel
Edit colors by moving color markers on the smooth color wheel

Display smooth color wheel  

Displays hue, saturation, and brightness in a smooth continuous circle. Each color in the current color group is drawn on the wheel inside a circle. This wheel lets you choose from numerous colors with great precision, but it can be hard to see individual colors because every pixel is a different color.

Display segmented color wheel  

Displays colors as a set of segmented color patches. This wheel makes it easy to see individual colors, but doesn’t provide as many colors to choose from as the continuous wheel.

Display color bars  

Displays only colors from the color group. They appear as solid bars of color that you can select and edit individually. You can reorganize colors in this display by dragging and dropping color bars to the left or right. You can right-click a color and choose to remove it, set it as the base color, change its shade, or change it using the Color Picker.

edit colors dialog box

A. Base color as it appears in Harmony Rules menu B. Color display options  C. Color of selected color marker or color bar D. Show saturation and hue on Wheel  E. Add and subtract color marker tools F. Unlink harmony colors G. Base color as it appears in color wheel 

Save changes to a color group

Before you start editing your color groups, make sure that you know how to save your changes correctly so you don’t inadvertently overwrite your favorite color group! You have two options when saving your changes: you can overwrite the original color group with the edited color group, or you can create a new color group with the changes, leaving the original intact.

  • To keep your original color group unchanged and save the changes as a new color group, select New Color Group   at the top of the Edit Colors/Recolor Artwork dialog box.

  • To save the changes to your original color group (thus overwriting the original color group), select Save changes to color group

Edit a color group using a color wheel

  1. In the Edit Colors/Recolor Artwork dialog box, select the desired color group from the Color Groups storage area, if necessary.

  2. If you have selected an object on the artboard, click Recolor Art to preview the colors on the artwork. If you don’t want to recolor the artwork, deselect Recolor Art before closing the dialog box, or click Cancel to close it.

    Note:

    To edit the colors of the selected artwork, click Get Colors From Selected Art Get Colors From Selected Art .

  3. To confine colors to a swatch library, click the Limits The Color Group To Colors In A Swatch Library button Color Group To Colors In A Swatch Library button and choose a library from the list.

  4. To change the base color to a different color in the current group, right-click the color in a color wheel or color bars and choose Set As Base Color. Or click a color in the Active Colors box, and then click Set Current Color As Base Color click Set Current Color As Base Color to the left of the Active Colors box.

  5. Drag a marker on the wheel to change its color. If the harmony is linked, all the colors move according to the rule as you drag. If the harmony is unlinked, only the marker that you drag moves.

    While editing, you can do any of the following:

    • To change the hue, move the marker around the wheel. To change saturation or brightness, move it inward and outward on the wheel.
    • To add a color, right-click in the color wheel where you want to add the color and choose Add New Color.
    • To remove a color, right-click on the color marker (or the line of the marker) in the color wheel and choose Remove Color.
    • To see hue and saturation instead of hue and brightness on the wheel, select Show saturation and hue on wheel   , directly below the wheel to toggle between the two views.
    • To change the saturation and brightness of a color on the wheel, right-click a color marker, and choose Select Shade and select the desired color in the box that appears.
  6. To save your changes, select New Color Group   which keeps your original color group unchanged and saves the changes as a new color group, or select Save changes to color group Save Changes To Color Group to overwrite your original color group with the changes.

Note:

To ensure that the colors are in gamut or web safe, select each color marker and select the Out Of Gamut Warning   or Out Of Web Color Warning   buttons as necessary.

Reorder colors in a color group

  1. Do one of the following:

    • In the Active Colors menu, drag a color left or right.

    • In Color Bars view, drag a color bar left or right.

Edit an individual color in a color group

When you use a harmony rule to create a color group, the colors are linked by default. When a color group is linked, editing one color changes the other colors according to the harmony rule. To edit one color without changing the others, unlink the color markers from the harmony rule.

Color wheels and color bars

A. Color wheel view of linked colors B. Color bars view of linked colors C. Color wheel view of unlinked colors D. Color bars view of unlinked colors E. Colors linked, click to unlink F. Colors unlinked, click to relink 

  1. In the Edit Colors/Recolor Artwork dialog box, select the color group you want to edit and click Edit.

  2. Click the Unlink Harmony Colors icon Unlink Harmony Colors icon.

  3. Do one of the following in either the color wheel or color bar view:

    • Drag the color marker you want to edit to set a new color.

    • Click the color bar or color marker you want to change and manually edit the color values.

    • Double-click (or right-click) the color bar or marker and choose a new color in the Color Picker.

    • Right-click a color marker or color bar and pick a new shade.

  4. To relink the colors so that the markers move again according to the newly defined harmony rule, click the Link Harmony Colors button.

Edit colors in a color group using the Color Picker

You can use the Color Picker to change colors in a color group.

  1. In the Edit Colors/Recolor Artwork dialog box, do one of the following:

    • Double-click a wheel marker or right-click a wheel marker and choose Color Picker.

    • Double-click a color bar.

    • Click the color swatch to the left of the color sliders.

  2. Save the edits by doing one of the following:

    • To save the edited colors as a new group, type a new name in the name box at the top of the dialog box, and then click New Color Group New Color Group.

    • To save the edits to the original color group, click Save Changes To Color Group Save Changes To Color Group.

Randomly change color order or saturation and brightness

In the Edit Colors/Recolor Artwork dialog box, you can explore random variations of the current color group by using the Randomly Assign Brightness And Saturation button and the Randomly Change Color Order button.

  1. In the Edit Colors/Recolor Artwork dialog box, select a color group.

  2. Click Edit, and then click Display Color Bars; or click Assign.

  3. Do either of the following:

    • To shuffle the order of the current color group, click Randomly Change Color Order Randomly Change Color Order. Use this button when recoloring artwork to quickly explore the different ways artwork can be recolored with the current color group.

    • To randomly change the brightness and saturation of the current color group while retaining the hues, click Randomly Changes Saturation and Brightness Randomly Changes Saturation and Brightness .

Globally edit saturation, brightness, temperature, or luminosity

  1. In the Edit Colors/Recolor Artwork dialog box, click Edit.

  2. Click the Color Mode button , and choose Global Adjust.

  3. Change the values for Saturation, Brightness, Temperature, and Luminosity.

    Note:

    If you’ve limited the colors to a swatch library, any adjustments you make are limited to the library colors.

Add or remove colors in a color group

  1. In the Edit Colors/Recolor Artwork dialog box, click Edit.

  2. Do either of the following:

    • To add a color to the color group, right-click in the color wheel where you want to add the color and choose Add New Color. If you click the line of an existing color marker, the new marker moves with that marker.

    • To remove a color, right-click the color marker or color bar and choose Remove Color. You cannot remove the base color marker.

      note: In the color wheel, you can also use the Add Color Tool button Add Color Tool button or the Remove Color Tool button Remove Color Tool button, and then click in the color wheel on the color you want to add or remove.

    • To remove a color from a color group in the Color Groups list, expand the color group, right-click the color swatch you want to remove, and choose Remove Color.

Delete a color group

  1. Select a color group in the Color Groups list and click Delete . Or right-click and choose Remove Color Group.

Assign colors to your artwork

The Assign tab of the Edit Colors/Recolor Artwork dialog box lets you assign colors from a color group to your artwork. You can assign colors in the following ways:

  • Assign new colors to your artwork using a color group from the Color Groups list.

  • Assign new colors to your artwork using a new color group chosen from the Harmony Rules menu.

  • Reassign current artwork colors among themselves. You can reset the Edit Colors/Recolor Artwork dialog box so that the artwork is displayed with its original colors by clicking Get Colors From Selected Art Get Colors From Selected Art.

 

Using the Current Colors and New columns, you control how colors are assigned. When you select Recolor Art, the selected artwork is recolored with the active color group according to the columns assignments.

Original artwork colors (top), assigning new colors by selecting a color group in the Color Groups list (center), and assigning new colors by creating a new color group using the Harmony Rules menu (bottom)
Original artwork colors (left), assigning new colors by selecting a color group in the Color Groups list (center), and assigning new colors by creating a new color group using the Harmony Rules menu (right).

Recolor Artwork options

A. Active color group B. Get Colors From Selected Art C. Colors from selected artwork D. New colors from active color group E. Options for working with entire rows F. Recolor Artwork 

Assign new colors to selected artwork

  1. Select the artwork you want to recolor.

  2. Choose Edit > Edit Colors > Recolor Artwork.

    The Recolor Artwork dialog box opens, displaying the Assign area with colors from the original artwork in both columns.

  3. If you want to assign colors from a color group, do one of the following:

    • Choose a color group from the Color Groups list.
    • Create a color group by selecting a new harmony rule from the menu from the Harmony Rules menu.
    Note:

    If you create a color group, you can click Edit to fine-tune the colors, and then click Assign. Or, if you want to adjust a few colors in the selected artwork, select the color you want to adjust and edit it with the color sliders.

  4. To preview the color changes in your artwork, click Recolor Art.

  5. Do any of the following to reassign colors:

    • To assign a current color to a different color, drag the current color up or down in the Current Colors column until it’s adjacent to the new color you want.

      Tip: If a row contains multiple colors and you want to move them all, click the selector bar selector bar at the left of the row and drag up or down.

    • To assign a new color to a different row of current colors, drag the new color up or down in the New column. (To add a new color to or remove a color from the New column, right-click in the list and choose Add New Color or Remove Color.)

    • To change a color in the New column, right-click it and choose Color Picker to set a new color.

    • To exclude a row of current colors from being reassigned, click the arrow Arrow between the columns. To include it again, click the dash.

    • To exclude a single current color from being reassigned, right-click the color and choose Exclude Colors, or click the icon Exclude Colors.

    • To randomly reassign colors, click the Randomly Change Color Order button Randomly Change Color Order. The new colors move randomly to different rows of current colors.

    • To add a row to the Current Colors column, right-click and choose Add New Row, or click the icon Add New Row.

  6. To separate or merge colors in the Current Colors row, do either of the following:

    • To separate colors into separate rows, select the color block you want to move and right-click and choose Separate Colors Into Different Rows, or click the icon Separate Colors Into Different Rows.

    • To merge colors into one row, Shift-click to select multiple colors, and then right-click and choose Merge Colors Into A Row, or click the icon Merge Colors Into A Row.

  7. To change tints or shades of new colors, click the triangle next to the right of a new color (or right-click a color and choose Colorize Method), and choose an option. Select Apply To All if you want the same option to apply to all new colors in the color group.

    Note:

    Tints And Shades and Hue Shift are only available when you choose not to preserve spot colors.

  8. Click OK to recolor the artwork. If you don’t want to recolor the artwork, click Cancel, or deselect Recolor Artwork and click OK.

Randomly change saturation and brightness in all colors

  1. If necessary, select an object and choose Edit > Edit Colors > Recolor Artwork.

  2. In the Edit Colors/Recolor Artwork dialog box, click the Randomly Change Saturation and Brightness button Randomly Change Saturation and Brightness.

    Note:

    You can also change saturation and brightness when editing a color group using the Color Bars display.

View original colors in your artwork as you assign new colors

When you recolor selected artwork, the colors in the selected color group replace the original colors. When assigning new colors, it helps to see where an original color (from the Current Colors column) appears in your artwork, especially if your artwork is very detailed, or contains many original colors.

  1. If necessary, select an object and choose Edit > Edit Colors > Recolor Artwork.

  2. In the Recolor Artwork dialog box, click the Click On Colors Above To Find Them In Artwork button Click On Colors Above To Find Them In Artwork , and then click a color in the Current Colors column.

    The artwork that uses that color appears in full color on the artboard while all other areas of the selected artwork are dimmed.

  3. Click the icon again to return your artwork to full color.

Reduce colors in your artwork

Reducing colors for output, converting colors to grayscale, or limiting colors to a color library is often necessary when you create artwork intended for multiple types of output media. You can easily reduce the number of colors in your artwork using the Recolor Artwork dialog box. You can choose whether to use a preset for reducing colors, for example, you can choose Grayscale Art to quickly convert your selected artwork to grayscale.

Reducing selected artwork to two colors
Reducing selected artwork to two colors

Quickly reduce colors using a preset

Reducing your colors by using a preset is a quick and easy way to limit your artwork to a specific number of colors or a swatch library.

  1. Select the artwork you want to reduce.

  2. Choose Edit > Edit Colors > Recolor With Preset, and choose a preset option.

  3. Do one of the following:

    • If you want to limit colors to a swatch library, click the library button library button, select the library you want, and then click OK.

    • If you don’t want to limit colors to a swatch library, click OK.

    The Recolor Artwork dialog box opens. The New column displays the number of colors you chose as your preset, plus black. The new colors are taken from your original artwork.

  4. Assign your original colors to the new colors as desired.

  5. Make sure that Recolor Art is selected, and click OK.

Reduce colors using custom options

  1. Select the artwork you want to recolor.

  2. Choose Edit > Edit Colors > Recolor Artwork.

    The Recolor Artwork dialog box opens. The New column displays all the colors from your selected artwork.

  3. To use different colors, select or create a color group.

  4. Choose the number of colors you want to reduce down to from the Colors menu.

  5. Click the Color Reduction Options button Color Reduction Options button , specify any of the following options, and click OK:

    Preset

    Specifies a preset color job, including the number of colors used and optimal settings for that job. If you select a preset and then change any of the other options, the preset changes to Custom.

    Colors

    Specifies the number of new colors that the current colors are reduced to.

    Limit To Library

    Specifies a swatch library from which all new colors are derived.

    Sort

    Determines how the original colors are sorted in the Current Colors column.

    Colorize Method

    Specifies the types of variations allowed for the new colors.

    • Exact exactly replaces each current color with the specified new color.

    • Scale Tints (default option) replaces the darkest current color in the row with the specified new color. Other current colors in the row are replaced with a proportionally lighter tint.

    • Preserve Tints is the same as Scale Tints for non-global colors. For spot or global colors, it applies the current color’s tint to the new color. Use Preserve Tints when all the current colors in the row are tints of the same or similar global color. For best results when using Preserve Tints, also select Combine Tints.

    • Tints And Shades replaces the current color with the average lightness and darkness with the specified new color. Current colors that are lighter than the average are replaced with a proportionally lighter tint of the new color. Current colors that are darker than the average are replaced by adding black to the new color.

    • Hue Shift sets the most typical color in the Current Colors row as a key color and exactly replaces the key color with the new color. The other current colors are replaced by colors that differ from the new color in brightness, saturation, and hue by the same amounts that the current color differs from the key color.

    Combine Tints

    Sorts all tints of the same global color into the same Current Colors row, even if colors are not being reduced. Use this option only when the selected art contains global or spot colors applied at tints less than 100%. For best results, use in combination with the Preserve Tints colorization method.

    note: Even when Combine Tints is not selected, color reduction combines tints of the same global color before it combines different non-global colors.

    Preserve

    Determines whether white, black, or gray is preserved in the final reduction. If a color is preserved, it appears in the Current Colors column as an excluded row.

  6. Assign current colors to the new colors as desired.

  7. Make sure that Recolor Art is selected, and click OK.

 Adobe

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