Illustrator Swatches Tips & Techniques GUIDELINES FOR ADOBE STOCK CONTRIBUTORS

Adobe Illustrator is an incredibly versatile application. Whether you are designing logos, creating illustrations, or laying out flyers advertising your socially distanced book club, Illustrator has an amazing set of tools to help get the job done. With all of those exciting options, it can be tempting to just jump right in to designing, without worrying too much about things like “file setup” or “Swatch Libraries.”

As is often the case, a little bit of extra work at the start of a project can go a long way towards saving you time in the future. In the interest of working smarter, not harder, here are some tips to make the most of two types of swatches: Global Color Swatches and Pattern Swatches.

On this page:

Global Color Swatches: Overview | What are Global Color Swatches? | Setting Up Global Color Swatches

Pattern Swatches: Overview | Creating a Pattern Swatch

Using Global Color Swatches and Pattern Swatches Together: Additional Resources

Global Color Swatches


When you have an idea for a graphic or illustration, sometimes you know exactly the colors you want to use. You can use Adobe Color to create the perfect palette for all of your projects. What happens when you realize that particular shade of turquoise isn’t quite working? Or when your client reaches out to say they love the branding you’ve created, but they just wish it was a little less purple?

Swapping out colors may not seem like the biggest hurdle in the life of an Illustrator pro, but it can get complicated when you are working with a lot of complex shapes across multiple artboards. Global color swatches help make this process fast and easy, while making sure you don’t miss one shape or text box. By setting up and using global color swatches, you can change all instances of a color at once, and even preview changes as you go.

And if you’re a templates creator, global color swatches can make your templates even easier to use.

What are Global Color Swatches?

A color swatch is a saved instance of a color used in an Illustrator file, stored in the Swatches panel. This is useful in itself because it means you don’t have to constantly use the eyedropper to makes sure your colors are consistent - you can just apply the saved swatch. Global color swatches take this one step further. When multiple shapes (or other objects like text fields) use the same global color swatch, that global color swatch can be used to adjust the color of all of those objects at once (globally!).

Setting Up Global Color Swatches

To get started with global color swatches, open the Swatches Panel (Windows > Swatches).

If the colors in use in your file aren’t already displayed in the Swatches Panel, add them by selecting “Add Used Colors” from the panel menu.

The "Add Used Colors" option
  • A color swatch named with its corresponding RGB/CMYK (or other colorspace) value is created
  • By default, the swatch will be created as a global color swatch (the thumbnail’s lower right corner will have a white triangle)
  • If the swatch is not created as a global color swatch, double-click the swatch thumbnail to open the Swatch Options panel
  • Check the Global checkbox and click OK

Now for the cool part: once you have global color swatches created and assigned to all the elements in your design, you can use the global color swatches to change the colors of all objects with that swatch applied.

  • Open the Swatch Options panel, check the Preview box, and then change the color—anything using that swatch will be updated to the new color
  • The swatch name will also be automatically updated to the correct CMYK/RGB/etc. value

With global color swatches, you can try out new colors quickly and easily across your whole file—no matter how many objects or artboards you have.

Pattern Swatches


Creating pattern swatches is a great way to get more mileage out of your design elements. And while it might seem simpler to alt+drag copies of an illustration until you’ve filled up the entire artboard, creating a pattern swatch will give you much more flexibility, smaller file sizes, and the ability to save and share your pattern swatches.

Creating a Pattern Swatch

Starting with a few shapes or other objects, select the elements you want to use in your pattern.

Some illustrations to use in a pattern
  • With these objects selected, choose Object > Pattern… > Make
  • The Pattern Options view will open, allowing you to work on your pattern separately from the rest of your file
View Pattern Options to edit various aspects of your pattern
  1. Set the Tile Type (Grid, Brick by Row, Brick by Column, Hex by Column, Hex by Row) and the Offset to set the basic layout of the pattern
  2. Adjust the size of the Tile (the area of the artwork you want to repeat) to change the spacing between Tiles
  3. Set the display options to preview your pattern

Once you are happy with how your pattern looks, you can exit out of the Pattern Options dialog. Your new pattern swatch will be stored in the Swatches panel, and you can delete any unneeded instances of it on your artboards. The pattern swatch can now be applied to objects just like a color or gradient swatch.

Using Global Color Swatches and Pattern Swatches Together

If you used global color swatches when creating your pattern, you can now change the colors in your pattern at the same time you change the colors of any other object using that same global color swatch.

Additional Resources

For more information on global color swatches and pattern swatches check out these resources from the Adobe Help Center:

Restyle your logo easily

Enhance your slide presentations with custom patterns using Illustrator

How Daniele De Nigris created “3/4 Decorative”

Last Published: September 22,2020