What is a Color Swatch?

What is a color swatch? Like an interior designer choosing paint for a room, swatches show a large variety of colors, tints, gradients, and patterns. They allow you to compare colors and try different combinations, without any risk. In both Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, the Color Swatches panel brings order to your color palette, while also allowing you to save new swatches for later use. Swatches aren’t saved with any particular document, so you can create a color library and then use it on other projects.

Types of Swatches  

Here are the main swatch libraries that can be found within Illustrator:

  • Process Color: This library only contains colors that are derived from cyan, magenta, yellow, and black. These are known as the four standard process inks. 
  • Gradient: This library contains blends between two or more colors or tints. They can be process colors, spot colors, or RGB colors. 
  • Spot Color: This library may contain CMYK process colors, but it also contains premixed inks that are not in that category.  
  • Pattern: This library focuses on tiled paths and text, which are designed to repeat in order to fill any shape.  

Opening a Swatch Library

First, select the Window tab from the top menu and click “Swatch Libraries”. This will allow you to choose a particular library from the list. If the Swatches panel menu is already open, you can also gain access to the swatch libraries by selecting “Open Swatch Library” and choosing a swatch. 

When you open a swatch library, it appears in a new window that is separate from the Swatches panel. From here, you’ll be able to edit and sort swatches to your liking.

Creating a Swatch Library

Saving a new swatch library is easy. In your current project, simply add, rearrange, and delete swatches until it looks exactly how you want. Then, go to the Swatches panel menu and select “Save Swatch Library”. This will retain the library for use in any future projects.  

Adding Colors from Artwork 

Finally, Illustrator allows you to analyze the colors in a particular image and add them to the Swatches panel. Open the image file that you want to analyze, go to the Swatches panel, and click “Add Selected Colors”. Then, select the “New Color Group” icon (it looks like a folder with a plus sign). This will add all of the colors in your image to a new group, according to Hue-Forward sorting. Starting from the top, this arranges your colors in order of the visible spectrum: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet.  


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