I'm following a beginner's tutorial where I am supposed to color a skull that has different symbols on it.

It was going all fine until I had to select the yellow bits to add different colors to the skull, but Illustrator won't select it if I click on it, only the outline.

I have to specifically go to the layers panel and meatball the path I want to color, which is really annoying and time consuming. What should I do to active the selection by a click?

the area selected and coloured is what I want to achieve just by clicking on it but it doesn't work, only from the layers panel

3 Answers 3


You can not directly alter colors in a symbol. The best you can do is use the Symbol Stainer Tool in the Toolbar.

enter image description here

But, this isn't really precise at all. It essentially "swipes" color over everything in the symbol. It may or may not work for you. You'll have to try it to find out.

To precisely edit Symbol colors, you have to edit the actual Symbol (by double-clicking it in the Symbols Panel).

However, if you edit the symbol, all symbol instances will change to match your edits.

If you want to keep things as Symbols, but change colors, you need to duplicate the symbol then edit the colors within the duplicate. Basically, you need a new symbol for every color variation.

If you want to break away from the symbolic link, then select the Symbol Instance on the artboard and click the Break Link button in the Control Bar across the top of the screen. This will expand the symbol to standard objects. So.. it'll no longer be a symbol or tied to the symbols panel in any way. However, you'll be able to alter colors the same way you would for any standard object.

  • Thanks for your reply Scott! But it should be something really simple, it's not about symbols, I just meant the drawings on the skull, not the actual symbols in the programme. I'm a very beginner and in the tutorial the selection just worked instantly but it didn't work for me in the programme when trying to follow the tutorial. Basically, I should be able to select the paths individually that are yellow just by clicking on it. In the image the section I filled with white I should be able to just click on it to select it but I can only select it by going to the layers panel and meatbaling it.
    – Jules
    Commented Jan 4, 2017 at 22:28
  • Compound shapes have holes (that's the definition of "compound shape"... those holes aren't meant to be filled. If you don't want the "hole" delete it's path.
    – Scott
    Commented Jan 4, 2017 at 23:03

Hope i understand this correctly and you need to select everything in yellow, in which case:

  • select any yellow shape and go to Select > Same > Fill Color
  • The problem is I want to select them individually and add color to the different yellow bits. This is the tutorial: youtube.com/watch?v=0MDns4AP4Qw and at 3:00 the guy just clicks on the section I uploaded the photo about, but for me it doesn't do anything if I just click on it with the selection tool, I have to look through all the layers in the layers panel and can only select it from there.
    – Jules
    Commented Jan 4, 2017 at 22:34

Make sure you're using the Selection Tool (black arrow) Make sure nothing is locked or on a locked layer (Object / Unlock All) Expand the skull if necessary (Select it all, Object/Expand) If you still can't select a yellow bit then select the whole skull and use Live Paint Bucket under the Shape Builder Tool. Click the shape with the Live Paint Bucket, just make sure you have a fill selected.

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