A Swatch of a different color.

The swatches palette contains many colors with different indicators such as a white triangle in the bottom right corner, a dot inside this white triangle, or no triangle at all. By selecting each of these swatches you can see how they interact differently with the color palette.

How do you set them up? What are they used for?

swatch Types
Figure A

The Swatches palette contains swatches which have six states:
Master (A1), Basic (A2), Global (A3), Pattern (A4), Gradient (A5), Spot Color (A6)

Creating and managing swatches.

It's important to remember that the Swatches palette relates closely to the Color palette. It may be helpful to have both the Swatches and Color Palette open to view their interaction.

Figure B

First let's examine the palette options. Along the bottom of the Swatch palette there are 6 buttons. The four on the left control what the palette will display:

  • All swatches (B1) all
  • Only Basic, Global, and Spot Color swatches (B2) basic
  • Only Gradient swatches (B3) gradients
  • Only Pattern swatches (B4) patterns

The two right buttons are New Swatch (B5) new and Delete Swatch (B6) delete.

The procedure to create a new swatch is to simply drag a color from the fill or stroke indicator in the Color palette to the Swatches palette.

Clicking the New Swatch button new will also add the color in the fill or stroke indicator of the Color palette to the Swatches palette.

To delete a swatch simply click the swatch in the palette and press the Delete Swatch button delete on the palette.

Now let's look at the actual swatch types.


Master swatches

Master Swatches contain document properties rather than colors.

The "None" and "Registration" swatches are not used to color an object but rather to control how an object interacts within the document.

Using the "None" swatch removes all color allowing you to remove the appearance from a fill or stroke. This should be fairly clear.

The "Registration: swatch may not be as clear. At first glance the Registration swatch will appear to simply fill or stroke with black, but this is not true. The "Registration" Swatch is a swatch used for printing separations of the documents. Registration ensures that anything filled or stroked with this swatch color will print on every plate of a separated file. If you are not using Illustrator for print design the Registration swatch should never be needed. Do not use the Registration swatch as a substitute for black, ever. Only use it when you wish to have an object print on all plates during separation such as crop marks, die lines, file information, etc..


Basic swatches

Basic Swatches are the most common in the swatch family. Basic swatches are created from a color that is mixed via the Color palette. They can be mixed from either RGB or CMYK values. When a Basic Swatch is selected multiple sliders in the Color palette appear allowing the user to alter the color. Basic swatches are essentially a shortcut to applying the same color mix to several objects. If a Basic swatch is altered in the Swatches palette, by remixing the colors associated with the swatch, artboard objects will not update to reflect the change in the swatch.


Global Swatches

Global Swatches are very similar to Basic swatches with a couple important differences.

Global swatches are created from color builds just like Basic swatches. They can be created from either RGB or CMYK colors. However, Global swatches retain their color build values unlike Basic swatches. When applied to objects on the artboard, these swatches will remember which objects have been filled or stroked with them. What this means is if a Global swatches color value is altered all objects that are filled or stroked with that swatch color will also update to reflect the change in the swatch.

To create a Global swatch first create a Basic swatch. Then double-click the Basic swatch in the Swatch palette. You will be presented with a dialog box (Figure C below). Here you can name the swatch, alter its color, or set basic options. To create a Global swatch simply check the "Global" check box and then press "Okay." You will then see the white triangle on your swatch in the Swatches palette. This indicates that the swatch is set to Global.

Figure C

When using a Global swatch note that the color palette will only show a single slider allowing the user to apply a percentage of the overall color but it will not alter the initial color mix used to create the swatch. When printed, Global swatch colors will separate in the same manner as Basic swatches. Global swatches will break out into cyan, magenta, yellow, and black separations.


Pattern Swatches

Pattern Swatches contain a predefined Illustrator pattern. There is not enough room here to detail the creation and editing of patterns in Illustrator. However, the basic steps are to create a pattern on the artboard, select all objects in the pattern, and drag the pattern to the Swatches palette. This will create a Pattern swatch. Pattern swatches retain the color build of the objects used within the pattern and will separate, when printed, however those objects are set to separate.


Gradient Swatches

Gradient Swatches are fairly self-explanatory. Gradient swatches contain predefined gradients. Gradients can be created from Basic, Global, or Spot colors. To create a Gradient swatch simply drag the Gradient fill from the Color palette to the Swatches palette, or click the New Swatch button on the bottom of the Swatches palette (Figure B #5). Illustrator also allows dragging a gradient from the Gradient palette to the Swatches palette to create a new Gradient swatch. Similar to Pattern Swatches, Gradient swatches will separate in whatever manner the colors used in the gradient are expected to but be aware, you can not create a gradient which runs from a Sport color to a CMYK or RGB color. In this instance all spot colors will be coverted to the color space of the document.


Spot Color swatches

Lastly, Spot Color swatches are swatches created from predefined color books. Pantone is the most popular company creating color books. Color books build very specific colors based on their proprietary formulas. There are other companies such as TOYO and Focoltone as well.

You do not need to be a huge company to create Spot Color swatches, you can create your own swatches as well. Spot swatches operate exactly like Global swatches with one difference -- when printed spot colors do not separate into cyan, magenta, yellow and black plates. Spot colors separate as individual plates and are treated like a separate color not mixed with CMYK or RGB.

When a swatch contains the white triangle with a dot inside it, this indicates it is a Spot Color swatch. When using a predetermined color book such as a Pantone book (loaded via the Swatches Palette flyout menu > Open Swatch Library), Spot Color swatches are automatically added to the Swatches palette as you use them. To create your own Spot Color swatches double click an existing Basic or Global swatch and from the "Color Type" drop down menu (Figure C) choose "Spot." You can also create new Spot Color Swatches using the Color palette. Simply create your color with the sliders in the Color palette then hold down the Command key (PC: Ctrl) on the keyboard and drag the color to the Swatch palette.

Hopefully this has helped clear up any confusion based on Illustrator swatches, why they are different, what benefits the various swatches have, and what those little triangles mean.

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