Using “Recolor Artwork” in Adobe Illustrator

The right tool for a colorful task


The “Recolor Artwork” feature in Adobe Illustrator is often overlooked, but is exceptionally helpful, especially with complex designs. The feature allows you to switch the colors of whatever you have selected.

I’ve used “Recolor Artwork” to change the color palette across a large and complex map, to precisely change colors when converting from CMYK to RGB color space and to fine tune a conversion to grayscale. It can save you a significant amount of time, but I’m surprised how many designers don’t even know the feature is there.

Select the artwork you want recolored. Of course, “Select All” if you want to edit the whole thing. Then go to Edit > Edit Colors > Recolor Artwork… to open up the floating dialog box. (If the menu item is grayed out, you don’t have any artwork selected.) You’ll see all the colors from your artwork listed under “Current Colors.” Here, I’ve created a pretty straightforward design with six colors to use as an example:


The easiest way to use “Recolor Artwork” is to select new values to replace specific colors. Just double click on the small square under the “New” column and pick a new color. Below, I’ve changed the both the color of the fish and the water:


You can also select one of the preset color harmonies by clicking on the color squares at the top of the dialog box. I used the “Monochrome 2” preset to make the entire image shades of green:


These quick examples are barely scratching the surface of the feature. You can randomly change saturation and brightness, apply presets, reorder the new colors by hue or lightness, restrict the artwork to a set number of colors and more. The best way to learn how to use it is to just play around with all the options and see which features will be useful to you.

Bob Wertz writes about design, technology and pop culture at Sketchbook B. Bob is a Columbia, South Carolina-based designer, researcher, college instructor, husband and dad. He’s particularly obsessed with typography, the creative process and the tools we use to create. Follow Bob on Instagram.