Use and create swatches

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About swatches

Swatches are named colors, tints, gradients, and patterns. The swatches associated with a document appear in the Swatches panel. Swatches can appear individually or in groups.

You can open libraries of swatches from other Illustrator documents and various color systems. Swatch libraries appear in separate panels and are not saved with the document.

The Swatches panel and swatch library panels can contain the following types of swatches:

Process colors

A process color is printed using a combination of the four standard process inks: cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. By default, Illustrator defines new swatches as process colors.

Global process colors

A global color is automatically updated throughout your artwork when you edit it. All spot colors are global; however, process colors can be either global or local. You can identify global color swatches by the global color icon  (when the panel is in list view) or a triangle in the lower corner (when the panel is in thumbnail view).

Spot colors

A spot color is a premixed ink that is used instead of, or in addition to, CMYK process inks. You can identify spot-color swatches by the spot-color icon  (when the panel is in list view) or a dot in the lower corner (when the panel is in thumbnail view).


A gradient is a graduated blend between two or more colors or tints of the same color or different colors. Gradient colors can be assigned as CMYK process colors, RGB colors, or a spot color. Transparency applied to a gradient stop, is preserved when the gradient is saved as a gradient swatch. The aspect-ratio and angle values of elliptical gradients (those created by adjusting the aspect ratio or angle of a radial gradient) are not saved.


Patterns are repeating (tiled) paths, compound paths, text with solid fills or no fill.


The None swatch removes the stroke or fill from an object. You can’t edit or remove this swatch.


The registration swatch  is a built‑in swatch that causes objects filled or stroked with it to print on every separation from a PostScript printer. For example, registration marks use the Registration color so that printing plates can be aligned precisely on a press. You can’t remove this swatch.

note: If you use the Registration color for type, and then you separate the file and print it, the type may not register properly and the black ink may appear muddy. To avoid this, use black ink for type.

Color groups

Color groups can contain process, spot, and global process colors. They cannot contain pattern, gradient, none, or registration swatches. You create color groups based on harmonies by using either the Color Guide panel or the Edit Colors/Recolor Artwork dialog box. To put existing swatches into a color group, select the swatches and click the New Color Group icon  in the Swatches panel. You can identify a color group by the folder icon .

You can also create tints in the Swatches panel. A tint is a global process color or spot color with a modified intensity. Tints of the same color are linked together, so that if you edit the color of a tint swatch, all associated tint swatches (and the objects painted with those swatches) change color, though the tint values remain unchanged. Tints are identified by a percentage (when the Swatches panel is in list view)

Swatches panel overview

You use the Swatches panel (Window > Swatches) to control all document colors, gradients, and patterns. You can name and store any of these items for instant access. When a selected object’s fill or stroke contains a color, gradient, pattern, or tint applied from the Swatches panel, the applied swatch is highlighted in the Swatches panel.

Swatches panel
Swatches panel in Small List view

A. Spot color B. Process color C. Fill or stroke of None D. Registration swatch (prints on all plates) E. CMYK symbol (when document is open in CMYK mode) F. RGB symbol (when document is open in RGB mode) G. Swatch Library Menu H. Open Color Themes Panel I. Add Selected Swatches And Color Groups To My Current Library J. Show Swatch Kinds Menu K. Swatch Options L. New Color Group M. New Swatch N. Delete Swatch 

Change the display of swatches

  1. Select a view option from the Swatches panel menu: Small Thumbnail View, Medium Thumbnail View, Large Thumbnail View, Small List View, or Large List View.

Show a specific type of swatch and hide all others

  1. Click the Show Swatch Kinds button and choose one of the following: Show All Swatches, Show Color Swatches, Show Gradient Swatches, Show Pattern Swatches, or Show Color Groups.

Select all swatches that aren’t used in artwork

If you want to limit your Swatches panel to only the colors that are used in a document, you can select all unused swatches and then delete them.

  1. Choose Select All Unused in the Swatches panel menu.

Select a color group

  • To select the entire group, click the color group icon .

  • To select swatches inside the group, click individual swatches.


To edit the selected color group, make sure no artwork is selected and click the Edit Color Group button , or double-click the color group folder. To edit the selected color group and apply the edits to selected artwork, click the Edit Or Apply Colors button , or double-click the color group folder. For more information, see Edit colors in the Edit Colors dialog box.

Select a swatch by name

  1. Select Show Find Field from the Swatches panel menu. Type the first letter or letters of the swatch's name in the Find text box at the top of the panel.


    This procedure does not work with double-byte characters.

    You can also use this method to select a PANTONE® swatch by entering the PANTONE number.

Move swatches into a color group

  1. Drag individual color swatches to an existing color group folder.

  2. Select the colors you want in a new color group and click the New Color Group button .

Change the order of swatches

You can reorder individual swatches as well as swatches inside a color group.

  1. Do one of the following:

    • Select Sort By Name or Sort By Kind from the Swatches panel menu. These commands only work on individual swatches, not swatches in a color group.

    • Drag a swatch to a new location.

Use swatch libraries

Swatch libraries are collections of preset colors, including ink libraries such as PANTONE, HKS, Trumatch, FOCOLTONE, DIC, TOYO, and thematic libraries such as camouflage, nature, Greek, and jewel tones.

When you open a swatch library, it appears in a new panel (not the Swatches panel). You select, sort, and view swatches in a swatch library the same as you do in the Swatches panel. However, you can’t add swatches to, delete swatches from, or edit the swatches in the Swatch libraries panel.


To make a swatch library appear each time Illustrator is started, select Persistent from the swatch library’s panel menu.

Open a swatch library

  1. Do one of the following:

    • In the Swatches panel menu, choose Open Swatch Library > [library name].

    • In the Swatches panel, click the Swatch Libraries Menu button  , and choose a library from the list.


PANTONE color libraries are located in the Color Books subfolder (Swatch Libraries > Color Books > PANTONE...).

Create a swatch library

You create a swatch library by saving the current document as a swatch library.

  1. Edit the swatches in the Swatches panel so that it contains only the swatches you want in the swatch library.

  2. Select Save Swatch Library from the Swatches panel menu.


    To remove all swatches that aren’t used in the document, choose Select All Unused from the Swatches panel menu, and then click the Delete Swatch button .

Edit a swatch library

  1. Choose File > Open, locate and open the library file. By default, swatch library files are stored in the Illustrator/Presets/Swatches folder.

  2. Edit the colors in the Swatches panel and save your changes.

Move swatches from a swatch library to the Swatches panel

Do any of the following:

  • Drag one or more swatches from the swatch library panel to the Swatches panel.

  • Select the swatches you want to add, and select Add To Swatches from the library’s panel menu.

  • Apply a swatch to an object in the document. If the swatch is a global or spot-color swatch, the swatch is automatically added to the Swatches panel.

Create color swatches

You can create process color, spot color, or gradient color swatches.

Create a process color swatch

Do one of the following:

  • Select a color using the Color Picker or Color panel, or select an object with the color you want. Then, drag the color from the Tools panel or Color panel to the Swatches panel.

  • In the Swatches panel, click the New Swatch button or select New Swatch from the panel menu. In the dialog box that appears, select Global if you want the swatch to be a global color. Set additional swatch options, and click OK. (See Swatch options.)

Create spot-color swatches

Do one of the following:

  • Select a color using the Color Picker or Color panel, or select an object with the color you want. Then, Ctrl‑drag (Windows) or Command‑drag (Mac OS) the color from the Tools panel or Color panel to the Swatches panel.

  • In the Swatches panel, Ctrl‑click (Windows) or Command‑click (Mac OS) the New Swatch button, or select New Swatch from the panel menu. In the dialog box that appears, select Spot Color for Color Type. Set additional swatch options and click OK. (See Swatch options.)

Create gradient swatches

  1. Create a gradient using the Gradient panel, or select an object with the gradient you want.

  2. Do one of the following:

    • Drag the gradient fill from the Fill box in the Tools panel or Color panel to the Swatches panel.

    • In the Gradient panel, click the gradient menu (next to the gradient box) and click the Save To Swatches Library icon .

    • In the Swatches panel, click the New Swatch button or select New Swatch from the Swatches panel menu. In the dialog box that appears, enter a swatch name, and click OK. (See Swatch options.)

Create a swatch from the Color Guide panel

  1. Choose colors from the Harmony Rules menu in the Color Guide panel.

  2. Click the Save Color Group To Swatch Panel button  at the bottom of the Color Guide panel.

Add colors from artwork to the Swatches panel

You can automatically add all the colors from selected artwork or all the colors in your document to the Swatches panel. Illustrator finds the colors that are not already in the Swatches panel, converts any process colors to global colors, and adds them to the panel as new swatches.

When you automatically add colors to the Swatches panel, all colors in the document are included, except the following:

  • Colors inside opacity masks (when not in opacity mask editing mode)

  • Interpolated colors in blends

  • Colors in image pixels

  • Guide colors

  • Colors in objects that are inside compound shapes and are not visible

If you change a gradient fill, pattern fill, or symbol instance to a new global color, the color is added as a new swatch and the original color swatch is retained.

Add all document colors

  1. Make sure that nothing is selected, and choose Add Used Colors from the Swatches panel menu.

Add colors from selected artwork

  1. Select the objects containing the colors you want to add to the Swatches panel, and do one of the following:

    • Choose Add Selected Colors from the Swatches panel menu.

    • Click the New Color Group button in the Swatches panel. Specify options in the dialog box that appears.

      Colors are arranged and saved using the Hue Forward rule.

Import swatches from another document

You can import all swatches or individual swatches from another document.

  • To import all swatches from another document, choose Open Swatch Library > Other Library from the Swatches panel menu. Select the file from which you want to import swatches, and click Open. The imported swatches appear in a swatch library panel (not the Swatches panel).

  • To import individual swatches from another document, copy and paste objects that use the swatches. The imported swatches appear in the Swatches panel.


If imported swatches for spot colors or global process colors have the same name but different color values as swatches already in the document, a swatch conflict occurs. For spot color conflicts, the color values of the existing swatches are preserved and imported swatches are automatically merged with the existing swatches. For process color conflicts, the Swatch Conflict dialog box appears, and color values for existing swatches are automatically retained. You can choose “Add Swatches” to add the swatches by appending a number to the conflicting swatch names or choose “Merge Swatches” to merge the swatches using the color values of the existing swatches.

Share swatches between applications

You can share the solid swatches you create in Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign by saving a swatch library for exchange. The colors appear the same across apps as long as your color settings are synchronized.


You can create and share color group swatches by using the Color Themes panel (previously known as the Kuler panel). See Color Themes panel.

  1. In the Swatches panel, select the process and spot-color swatches you want to share.


    You cannot share the following types of swatches between applications: patterns, gradients, and the Registration swatch from Illustrator or InDesign; and book color references, HSB, XYZ, duotone, monitorRGB, opacity, total ink, and webRGB swatches from Photoshop. These types of swatches are automatically excluded when you save swatches for exchange.

  2. Do one of the following:

    • Click the Add Selected Swatches And Color Groups To My Current Library icon in the Swatches panel.
    • Choose Swatch Options from the panel menu, and select Add To My Library. Then, click OK.
    • Choose Save Swatch Library As ASE or Save Swatch Library as AI from the Swatches panel menu, and save the swatch libraries in an easily accessible location.

    When you load a library that contains swatches with identical names, the definitions of the identically-named swatches are overwritten. Ensure that swatch names are unique.

  3. Load the swatch library into the Swatches panel for Photoshop, Illustrator, or InDesign.

Manage swatches

You can manage the swatches in your Swatches panel by duplicating, grouping, replacing, merging, or deleting them. You can also specify swatch options such as swatch name, color type, color mode, or preview.

Duplicate swatches

  1. Select one or more swatches that you want to duplicate.

  2. Do one of the following:

    • Select Duplicate Swatch from the Swatches panel menu.

    • Drag the swatches to the New Swatch button in the Swatches panel.

Group swatches

When you want to keep specific colors together in the Swatches panel, create a color group. For example, you can create a color group for colors you select in the Color Guide panel. When you save a color group in the Edit Colors dialog box, it is automatically saved as a color group in the Swatches panel. You can also manually group any set of solid color swatches.

  1. Select one or more swatches in the Swatches panel.

  2. Click the New Color Group button, or choose New Color Group from the panel menu.

Replace, merge, or delete swatches

  • To replace a swatch, hold down Alt (Windows) or Option (Mac OS) and drag the color or gradient from the Color panel, Gradient panel, an object, or the Tools panel to the Swatches panel, highlighting the swatch you want to replace.

    Replacing an existing color, gradient, or pattern in the Swatches panel globally changes objects in the file containing that swatch color with the new color, gradient, or pattern. The only exception is for a process color that does not have the Global option selected in the Swatch Options dialog box.

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

  • To delete a swatch, select one or more swatches. Select Delete Swatch from the panel menu, click the Delete Swatch button, or drag the selected swatches to the Delete Swatch button.

    When you delete a spot-color or global process-color swatch (or a pattern or gradient containing a spot or global process color), all objects painted with those colors are converted to the non-global process color equivalent.

Swatch options

To set swatch options, double-click an existing swatch or select New Swatch from the Swatches panel menu.

Swatch Name

Specifies the name of the swatch in the Swatches panel.

Color Type

Specifies if the swatch is a process color or spot color.


Creates a global process-color swatch.

Color Mode

Specifies the color mode of the swatch.

After you select the color mode you want, you can use the color sliders to adjust the color. If you select a color that is not web-safe, an alert cube appears. Click the cube to shift to the closest web-safe color (which is displayed to the right of the cube). If you select an out-of-gamut color, an alert triangle appears. Click the triangle to shift to the closest CMYK equivalent (which is displayed to the right of the triangle).


Displays color adjustments on any objects to which the swatch is applied.

Swatch options

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