How to Use a Color Group to Change Multiple Swatches in Adobe Illustrator

Color groups are useful for organizing custom color swatches into manageable collections that can be exported as user libraries. You can also use color groups to make global color corrections to artwork.

  1. We'll start with a photo to which Image Trace has been applied to render an illustrative effect with a limited number of colors. This palette of colors will become the color group.
    Image Trace Panel
  2. Because it's a traced image, the first step will be be to expand the image into its component paths by clicking the Expand button in the Control Panel.
    Control Panel
  3. Keeping the traced image selected, go to the Swatches Panel and click New Color Group. In the resulting dialog box, make sure Selected Artwork and Convert Process to Global are on. By using the Global Color option, we'll later be able to adjust color in the art.
    Swatches Panel
  4. To export the swatches, click on the color group's folder icon in the Swatches Panel, then click the Swatches menu and choose either Save Swatch Library as AI or Save Swatch Library as ASE. An AI Library can only be accessed in Illustrator files, whereas an ASE Library can be used with files created in other Adobe programs, such as InDesign. Save the library to a known location.
    Swatches Panel
  5. To use the library in another file, click the Swatches Panel menu and go to Open Swatch Library > Other Library and navigate to the library you saved.
    Swatches Panel Menu
  6. Next we'll edit the colors in the traced image. Keep the image selected and make sure the entire color group is selected in the Swatches Panel, then click the Edit or Apply Color Group button.
    Swatches Panel
  7. The dialog box has two tabs: Assign and Edit. Click the Edit tab. If it's grayed out, the artwork isn't selected.
    Recolor Artwork Dialog Box
  8. Make sure Link Harmony Colors is on, as well as Recolor Art.
    Recolor Artwork
  9. In this particular image, I want brighter colors, so I'll simply drag the Brightness slider (below the color wheel) slightly to the right. After clicking OK, you'll be prompted to save the changes to the color group.
    Recolor Art
  10. You can also manage individual colors within a color group. Here's a second color group created from selected art, although this time Include Swatches for Tints is also being used:
    New Color Group
  11. Because Black has been applied to some very fine lines in the art, several shades of gray have been generated as swatches. The color group would be easier to manage if they were combined into a single black swatch. After clicking the folder icon in the Swatches Panel, click Edit or Apply Color Group.
    Swatches Panel
  12. In the Assign tab, drag each of the grays onto the black bar under Current Colors to combine them, then click OK.
    Recolor Artwork
  13. Click the Swatches Panel menu and choose Select All Unused, then delete the selected swatches.
    Swatches Panel
  14. Next, the blue in this color group will be changed. Click the color group's folder icon in the Swathes Panel, then click Edit or Apply Color Group.
  15. Click the Edit tab in the dialog box, then click the Unlink Harmony Colors button.
    Recolor Artwork
  16. Make sure Recolor Art is checked. Click the blue spoke on the color wheel, then click the Adjustment Sliders menu and select RGB.
    Recolor Artwork
  17. Here, the blue has been changed to a shade of red.
    Recolor Artwork
Author: Kate Cahill

Kate Cahill is a graphic designer, writer, and creative director who has developed content for print and web. As creative director, she has produced award-winning work for agencies focused on the pharmaceutical and health and beauty aid industries. She has also served as production manager, with responsibility for the successful fulfillment of long-run print contracts. Kate has been delivering training for Webucator clients since 2010. Her enthusiasm for cutting-edge technology, combined with hands-on practical experience, brings an added benefit to her classes. Kate teaches real-world techniques and integration of Adobe software, as well as Microsoft PowerPoint, to produce a fully developed and cohesive brand identity.

About Webucator

Webucator provides instructor-led training to students throughout the US and Canada. We have trained over 90,000 students from over 16,000 organizations on technologies such as Microsoft ASP.NET, Microsoft Office, Azure, Windows, Java, Adobe, Python, SQL, JavaScript, Angular and much more. Check out our complete course catalog.