Tips for Organizing Color Swatches & Palettes

by Sara Duane | July 12, 2013

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As any experienced graphic designer could tell you, organized color swatches and palettes can help to hasten the creative process. We waste time when we have to use the eyedropper over and over or if we don’t know quite which shade you are working with from moment to moment. We have more time to think creatively when we spend less of it searching for color palettes that we need.

To start with your organization, open either Adobe Illustrator or Adobe Photoshop, open the Swatches palette under the Window menu, and put a check by Swatches.  Click on the Show All Swatches icon in the Swatches palette.  Your swatches should now be easily accessible to carry through with your sorting. Take a look at the following organizational tips to keep your color swatches and color palettes in line and accelerate your graphic design work.

Tips for Organizing Color Swatches & PalettesRemove default swatches. A new Illustrator document opens with a default set of colors in the swatches palette. Because you’ll likely want to creative a new palette of customized colors, start fresh by removing the defaults. To delete any swatches you haven’t used (which will likely be all of them) click on the pop-up menu icon in the corner of the palette and choose Select All Unused. Click the Delete Swatch icon at the bottom of the palette and choose Yes in the dialog box to delete the selected swatches. The main defaults worth keeping however, are: None, Registration, White, and Black. You can delete any additional remaining Swatches by dragging them to the Delete Swatch icon at the bottom of the palette.

Organizing Color SwatchesStart your graphic design projects with a clean palette. Starting off with a clean swatch palette  can be a huge timesaver. If you want to have a clean swatches palette for every new document in the future, save this new blank document you’ve created as Adobe Illustrator Startup_CMYK (or _RGB) in the Plug-ins folder inside the Illustrator application folder. The next time you start up Illustrator and create a new file, the color palette will have this empty color set in the Color Palette by default.

Organizing SwatchesCreate color groups. Use the Color Groups tool to create a palette of swatches quickly. A color group is an organization tool that lets you group together related color swatches within the Swatches panel. Using color groups is a great way to keep variations of similar colors organized. Once you have your groups created, you can save all of them together in a single palette and have those swatches to go back to by clicking the drop down menu in the Swatch window and selecting one of the Save Swatch Library options. More on saving to the library later in this post.

swatches in photoshopRenaming and reorganizing swatches. When you add new colors to a swatch palette, the colors do not always end up where you expect them to be. You can reorganize by dragging and dropping them within the palette, but if you like the list view, you’ll have to change your approach. Because Illustrator lists colors alphabetically by name in List View, you can precede each color’s name with a number, letter, or combination of the two to automatically group the colors based on your preference.

Places to find color palettes and swatch inspiration. Graphic designers do not have to start from scratch with color schemes. There are a variety of free tools available, both to simply view online and that can be downloaded, that allow users to create and import a color palette in minutes. Color schemes can be created from something as simple as a single color or from using a photograph with a whole range of hues. Look for a tool that provides the exact color mixes for download and is compatible with your computer software, because it would be a pain to copy all the CMYK values over by hand if you find a palette you really like.

swatch librarySave swatches and palettes in your library. The swatch library is a great place to manage and organize swatches in Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator. You can set up specific color schemes and save them for use later, such as a continuation of the same project or for a new one altogether. Adobe products also come with a few preset libraries that can be very helpful. It may be unwise to save color swatches to the library for one-time applications, due to the fact that libraries are best used for recurring projects or colors.

Keep your library organized. Now that you’ve taken the time to organize your swatch library and clear your default palette, maintain the progress that has been made. Organize and name your palettes as you are adding color swatches. Save your palettes and swatches to your libraries only if you intend to use them repeatedly in the future. Remember to remove any unused colors palettes in your library or delete the swatches from old clients that are unnecessary.

It takes a little time to organize color swatches and palettes, but the effort can be well worth it. Imagine how much time you will save having all the pretty colors right where you expect to find them!


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