What are Illustrator Swatches?

In this practical guide, we've shared how Illustrator swatches can be used as a dependable resource for designers and artists.  

What are Swatches?
When you go to a home improvement store to buy paint, the staff will probably hand you a guide to the various colors that they sell, with swatches for every color. Essentially, swatches are colors, textures, or patterns arranged by name and grouped together. Knowing a swatch's name makes it much easier to retrieve that particular color during the creative process, and it allows you to stay consistent when collaborating with other artists.   

Opening the Swatches Panel
Within Illustrator, there is a large collection of swatch libraries, and these can all be found in the Swatches panel. To access it, choose "Window" > "Swatches". You'll see a small box with many different colors listed in the panel, so you can select them at a moment's notice.    

Here are just a few of the most useful swatch types that you'll find inside Illustrator's Swatches panel:

  • Process Colors: This is the default swatch type for Illustrator. The colors are printable using the four standard inks: cyan, magenta, yellow, and red. 
  • Global Process Colors: These amazing swatches are just like normal process colors, but if you edit them in the Swatches panel, the changes will automatically be updated in your Illustrator project. 
  • Spot Colors: These special colors may use the standard CMYK inks, but they also mix in additional inks that cannot be produced using CMYK. In the Swatches panel, spot colors are marked with an icon of a grey dot inside a square. Unlike process colors, spot colors are always global.
  • Patterns: Instead of colors, these swatches contain repeating vector paths or text, which can be painted on the artboard like wallpaper. 
  • Gradients: These swatches contain a gradual blend between at least two colors or tints, and they can be CMYK, RGB, or spot colors. 
  • Color Groups: This is a handy folder for swatches, so you can further organize the colors into groups. Only spot, process, and global process colors can be collected into color groups. 
  • None: This swatch does not have a color, but it can be used to remove fills or strokes from an object. 

What are Swatch Libraries?
Illustrator swatches can also be organized in swatch libraries, which are essentially themed color groups. You'll find libraries for Pantone, Trumatch, and HKS inks, but you'll also find collections based on metal, jewels, and camouflage. To open a swatch library, you can select "Window" > "Swatches" > "[library name]" from the main menu, or click the "Swatches Library Menu" icon in the Swatches panel (it looks like two folders stacked on top of each other).

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