I'm using Adobe Illustrator and the recolor dialog box. For the purpose of this artwork, I can't change the skin tone, and the color of the hair is also limited. I'd like for Illustrator to give me a selection of color harmonies while keeping the skin tone fixed. How can this be done?

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ps. As a secondary question, when I enter recolor edit, one circle is much bigger than the others. I guess this must be in some way the "dominant" color. But if you look at my picture, this dominant color is a small percentage of the art. Shouldn't Illustrator use the total area of each color to figure the dominant color?

Appendum: As Scott points out, large circle is the "base" color. It is used as a reference for the color harmonies, as seen in the second screenshot.

Appendum: To change the base color, one suggestion is to click on a color in the top bar. This does appear to change the base color as indicated by the arrow, in the third screenshot. However, the base color in the harmonies is not changes. I would submit this is actually a bug in the software.

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  • Big circle is just the selected color click on any other circle.
    – joojaa
    Commented Oct 8, 2021 at 4:18
  • @joojaa I didn't seem to work for me. When I click on other circles, the big one stays the biggest. I learned something. When I change color harmony in the Recolor Dialog box, the color in the big circle stays fixed. Now if I could get the big circle to be the skin tone, my problem would be solved.
    – Chris
    Commented Oct 8, 2021 at 14:55

1 Answer 1


The large circle designates the "base color", which will control global saturation and value for all the colors when the colors are locked. It has nothing to do with the actual color in the circle.

With locked colors in Edit mode, you can drag any small circle inward/outward to change the saturation/value of just that color.

But if you drag the base color circle in/out, you change saturation/value for all colors.

enter image description here

Rotating around the wheel with any circle will edit all colors when colors are locked. The big circle does not indicate any "frozen" or "don't edit" color. Even if the base color were the skin tone, that would not keep hues from changing if rotated around the wheel.

To change the base color, and make harmonies start from a new base color, right-click (control-click) any color circle on the wheel and choose set as base color from the popup contextual menu.

enter image description here

You can't really "freeze" colors in illustrator with any of the edit colors features. You can merely not touch the skin tones and assign new colors to other indicators. But in general there's no "freeze" or "don't alter" for individual colors in color editing features (other than black and white).

However, if you lock the objects in the art, before selecting and calling Recolor Artwork, they won't be part of the selection and thus not part of any recoloring.

So, on the artboard, select and lock (Object > Lock) all shapes/objects which are colored with skin tones. Then you can select all and recolor, locked objects won't be selected and therefore not recolored.

Alternatively you can merely not select skin tone objects before calling Recolor Artwork.

Recolor artwork will only recolor what is selected.

  • I gave your very nice response a thumbs up. However, it leaves so many open questions. One question is this: Are you saying that the hue of the big circle is entirely arbitrary? I don't think it is arbitrary, so how does Illutrator determine the hue of the big circle? Illustrator apparently think the hue of the big circle is important because it bases all the color harmonies on it. See the new picture I added to my questions.
    – Chris
    Commented Oct 9, 2021 at 0:53
  • @Chris Illustrator sees the hue of the big circle as "base" for some reason. I honestly don't know what that algorithm is. It may be something like most prolific color, or most common color values, or average values. My point was that the hue of the big circle is not really imperative to the wheel other than when it's moves with locked colors. It's only big to show the user which circle will change global values as in the animation above. If you click anywhere in the color bar across the top, then circle highlight changes, making whatever color you clicked the new base color.
    – Scott
    Commented Oct 9, 2021 at 5:37
  • I honestly don't know how AI chooses the base color. I think it would take an AI dev to weigh in on that since I can't find, and have never seen any information regarding that specifically. However, overall, it's really not that important which color is set as "base" it's not "locked" or unchangeable. Note the "base" color is also the first color at the top of the Assign tab.
    – Scott
    Commented Oct 9, 2021 at 5:39
  • @Chris all mathematical operations on color are somewhat arbitrary. Mainly because the true science behind color vision is, "Rocket science". Hell we do not even have consensus on what the color wheel should look like ergo rotating around hue is arbitrary. But yes the entire UI of the recolor artwork dialog is,perplexing and arbitrarily over complex. But at the same time totally under developped for most usecases.
    – joojaa
    Commented Oct 9, 2021 at 8:02
  • @Scott I take your point that the big circle on the wheel is different that the smaller circles in that when you move it, you are changing the global value of saturation. Where I disagree is when you say that "it's really not important which color is set as 'base'". I submit it is important because the color harmonies created by the recolor dialog box all hold the base constant. Therefore, if I could equate the base color to skin tone, I would be able to look at the color harmonies built around skin tone
    – Chris
    Commented Oct 9, 2021 at 15:07

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