Recolouring Artwork in Illustrator

Let’s start at the end; or even the middle. You might be working on a piece of artwork in Adobe Illustrator but then decide the colours need to be changed. Perhaps something is the wrong tone; perhaps all the places a certain colour appears need to be changed to a completely different colour; or maybe the entire artwork needs to be changed! Do not fret and don’t go reaching for your swatches! We will not be needing those. Instead we will be making use of Illustrator’s ‘Re-colour Artwork’ tool.

As an example for this tutorial I will be using this shape. Changing its colours would be simple enough, it is just a case of selecting the parts and then selecting a new colour from the swatch. However, the re-colour artwork tool is incredibly powerful and much faster.  

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I do not like the pink colour in this flowing shape, and would rather it be green. So to begin I select everything using ctrl/cmd + A. Next I press the Re-colour Artwork button in the main panel at the top of Illustrator.

The recolour artwork panel will appear. It shows all the colours that were in the shapes we selected. The main section of the panel (with the list of colours) is split into two parts. The current part shows the current colours on the left and the new colours on the right. You can drag and drop colours from the left onto the right and Illustrator will show you a preview. This is useful for swapping colours around and experimenting a little.

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Below is an example of what happens when you do this. However, for this tutorial we are going to leave the colours untouched and click on the ‘Edit’ tab. (If you did experiment, just click the button with the eyedropper and paper – it is at the top of the panel. This resets the colours.)

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You should see something like this (below) A classic colour wheel with some spots and lines.

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The spots represent each colour in your artwork and where it sits on the wheel. By default, the lines connecting the spots to the centre of the wheel should be dotted (unlinked); if they are solid click the unlink button (which looks like a chain). Now you can click and drag the spots around. Re-colour artwork is truly a powerful and fast way of adjusting your artwork.

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By clicking and dragging colours around you can recolour all selected parts of the artwork! The ‘recolor’ tick box at the bottom of the page acts like a preview button – but if you want to commit changes ensure it is ticked before you press OK.

Something else to try is dragging while the colours are linked. Press the Link button (should currently be a broken chain icon) Now when you drag the spots they will all move together. This enables your to change the hue of the whole artwork at once. Also you will notice a brightness slider directly below the wheel. This is very useful lightening or darkening the artwork all at once. The sliders at the bottom are used for fine tuning the currently selected colour spot.

Now I have my flowing shape the colours I want, I press OK and the changes are committed! The image below demonstrates just how the Re-colour artwork tool can be used to adjust your artwork. Creating the image below from the shape above took no more than 30 seconds.

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I created many copies of the shape and arranged them in an interesting scene; but I don’t want them all the same colour. Each shape is one group and so I only have to click on the shape to select all its components. Then I click the Re-colour artwork button.

Illustrator knows what colours work well together and it generates a colour guide with ‘harmony colours’ based on the colours of the currently selected artwork. These can be found under the drop-down at the top of the panel. To change the colours, just select a new set from the drop down. The new colours can then be fine tuned with the re-colour artwork tool.

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Enjoy your new found Illustrator skills; now go and recolour the world!

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