10 Handy Tips To Keep Your Color Swatches & Palettes Organized

Knowing that you have something, but not knowing where it is can be a frustrating feeling. This can be particularly true of colors you’ve created or saved for your design projects. It’s a waste of time to have to hunt through color swatches, just to have to start the search all over when it’s time to switch hues. Finishing a project can be difficult if you’re constantly using your eyedropper tool or plugging in CMYK values into the Color Picker.

As any experienced designer knows, whether you’re designing for print or web, having your color swatches and palettes well-organized can help speed up your process. With Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop, it’s easy to keep your color swatches and palettes organized. Here are 10 tips to keep your color swatches organized and streamline your graphic design process.

Getting Started

To start organizing, start up Adobe Illustrator or Adobe Photoshop, then click on the Window menu and put a check mark next to Swatches. Your swatch palette should now be open and ready for you to begin sorting through.

1. Get rid of default swatches

When you open a new document, usually the default set of colors will be opened in the swatch palette. Odds are you won’t be using most of these colors so start fresh by deleting the defaults. In Photoshop, you can simply right click the color and select Delete Swatch.

To delete swatches in Illustrator, simply click on the menu icon in the corner of the swatch palette window and choose Select All Unused. Next, click the ‘Delete Swatch’ icon (it looks like a trash can) at the bottom of the palette window and select Yes in the dialog box. You can also drag and drop Swatches to the Delete Swatch icon (trash can).

2. Start with a clean palette

A clean swatch palette is empty, yet full of possibilities. Beginning each new document with a clean swatches palette can be great for helping you keep colors for each project organized. You can easily set your Adobe Illustrator to start with a clean palette on every new document in the future.

Simply open a new blank document, get rid of all the default swatches, then save this blank document in the plug-ins folder inside the Illustrator application folder. Give it a name you’ll remember, like “Adobe Illustrator Clean Palette Startup”. The next time you start up Illustrator and create a new design file from the template, you’ll have an empty color palette at the start.

3. Deleting and replacing swatches

If you’ve decided you no longer need a color, there are two approaches you can take to get rid of it. You can delete the swatch by selecting it with your mouse then clicking the Trash can icon in the corner of the Swatch menu. You can also replace it outright by holding down Option/Alt, then dragging and dropping a new color or gradient onto it.

4. Merge swatches

Sometimes when you’re copying and pasting with various documents, you can end up with multiple swatches of the same color. This can clutter up your palette and cause confusion.

To merge swatches, decide which of the swatches you’d like to keep and select that color first. Then, Command/Control click on the other swatches you’d like to merge with your chosen swatch. When that’s done, select Merge Swatches in the Swatches panel menu. The first color you’ve chosen earlier will remain, while the others will disappear.

5. Reorganizing swatches

When adding colors to a swatch palette, the new colors don’t always appear in the display where you want them to be. Reorganize where your color swatches are located by dragging them to where you want and dropping them.

If you like the list view, though, you’ll need to do a little more work. Illustrator lists colors by name alphabetically in List View, so you’ll need to name your colors accordingly.

One easy way to get your colors where you want them is to precede the colors’ names with a number or letter to group the colors according to your preference. Simply double-click the swatch on the palette and a menu will pop up where you can rename the color.

6. Create color groups

Color group is a tool in Adobe Illustrator that allows you to group related color swatches together within the Swatches panel. Color groups are an excellent way to organize variations of similar colors when working on a project.

Once you create all the colors you need, you can save them into a group and have the palette whenever you need it. Simply click the drop down menu in the Swatch menu and choose one of the two Save Swatch Library options. Name the library something that relates to the project for best results.

7. Use your library

The swatch library is excellent for keeping, managing and organizing swatches and color groups in Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator. You can set up your color palettes and save them for later use. Both of these Adobe products also come with preset libraries that can be useful.

If you’re only going to use a color swatch or palette once, it may be unwise to save them to the library. These libraries work best for recurring projects or colors.

8. Collect color palettes and swatches

Can’t find the colors you want in your library? Feeling uninspired? There are a variety of free tools available that allow users to create and import color palettes in moments.

Whole color schemes can be developed from a colorful photograph or something as simple as a single color. Tools that provide exact color mixes for download and are compatible with your computer software are best. Otherwise, you might end up having to copy all the color values over by hand.

9. Syncing swatches

Do you work on multiple machines or collaborate with other people? With Illustrator Creative Cloud, you can sync all sorts of settings across multiple machines, including swatches and libraries. Illustrator CC can also be useful for creating a back up of your settings.

To use this feature, open up the Preferences menu and choose Sync Settings. Then select either ‘Sync All Settings’ or ‘Sync Selected Settings’, and make sure that Swatches is one of the items you’ve selected in the dialog box. Finally, click ‘Sync Settings Now’. You should now be able to access your settings and swatches through the cloud.

10. Stay organized

Now that you’ve organized your swatch library, maintain the progress that you’ve made. Name, group and organize your palettes as you use them. Save your swatches to the libraries for future projects. Be sure to delete any unused or unnecessary color palettes in your library.


It will take time to organize your palettes and maintaining their organization could take a little getting used to, but the effort will be worth it. This could help you finish projects faster and if you ever need to add to a project, you’ll have the colors ready to go. With all of your colors located right where you expect to find them, you can save yourself time hunting them down or recreating them.

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Editor’s note: This post is written by Sara Duane-Gladden for Hongkiat.com. Sara is the editor for Smartpress.com, an online printing service based in Minnesota, and a contributor to the Smarptress.com blog. She also works as a freelance copywriter and photographer in her spare time. You can find her on G+.


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