I have a set of 8 label graphics designed in Illustrator (.ai files) that I am placing in InDesign for text layout. I've placed these labels on a large page for printing and want to test out a series colors for the graphics (and how the text looks with the various colors).

Is there a way to easily test a "color series" of these labels, systematically making various tweaks in coloration of the vector graphics? Currently I can edit the .ai files in Illustrator and then re-open the Indesign file, but since the .ai documents are "linked" in the InDesign layout, the old version disappears. It's quite tedious with so many labels.

This must be a common issue - the need to quickly test a color series on a complex design (in this case a set of 8 labels). I can imagine wanting to test out 10 or more color pallets, so this task seems a bit tedious. Wondering if there are workflows that can make this easier.

3 Answers 3


Illustrator files are not directly editable in InDesign. That includes color.

  • Set up your labels in Illustrator where you are free to copy and edit everything
  • Copy/Paste artwork from AI to INDD which will allow editing of the artwork in InDesign, ease of editing will depend entirely upon complexity of the artwork. (And nothing will be "linked" so the Illustrator files would then be ignored).

update after a bit more thought

Another option is to utilize layers within the Illustrator file. InDesign will allow you to toggle layer visibility within InDesign for linked Illustrator or Photoshop files.

So, set up your Illustrator file with a new layer for each color scheme:


Keep the layers stacked on top of one another in Illustrator. Place the .ai file as a link in InDesign.

You can then right-click/control-click the placed image in InDesign and choose Object Layer Options... (Or choose Object > Object Layer Options from the menu with the image selected) which will allow you to toggle layers:


This still requires you to edit the .ai file for color variations. However, if there's some integration with InDesign that can't be replicated in Illustrator, this will allow you to play with layers and subsequently overall design colors in InDesign.

To be frank, I'm not certain why this would really be any easier than just setting labels up entirely in Illustrator. All I can assume is that something like the InDesign data merge feature may be in use.

CS6 screen shots/animation merely because I dislike CC versions. All the functionality in CC is exactly the same. However, panels, cursors, and highlights may look a bit different with more recent application releases.

  • Unfortunately my clipping masks are disappearing. Any ideas how to avoid that? Otherwise I guess I'll look into placing without linking.
    – user391339
    Jul 2, 2017 at 18:46
  • 1
    Well you'd have to flatten the artwork to remove clipping masks. Indd isn't the robust vector editor that AI is. And I don't really think you can "place without linking" where InDesign is concerned. But maybe there's some IDCC feature I'm unaware of.
    – Scott
    Jul 2, 2017 at 18:51
  • Cool thanks for your update, I hadn't accessed .ai file layers from InDesign before. I'm not sure my MacBook Air will be too happy but will give it a go.
    – user391339
    Jul 3, 2017 at 7:11

Have you considered reversing the process? Copying your layout from InDesign to Illustrator, setting it as a locked group/layer, and doing whatever you want with the labels on top of it.

  • Interesting - I will give that a try!
    – user391339
    Jul 3, 2017 at 7:07

Here's a workaround that you may find acceptable(or not ^^): using Alias Inks.
Of course, you'll understand that if you have a complex AI design with transparencies, it might not work as intended.

The idea is to first create and apply spot colors in Illustrator. This is an example with 2 spots colors for yellow and blue (I call them Spot1 and Spot2):

enter image description here

Then go back to Indesign. Make sure 'Overprint Preview' is ON.
Create 2 new spots colors (I call them AliasSpot1 and AliasSpot2)
Open Ink Manager (Window > Output > Separations Preview, then Options > Ink Manager). Set Spot1 as an alias of AliasSpot1, and Spot2 as alias of AliasSpot2. Finally, you can change the values of AliasSpot1 & 2 in the swatch panel.

Obviously, if you intend to print, don't forget to convert Spot to CMYK in Acrobat.

See example:

enter image description here

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