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How to Use and Export Illustrator Color Palettes

Jamie Bartlett March 31, 2021 · 5 min read
Think of your digital workspace like your house. If it’s a mess, you’re going to be tripping over things and you’re going to have a hard time focusing in all the chaos. Using color palettes in Adobe Illustrator is just one way you can tame the chaos and keep your workspace organized. And the less chaotic your workspace is the more you can focus on creating awesome work. So let’s jump in a organize those colors!

1. New Document

First we need to be able to access our colors in Illustrator. If you’re just starting on new project go ahead and make a new document. If you would like to make a color palette using colors from a current or past Illustrator project, open that file instead.

2. Open Swatches

Next, open the swatches panel by going to Windows →  Swatches. Now delete any colors that are currently in the panel. I like to do this because I never end up using the default swatches, and clearing them out makes it easy to see the swatches I actually want to use. To select multiple swatches, just click on the first swatch, and then shift + click on the last swatch. You can select entire swatch folders simply by clicking on the folder icon. Once you have them selected, just press the trash can button in the bottom right corner of the panel.

3. New Color Group

Now let’s make a group to organize our swatches. Click on the New Color Group button, name it whatever you would like and click ok. This will make a group you can add colors to as you pick them for your project. To add them to the group simply drag the swatch from the active fill color into your group. You can also save gradients, and even patterns, as swatches. If you’ve already created your artwork and chose the colors you want to use, you can automatically make a swatch group from those colors. First, select all of your artwork and click on the New Color Group button. Use the Selected Artwork option and leave Convert Process to Global and Include Swatches for Tints unchecked, then click ok. This will take all colors you’re using and organize them into a swatches group automatically for you.

4. Rearrange Your Swatches

If you made your swatch group from existing artwork, Illustrator may have arranged the swatches in a way you don’t prefer. Fortunately you can easily rearrange your swatch order just by clicking and dragging the swatches around in the group. Arrange them in the order that makes the most sense to you and your workflow.

5. Save Swatches

Any customizations you make to your swatches panel are saved with the document, but if you want to use those swatches in other projects you’ll have to save them first. There are two different options on how to save your swatches. The best option for you will depend on how you plan to use them and which one works better for your workflow. Option 1 Save your swatch group to the Illustrator library. This will keep your swatches within illustrator locally so it’s easy to find and load anytime you need to use it. To save your swatches this way, go to the Swatch Library Menu  Save Swatches. Illustrator will automatically suggest you save it in the swatches folder, so all you need to do is give it a name and click save. Now your swatches will show up in the Swatch Libraries Menu  User Defined. The only downside to this method is you won’t be able to access your swatch libraries on other computers. Option 2 Save your swatches to your Creative Cloud Libraries. This option is more flexible than the first because it allows you to have access to your color swatches from any device you are signed into with your Adobe Creative Cloud account. Another benefit to this technique is that your colors will be accessible in any Adobe program that uses the Libraries Panel like Photoshop, InDesign or even After Effects. It also lets you share your palettes so you can easily collaborate with other creatives. Depending on the access you allow, those people can make edits to your library or simply just view and use it. Just be aware that you can only share an entire library with others, not just one color group. So if you don’t want other assets from your current library shared, be sure to create a new library that only has what you want shared in it first. To Save your colors to the Creative Cloud Library, select your swatch group and click on the Add Selected Swatches and Color Groups to My current Library button. Unfortunately, you can’t have more than five colors in a library group, so if you have more than five colors just make a new group and split your colors up. All your colors can now be shared by going up to the panel menu and clicking on Collaborate or Share Link. So the next time you start a new project, just take a few minutes to set up your colors when you first begin. It will make an easier and much more enjoyable environment to work in. And I can guarantee the fellow creatives and collaborators that open up your project files will be singing your praises too. Congratulations! Your workspace is neat and tidy, now if only it was that easy to keep your house clean.

Some Ready-to-Use Illustrator Color Palettes

Independent designers around the world have created stunning Illustrator color palettes that are ready for your next project. Here are some great examples:

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About the Author
Jamie Bartlett

Graphic designer, left-handed letterer, and Skillshare teacher.

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