Adobe InDesign CC

How to manage Color Groups

Learn how to organize and manage your color swatches in InDesign. (Try it, 8 min)

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As a designer, you probably work with colors in several applications each day. It’s tedious to create and organize colors in one application, only to have to recreate the same colors in another application when you want to reuse them. In a multi-application workflow, easy access to the exact colors you need is especially important. Helping you to organize, share, and manage your color swatches is one of the key goals of the 2014 release of Adobe InDesign CC.

In this tutorial, you’ll go through a typical workflow involving InDesign and Adobe Illustrator CC. Specifically, you will:

  • Create and organize color swatches in InDesign
  • Load color swatches from another project in Illustrator

What will I learn?

  • The color workflow
  • Organizing color swatches in a folder
  • Using color schemes created in Illustrator
  • Applying colors to artwork in InDesign
Figure 1. Business card identity project (left) and color schemes created for a personal brand (right)

The color workflow

Start by taking a look at two projects that are underway: A personal brand project with color schemes and a business card project for the same client (see Figure 1). Notice that the “Magenta complement” color scheme from the personal brand project is applied to the business card. In this tutorial, you’ll create variations using other color schemes. To do this, you’ll save the color schemes in the personal brand document created in Illustrator and apply them to the business card project saved in InDesign.

Organize color swatches in a folder

Follow these steps to get started:

  1. Launch InDesign CC and open the cb_business_card.indd document.
  2. If the fonts saved in the file are not installed on your computer, The Missing Fonts dialog box will appear. Click Sync Fonts. InDesign will instantly download and install the fonts from the Adobe Typekit library. Typekit fonts are included with your Creative Cloud membership.

Before you import a new color theme, take a moment to look at how to organize the color swatches in this document.

  1. Choose > Window > Color> Swatches. The Swatches panel appears.

In the Swatches panel, notice the additional color swatches at the bottom of the list of swatches. These colors were applied to the artwork and saved with the file. Starting with the 2014 release of InDesign, you can create and organize color swatches just as in Illustrator. There are several ways to create folders to organize your color swatches. They're called Color Groups.

Follow the steps below to learn how.

Creating a Color group folder from scratch  

Figure 2. The Swatches panel showing default colors and the unique color swatches applied to artwork

To create a Color Group folder from scratch:

  1. Click the New Color Group button (the folder icon) at the bottom of the Swatches panel to create an empty folder named Color Group (see Figure 2).
  2. Double-click the folder and rename it as "Analogous oranges."
  3. Drag the three swatches into the folder individually (see Figure 2 at bottom).

Tip: Hold the Option key (Mac) or Alt key (PC) while clicking the New Color Group button to create and name the folder in one step.

To create a Color Group folder from selected swatches

Figure 3. Moving multiple color swatches into a folder at once

You can save a step and move multiple swatches into a folder all at once.

  1. Select any number of color swatches in the Swatches panel (see Figure 3).
  2. Hold the Option key (Mac) or Alt key (PC) and click the New Color Group button in the Swatches panel.
  3. Name the color swatches folder and click OK.

Creating a Color Group folder from selected colors in the artwork

Figure 4. Selecting the objects with the colors that you want to save

Figure 5. Saving colors from selected page items into a folder

An easy and intuitive way to organize colors is to save colors that are already applied to artwork. Here’s how:

  1. Select the entire business card artwork (see Figure 4). 
  2. Hold the Option key (Mac) or Alt key (PC) and click the New Color Group button in the Swatches panel.
  3. Select Create From: Selected Page Item(s), name the color swatches folder, and click OK (see Figure 5).

You’ve seen how easy it is to organize colors into Color Group folders in InDesign, and next you’ll learn how to load Color Group folders from Illustrator to work faster and more efficiently.

Use color schemes created in Illustrator

Color schemes for this personal brand project have already been created and saved in an Illustrator document. Instead of recreating the colors manually in InDesign, you’ll import the color swatch folders as a first step.

Before you can import the color swatch folders into your InDesign document, you’ll need to save the swatch folders in Illustrator in a special format. Follow the steps below.

Figure 6. The Swatches panel in Illustrator showing color swatches saved in folders

  1. Launch Illustrator and open the document.
  2. Choose Window> Swatches to view the Swatches panel (see Figure 6).
Figure 7. Saving swatches to an ASE (Adobe Swatch Exchange) file that can be loaded into InDesign

  1. Select Save Swatch Library as ASE from the Swatches panel menu (see Figure 7). The Adobe Swatch Exchange (ASE) file format lets you exchange swatches between applications that support ASE.
  2. Name the .ASE file CB.ASE and save it in an easily accessible location on your computer.

Next, you’ll switch to InDesign and load the Swatch Library into the document containing the business card layout.

Figure 8. Color Group folders created in Illustrator loaded into InDesign


  1. In InDesign, open the cb_business_card.indd document.
  2. Select Load Swatches from the Swatches panel menu.
  3. Navigate to the saved CB.ASE file and click Open.
  4. The Color Group folders appear in the Swatches panel in InDesign looking exactly as they do in Illustrator (see Figure 8).

Apply colors to artwork in InDesign  

Figure 9. Color Group folders created in Illustrator shown in the InDesign Swatches panel

That’s it! You’re ready to start applying alternative color schemes to artwork elements in the business card project (see Figure 9). You just completed an easy and efficient workflow to organize colors in InDesign.

Where to go from here

To learn more about color features, visit the InDesign Learn Essentials and Illustrator Learn Essentials sections of Creative Cloud Learn. You’ll find tutorials and other content on using color and related topics.

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