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Aug 26

Recolor artwork using Illustrator’s LiveColor

2008 at 08.04 am posted by Veerle Pieters

Today I’ll talk about how you can recolor your artwork in Illustrator CS3 using the LiveColor feature. I’ve always wanted to talk about this feature, but somehow I never got to actually doing it. I believe this is a rather powerful feature that might be a bit daunting at first sight. It definitely needs some getting used to before you actually see or understands its power.

Some people might find other methods better, easier or faster, but here are the steps I usually take when I use this feature:

Add your swatches in a Color Group

Add your swatches in a Color Group

First thing I usually do is group my color swatches in a Color Group and duplicate my artwork or save another version if the artwork is too heavy to work in the same document. Select the color swatches and click the New Color Group icon in the Swatches palette to create a Color Group. Give it a name and click OK

Edit or Apply Colors

Edit or Apply Colors

Click the Edit or Apply Colors wheel icon in the Color Guide palette.

The Live Color window

The Live Color window

You'll see that the colors of your artwork are a bit mixed up. They are there but they are differently applied. I have no idea what the purpose of this is really because so far it always end up uglier then my oringinal artwork. Maybe it was just bad luck for me so far I don't know.

Get colors from selected art in the Live Color window

Get colors from selected art

Click the Get colors from selected art option in the Live Color window. This will bring back the order of how the colors are applied in your artwork.

Create New Color Group

Create New Color Group

To make sure you don't accidentally overwrite your original colors, click the Create New Color Group option.

Link or unlink the harmony colors

Link or unlink the harmony colors

Start dragging the color handles in the color wheel. By default the harmony colors are linked. I usually try out things first with this option as set to linked, but for me it somehow almost never gives me the result I want. Still I always try, just in case I get surprised. If your result is not exactly what you're looking for either, you could try things out in the unlinked state by clicking the icon so it becomes a broken chain icon.

Assign Colors

Instead of editing colors, you can also assign colors. Click the Assign option button to go to this feature. Here you'll see the swatches of your artwork that are currently in use followed by an arrow and the new swatches to the right. You can assign a new swatch to each color. You can also change the order of the new swatches by dragging them to another place in the column of new swatches. So instead of experimenting via the color wheel, you can also use this method. I find this feature handy if I have already colors in mind and I want to adjust the colors in a rather complex artwork in a fast way.

Assign Color

Save artwork color sets

Click the save icon to save the artwork color set you like. This way it will be saved in the LiveColor feature. Each time you click the Edit Colors in the Color Guide palette you'll see them listed.


I usually click OK after the 1st set I saved. Then I duplicate my artwork again and I repeat the same steps all over again just couple of times until I have enough combinations to compare or to show the client.

Want to learn more?

VECTORTUTS+ Vector Tutorials and More A good and not expensive source to learn more about Illustrator, Photoshop, or web design is by joining the Tuts+ sites. You get access to the source files for just $9 a month. So your ONE membership gives you access to members-only content for ALL the Plus sites. I've written a tutorial for the Vector Tuts section.




permalink this comment Gareth Tue Aug 26, 2008 at 08.37 am

Great Tips! I have always wondered how this works! I do not have CS3 yet though. Still saving!!!



permalink this comment Farishta Tue Aug 26, 2008 at 08.50 am

hey that’s nice ! i didn’t know LiveColor. I usually use the gradient map if i want to change the colours of my artwork. I think this technique is more precise ! thanks :p



permalink this comment Andrew Houle Tue Aug 26, 2008 at 12.37 pm

Nice article. The LiveColor feature has been a bit of a mystery to me. I think I will be using that more in the future. Thanks!



permalink this comment Vasili Tue Aug 26, 2008 at 02.32 pm

I’ll have to try this the next time I open Illustrator. I’m still waiting for that article on how you did that effect with the dots. ;)



permalink this comment Johnny Tue Aug 26, 2008 at 02.58 pm

Love your tutorials. I’m just starting to learn Ilustrator, so this is very useful. Greetings from Belgium.



permalink this comment Edward Tue Aug 26, 2008 at 03.19 pm

Fantastic! This my first time to know that tips. Thank you for shareing!



permalink this comment Ibs Tue Aug 26, 2008 at 04.59 pm

thank you for the great tut.



permalink this comment zvonko Tue Aug 26, 2008 at 09.25 pm

hi. ur illustrator tuts are very helpful. i am a starter to illustrator. plzz provide some more tuts. thnxx



permalink this comment steve m-g Tue Aug 26, 2008 at 09.28 pm

Great tutorial! Are you also still going to do the tutorial on how you did the dotted pattern? I made some attempts at what I thought you did, and I know how to do it in a very time intensive way.

So I’m hoping you have a more efficient way to go about it.



permalink this comment Thomas Tue Aug 26, 2008 at 10.15 pm

Yeah, Great Tips. Very useful



permalink this comment Rob McDougall Wed Aug 27, 2008 at 12.28 am

Thanks for this! :)



permalink this comment Bruno Byington Wed Aug 27, 2008 at 09.38 am

Good Morning Veerle and everyone else on here, thanks alot for this Blog entry on the Live Color in Illustrator CS3. Adobe doesnt really seem to have explained that feature. Here is one where Dave Cross explains the Live Color Feature again with a Video Tutorial.

Thanks again and I hope the Link helps the ones who need some more help.
Bruno Byington



permalink this comment Mark Wed Aug 27, 2008 at 02.13 pm

Thats excellent. I too am one who uses gradient mapping to achieve similar results, but there is no way of being this precise.

Thanks for the info!



permalink this comment James Harrow Wed Aug 27, 2008 at 02.25 pm

Another great tutorial, can’t wait to test it in practice. Many thanks!



permalink this comment Den Thu Aug 28, 2008 at 01.19 am

Saw the tutorial on making the multi-stroke shape, but how on earth do you make the halftone-dot version of the same shape? I thought photoshop at first, but it must be illustrator based as the live-colour is affecting it…



permalink this comment Thomas Thu Aug 28, 2008 at 11.39 am

Thanks a lot! Since I use CS3 this was one of the things I hadn’t find out how it exactly works! And see now: Veerle explains! Great!



permalink this comment Arthur Thu Aug 28, 2008 at 05.03 pm

Very good one. Many thanks



permalink this comment The Floating Frog Thu Aug 28, 2008 at 08.44 pm

Colour folders, that’s new to me, thanks :) Admired the site for a long time, first comment I’ve made but shall be back.



permalink this comment Michelle Mellem Fri Aug 29, 2008 at 12.57 am

wow. you make everything look so easy. still looking forward to how you created that background. great color choices as usual :)




permalink this comment Max Sat Aug 30, 2008 at 02.48 am

Woop, this is helpful thanks.



permalink this comment Betsy Buchanan Mon Sep 1, 2008 at 01.13 am

I can’t even begin to tell you how helpful this has been, I was totally intimidated at first, but you succeeded in making it easier than I imagined possible and I wanted to take the time to say thanks to a sister who is hard working and extremely interesting with so much talent to share, and I’m glad that you do just that!
Thanks so much,
Betsy Buchanan



permalink this comment Uri Martinich Mon Sep 1, 2008 at 10.05 am

First comment on the blog, but I must say that it’s on my RSS since may. Veerle, great tutorial (as always!)



permalink this comment Jerry Loggins Mon Sep 1, 2008 at 03.04 pm

Thanks Veerle, for the great tips, and thank you also to Bruno for the “more information” link.  These tips will be very useful in the future.



permalink this comment Graphic Art Mon Sep 1, 2008 at 04.45 pm

Great art. Very beautiful and inspiring. I will bookmark your site to see more works in the future.



permalink this comment bbEnthusion Mon Sep 1, 2008 at 07.25 pm

Great how-to, keep it up, you really have some great stuff here. Design eyes are not something everyone has for sure!



permalink this comment Ben Walker Tue Sep 2, 2008 at 04.43 am

Big fan of the site! Check it all the time and always come back for more. You always use such wonderful colours in your illustrations. How do you decide which colours to use? Do you have swatches you use on a regular basis, or do you just try out lots of different colours to find what best fits your art. Would love to know. Love your work!



permalink this comment Dionis Loire Tue Sep 2, 2008 at 02.01 pm

This is awesome! Thanks for posting this. This reminds me of Adobe’s Kuler, check it out if anyone is interested.



permalink this comment KeeKee Tue Sep 2, 2008 at 04.09 pm

A co-worker of mine has this and it just looked to complicated to me and they sure didn’t know how to explain it but the way you explain it, I think I could use it too.  Thanks for the great directions and advice!!!




permalink this comment Peter Tue Sep 2, 2008 at 05.58 pm

Really nice blog and nice articles.



permalink this comment Mordy Golding Wed Sep 3, 2008 at 01.41 pm

Hi Veerle!

The Live Color feature is a pretty complex one. I think on some levels, Adobe tried to “out think” us and that’s why some behavior seems odd.

For example, you mention how when you click on the Edit or Apply Colors icon in the Color Guide panel, your colors all change to yucky ones, and then you need to resample teh art to restore the original colors. This is because when you launch the Live Color dialog box from the Color Guide (or if you double-click a color folder from the Swatches panel), AND you have art selected, Illustrator assumes you want to CHANGE the colors of your artwork with the colors in the Color Guide or the selected color group.

However, if you launch the Color Guide feature by clicking the button in the Control panel or by choosing Edit > Edit Colors > Recolor Artwork, Illustrator can’t assume what colors you want to use in your art, and so the Assign function remaps each color to itself.



permalink this comment Chris Wed Sep 3, 2008 at 04.57 pm

I’m enjoying these tutorials.  They are simple and short and I’m able to learn quite a few tips and tricks by following them.  I hope they keep coming.



permalink this comment dave Wed Sep 3, 2008 at 10.16 pm

Holy Crap. Just had a use for this come up, and WOW! That was sweet for comps. Thanks for the heads up.



permalink this comment Graffig Sat Sep 6, 2008 at 07.39 pm

can I just say that I’ve always greatly enjoyed your tutorials, and appreciate all the work you put into them - plus your screen grabs are always first rate, nice and clear and descriptive - keep up the great (extra) work!!!

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