I often adapt illustrations to fit brand guidelines. It usually is a tedious task when I have to select each color by hand.

So I've been trying to make sense of the "Recolor Artwork" feature... I know how to define my brand colors in a Library or a Swatch, but I haven't found a way to restrict the colors in an illustration to my defined swatches. I don't have anything under under "Color groups" in the "Recolor Artwork" window. In the "Color reduction Options" I've tried everything, I always end up with either horrible value swaps (dark shades from my swatches to replace bright ones?), or a lot of the original colors still there. "Colorize methods" don't seem to make a lot of sense.

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In the "Edit" tab - although the user-defined "swatchez" is selected, more than half the colors on the wheel are from the original document, not from the swatch document

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Here are some Color Reduction Options that seem like they should make sense...

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... but then the document still has 36 "Current colors" - a lot of which are from the original colors, not from the swatch. The swatch library is selected in both windows, "Recolor Artwork" and "Color Reduction Options"...

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The colors in the Swatch file used

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The "Recolorized" illustration. In several shades of grey and one purple.

I want to make sure that when I recolor, all the original colors of the illustration are totally gone from the "Current colors" list and replaced with the closest color from my swatch.

How do I replace the colors in a vector illustration with the closest match from a set of user-defined swatches?


I was going to suggest reviewing the help on Recolor Artwork if you haven't - but as I searched for a link I see there's really nothing very helpful available -- shame on Adobe!

There's no such thing as "closest match" in Recolor artwork. Illustrator and the color engine simply aren't that smart.

For general replacement Recolor Artwork uses Color Harmony Rules. Which is that bar in the top of the window.

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Now, is this helpful? To me - heck NO! I have no clue what the math, theory, or algorithms are when these are used. I find no real documentation anywhere and have never been able to accurately predict how changing the harmony will alter color application. But.. in theory.. this is what Adobe thinks is helpful and a way to restrict or direct how colors are replaced. If you figure it out.. please post a Q/A so I can know, because I'm clueless here. :)

What I do is count colors and swatch positions.

So If I have 4 colors....

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I create a color group with the same amount of swatches, and order them in the way I want them replaced.

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So, if I want to change which color is replaced by what other color, I merely reorder the new color group swatches...

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So, merely by altering the order of the swatches within the group I control color replacement in a more logical, predictable, manner.

The key thing is to create your own color groups in the Swatch Panel.

The Swatches Panel is where you can directly edit colors within a group.... and then the groups show up in the Recolor Artwork Dialog.

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When exploring replacements, you can drag the New color boxes around in the Assign tab to change replacements. Then when you have the order you want, click the Save icon to update the color group - which essentially merely changes the order of the colors.

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Also, it may be helpful to realize that black, white, and greys are considered "sacred' colors in a way. If you want those values to change you have to tell Recolor Artwork that they can change....

Click the little "pref" icon in the center of the window...

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Then in the Color Reduction Options untick Black, White, or Grey, under the Preserve area...

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Truth be told an entire book could be written on this feature alone. Adobe's documentation is horribly lacking. I haven't seen the Classroom in Book area covering this, so maybe it's better. But online or in-app, there's hardly any direct information and most of the things I found were merely cursory and/or "one shot tutorial" type of stuff. It's a rather in-depth feature with myriad options and settings. (CS6 screenshots, but it's the same in newer versions, other than the window chrome)

  • Sounds like doing the same old system - "Select same > Fill color" and doing everything by hand is not necessarily a longer way to do it after all. I mean - how would I even count the colors? Also, I have been miserably unable to make anything happen in the "Color groups" area on the right... – MicroMachine Apr 2 at 22:37
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    Well it's better than select similar because once you set a color group, you can reuse that with 1 click for everything moving forward. And the Color Group areas is a general "swatch" group, it's not meant for editing. it's meant to show saved groups and recall them, that's all. I don't mean to imply that getting to the desired color group is an easy task, it's often not. Especially if you are also reducing the amount of colors in the artwork. It's a computer system, it does what you tell it to do, it won't make choices for you most of the time. – Scott Apr 2 at 22:40
  • The color groups are not really an "exploratory" thing. They are meant for use after you've done the exploration and are set on what colors you want to use. – Scott Apr 2 at 22:41
  • I'm way too confused to make sense of anything other than "Select same > fill" at the moment. If I do "Edit > Recolor > Colors > 3", then I have less colors (like shades of purple) but they're all off-brand. I don't mind having more colors but all on-brand. – MicroMachine Apr 2 at 22:42
  • What action makes things happen in the "Color Groups" column? This is even worse UX thank Skype – MicroMachine Apr 2 at 22:43

This is what I found out and learned today, after trial and error and thanks to other answers.

1 - Create a Swatch file with the desired colors

Open an AI document, make shapes, give them a fill, select the shapes, and in the Swatches panel, click the menu-with-no-name, "New Color Group", check "Selected artwork", and "Include swatches for tints”

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2 - Then save the Swatch document from the menu with no name > "Save Swatch Library as .ASE". Save to your Desktop for example.

You can then close / delete the document with the boxes.

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3 - Open the illustration that needs to be recolored, do not select any object at the moment, and delete all the Swatches except black and white in the Swatches panel.

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4 - In the Swatches panel, open the file saved in step 2

In the Menu with no name > "Open Swatch Library".

5 - Click the little grey folder to the left side of the colors

Your color swatch will then magically appear (finally!) in the Swatches of your current illustration.

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6 - Select the whole illustration

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7 - Click Edit > Recolor Artwork, then select the Swatch in "Color Groups".

The brand colors you defined should now replace the old ones. To see various possibilities, click the "Randomly change color order" button.

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After making a Color Group with your swatches, select the artwork and the color group and click the Recolor Artwork icon at the swatches panel. The Recolor Artwork Icon is not at the Swatches Panel, only appear when a color group is selected.


From the Recolor Artwork panel change the color position to match the brightness and saturation of each color:

Recolor Artwork

You can speed up the work if the new color group is arranged it from dark to light, in this way you will only have to move the left color column (the current colors)


  • I don't see a "Recolor Artwork icon at the swatches panel" in Illustrator CC? – MicroMachine Apr 2 at 22:50
  • I don't understand. I made 17 color boxes in AI, gave them colors I needed, exported the swatch as a ".ase" file. I don't have the original AI file with color boxes anymore, why would I keep it? When I open the illustration that needs coloring and open the ".ase" file with my swatches from the Swatch panel, it does not appear in the swatches panel. It is checked in but doesn't appear – MicroMachine Apr 2 at 23:00
  • After trying this all afternoon, I understand your answer better, however there is no color wheel at the bottom of the Swatches panel in AI CC. Please explain how you created the groups if you're juggling with two documents, one for swatches and your final working document. – MicroMachine Apr 3 at 0:25
  • I can see the Recolor Artwork icon in your animation when you click the color group. Read my answer again. – Danielillo Apr 3 at 0:31
  • Yes you are right. Apologies! Can you explain "Change the position to change the brightness"? In your screenshot you have one color bar under "Current colors" then it splits into two, how? – MicroMachine Apr 3 at 0:32

You put your swatches in a group; yo make a new group in the recolour tool, you manually recolour the relative swatches as needed, and can then switch between swatch groups in the selected items as you see fit.

You can also use the lovely colour wheel tool for interactive recolouring... but that's of limited use if you already know the requisite values!

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After comments:

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You can quickly get to this all from the Swatches Palette if you select a group, BTW:

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Hope this helps.

OP MicroMachine answered their own question by aggregating all the data from our answers - and I like the workflow they developed (though you don't need to do the swatch creation in a separate file, BTW) and applied it herein as a test - like it; great way to iterate, and either use given swatches as jumping-off points or hard limits.

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  • How does one "put swatches in a group"? Just this step seems like a headache. Should a "Group" be several somewhat similar colors? Should it be all the different colors in my brand guidelines? – MicroMachine Apr 2 at 22:38
  • yes - all the values you want to alter. in the swatches palette, new group is eay. then once you open recolour, there's a New Group icon (looks like a folder) which creates what initially looks like a clone of your group - only you're live editing it. Then you hit the Save button on the right which looks like an arrow pointing to an old HD which pushes those changes to that new group. Rinse and repeat. This lets you have multiple versions of a given illustration pretty quickly to be fair - but it's not opitmised for the use you're thinking. – GerardFalla Apr 2 at 22:43

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