How to use Illustrator's color guide

Developing a color palette from scratch can be intimidating. Illustrator’s Color Guide panel can make the task less daunting by making some objective suggestions. Here’s the least you need to know to get a lot of value from this often overlooked tool.

Since I’m describing a method for creating a color palette, it really doesn’t matter which color we start out with. There are no bad colors only bad color palettes. I’ll just pick one of the default colors to start with. It's a good idea to delete all of the other colors in the palette to keep things tidy.

Expand the drop down menu at the top of the Color Guide panel to reveal a whole list of directions that you can take your color palette.

Select Right Complement

If you are familiar with color theory, these color families will make sense. If not, all you really need to know is that these are objectively good pairings of colors. Depending on the mood of your project some may be more appropriate than others. For the purpose of this post, I’m going to select “Right Complement”. Towards the bottom right corner of the Color Guide panel there is an icon that looks like a folder with a plus sign. Click this to “Save color group to Swatch panel”. Now, you’ll have all 6 of these colors in your swatch panel.

Save color group to Swatch panel

Let’s assume you need variants of these colors. Perhaps you need lighter versions for highlights or darker versions for shadows. This is pretty easy to achieve. Simply pick a color in the top row of your color guide and in a column that is a few slots to the right of center. Next, click the little box to the left of the drop down that you selected “Right Complement” from (the one with the white border around it). This will set the Color Guide to work it’s magic on your new color. Now, click the “Save color group to Swatch panel” icon again and you have lighter variant of all 6 colors in your palette. Repeat the last couple of steps to make a darker palette.

Set base color to the current color

At this point, we have 18 colors which is really just too many. Especially since so many are rather similar. Let’s simplify things by making one final color group that is a subgroup of the 3 we just made. On the canvas I make 8 equal sized square shapes. In turn I pick unique colors for each by sampling from one of my 3 color groups. Here is what I’ve come up with:

Final color palette

And here are the colors used as common form elements. If you found this useful, let me know.

Final color palette applied