Using Swatches in InDesign

ImageIf you’re working on a document in InDesign and want to be able to change large portions of the color scheme all at once, you’ll definitely want to familiarize yourself with the Swatches panel.

For complicated designs with many distinct elements, it can be extremely tedious to individually color every box and frame and piece of text. Once you’ve set up some swatches, any change you make to a given swatch will affect every item it’s been applied to. That means that a 16-page newsletter you’ve painstakingly set up in shades of blue and green can, at the drop of a hat, be redesigned in reds and yellows, or muted earth tones. If you want your restaurant’s menu to match your paint job, but the interior decorator is still on vacation, swatches can be a real time-saver.

For some quick inspiration, head to Adobe’s Kuler and pick a base color that you like. Use the “Compound” rule to generate a group of colors that should work harmoniously together.

Now open the Swatches panel in InDesign, hit “New Color Swatch” in the Swatches panel, and enter the CMYK numbers for the color you picked. Add two more new Swatches, and fill in two of the recommended Analogous colors suggested by Kuler. Treat these swatches the way you might normally use the color panel- as you add design elements to your document, select each element and click on one of the swatches you made. Soon you’ll have a nice, colorful document.

Here’s the fun part: once you’ve finished laying out your document, go back to Kuler and change your rule from “Compound” to “Triad.” You should be looking at a totally new color theme that’s still based around your primary color choice. To see this new theme in action, simply double click on each of your swatch colors and enter the new CMYK values from Kuler. If you’ve applied your swatches correctly, the whole document should now be colored according to your new theme!

Before:

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After:

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While it’s obvious that neither of these designs is quite ready, it’s easy to see what a powerful tool Swatches can be. Going from one theme to the next took less than a minute, so this is a very powerful way to quickly test multiple designs.

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