Illustrator 103: Color

By guest contributor Melissa Coleman.

Working with color should be simple, but it can often the biggest hang-up when designing. Today we're going to tackle color palettes and how to implement them into your design. It's far less technical compared to last week, but it can make or break your design.

Whether you're designing for your blog or a special project, it's good to start with a color palette. Illustrator has a lot of preset Swatch Libraries you can choose from. Make sure your Swatch Palette is available by going to Window> Swatches. Click the down arrow on the top right of the window and select Open Swatch Library. You'll see a multitude of palettes to choose from. This can be a little overwhelming. I always seem to find myself at Design Seeds for inspiration. She has a site full of beautiful palettes. Let's start there.

Step 1: Go to Design Seeds and choose a palette you like. I chose this one. Download the image to your desktop.

Step 2: Open an Illustrator file (Command + N). Go to File> Place and choose the downloaded palette.

Step 3: Use the Eyedropper tool (I), and select the first color. You'll see it in your color dialogue box, in your tools palette, on the bottom. Double click the color if you wish to edit it. Go to your Swatches Palette and click New Swatch (the paper looking icon). A dialogue box will pop up--press OK. The color will show up in your Swatch Palette. Repeat for the other colors.

Step 4: You can stop here or save the palette for future use. Select your new colors by holding down the Shift button and selecting them. Click the down arrow that is on the top right (as before) and select Save Swatch Library as an ASE file. Name the file and save it in an accessible folder. Now you can access the color palette in any of the Adobe programs.

Now that we have a color palette, let's apply it in a couple different ways.


  • Normal: Add a shape (M) on top of your image. 
  • Multiply: Using the Normal circle, go to Window> Transparency. Select the circle and go to the Transparency window> click Normal> select Multiply from the drop down menu. Mini lesson: Multiplying white onto a shape or image is like multiplying a number by one, nothing happens. 
  • Multiply + Gradient: Follow the steps above, then go to Window> Gradient. With the Multiplied circle selected, drag the blue color (or another color) into the Gradient window in replacing the black. 50% 
  • Opacity: Using the Transparency window again, select the Normal circle and drop the opacity to 50% (or other).


Still practicing those keystrokes?
For this post, remember to use "I" for the Eyedropper tool. For another cool effect, try changing your four color applications to strokes, instead of fills, by pressing Shift + X.

Pro tip: Have you decided you don't like one of the colors in your palette, but don't want to change it everywhere? Select one occurrence of the color, then go to Select> Same> Fill Color and all occurrences will be selected. You can now make a mass edit in one click.