Tutorial: Illustrator CC Basics – Working with Color

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In this tutorial I will be teaching you how to work with color within Illustrator.

There are two color modes from which to choose in Illustrator: RGB and CMYK.

RGB stand for red, green, and blue. This color mode uses red, green, and blue dots to make up all the colors you see on your monitor, cellphone, tablet, or any digital device.

CMYK – which stand for cyan, magenta, yellow, and black – are color used in commercial print. Anything you see from a commercial printer such as magazines or business cards use the CMYK color mode.

When you are designing in Illustrator it is important to think about which color mode will be right for the given design. If the design is for a screen use the RGB. If the design is for print, use CMYK.


In addition to Illustrator having two different color modes it also has three types of swatches.

Let’s look at the first two kinds of swatches: Process and Global.

By default you use Process Colors inside Illustrator. This means that each individual element inside the design is treated as if it has a unique color assigned to it. This is true even if you have used the exact same color swatch for each element.

For example, on the left you will see a rectangle with multiple blue colors. This rectangle – which is really 10 rectangles – uses the same Process Color with varied opacities. If I change the color of the first rectangle you will notice that only that particular rectangle color changes.

Global swatches on the other hand act as a template of a color that can be applied to multiple elements in the design.

For example, on the right you will see a rectangle with multiple blue colors. This rectangle – which is, again, really 10 rectangles – uses the same Global Color with varied opacities. If I change the color of the first rectangle you will notice that all of the rectangles colors change.

So exactly how do you create a Global Color Swatch?

Let’s make a new swatch in the last color group in the swatches panel (labeled Tutorial 7). Click on this group to choose it. Then, click on the New Swatch icon. In the Swatch Options window change the color to an orange color and put a check next to Global. Now you will notice that the new swatch has a small white triangle in the bottom-right corner indicating that this is now a global swatch.


Now that we know how to work with Process and Global swatches let’s learn about the third type of swatch in Illustrator called Spot Color.

Spot Colors are like Global Colors in that they are able to be changed throughout the entire document. Spot Colors are generally used for branding purposes – such as Pepsi blue or Coca-Cola red. These are colors that need to be reproduced consistently every single time.

Let’s say that you want to make this tan color a Spot Color. All you need to do is select the rectangle and then click on the New Swatch button. In the New Swatch window change the Color Type to Spot Color. Notice that the box next to Global is automatically checked.

Now, make a new rectangle on the artboard and use this same Spot Color. Next, double-click the swatch and make changes to the color in the Swatch Options window. Notice that once you make the changes, both the original and the newly-created rectangle colors are updated.


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