Let Global Color Rock Your World

Global Color is a very handy feature in Illustrator that makes quick work out of editing color in an illustration. It also helps you keep your file organized, and makes it easier for the buyer to use and edit.

There are two main advantages to Global Colors: The ability to create tints, and the ability to change the color and update the illustration automatically.


The illustration above uses just two color swatches (plus black), but it contains a great deal of tonal variation. That’s because the artist has used tints of each color. When you use a Global color swatch, you can easily enter a tint percentage in the Color panel, or simply move the slider to your liking. Using Global colors and tints in this way makes it easier to create a harmonious color palette. It can also make it cheaper to print the illustration, if the Global colors are converted to Spot colors during pre-press.

Global Updating

So let’s say you’ve downloaded this illustration and you want to change the colors. With Global swatches, it’s a snap. Simply go to the Swatches panel and double-click on the swatch to bring up the Swatch Options dialog. Click the Preview button, and move the color sliders. As you make adjustments, you can see the color change, right on the page. Since you’re changing the color swatch, and not just an individual object on the page, it updates globally. Which is to say that every instance and every tint of that color will change. This sure beats having to find and select every color individually. Try it — it’s fun!

Creating and Identifying Global Colors

If you view your swatches in thumbnail view, a Global color is indicated by an empty white triangle in the lower corner of the swatch. In list view, it’s a gray square:

To make a normal color swatch into a Global color, double-click the swatch in the swatches panel, make sure the color type is Process, and tick the Global checkbox. Easy as that.

Follow these tips, and get rolling with Global Color:

  • To change more than one swatch to Global, Shift-click to select them all, then double-click to bring up the Swatch options dialog. This dialog can also be accessed from the flyout menu on the Swatches panel.

  • To view the CMYK breakdown of your Global color, click the CMYK icon in the Color panel. To get back to the slider view, click the swatch in the Swatches panel.

  • When creating a new Color Group from selected objects on your page, tick the checkbox to make them all Global

  • Alternate ways to replace/update a color swatch in the Swatches palette:

    Option-drag (PC - Alt-drag) a swatch from the Swatches palette on top of the Global swatch you want to replace.

    Option-drag (PC - Alt-drag) a color from the Color panel on top of the Global swatch you want to replace.

    Option-drag (PC - Alt-drag) a color from the Fill box or the Stroke box on top of the Global swatch you want to replace.

  • To save a tint to the Swatches panel:

    Create a tint using the color slider, then either drag the fill to the Swatches panel, or click the New button in the Swatches panel. The tint swatch will have the same name as the base color, plus the tint percentage. So, if you saved a color named “Evergreen” at 72 percent, the swatch name would be “Evergreen 72%.”

    Note: Tints of the same Global color are linked, so if you edit one tint swatch, all tint swatches associated with it (and the objects painted with those swatches) are also changed.

Image credits:

Cool Girl in Sunglasses by bortonia

Cheryl Graham (FreeTransform) began uploading to iStock in December 2005. She creates Adobe® Illustrator® tutorials for the Layers magazine Web site, as well as her own blog,