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It's certainly true that the Recolor Artwork feature inside of Illustrator can save you a tremendous amount of time when you need to reduce the number of colors inside of your illustration. However, I'll also tell you that the art of color reduction is often an art form within itself, and if we take a close look at exactly how Illustrator goes about reducing the number of colors in your artwork, you may find it easier to navigate to the settings and get at the result that you really want. Let me give you an example, I have a file right here, it's called flower.ai and if I hit Command+A or Ctrl+A to select my artwork, you can see now that this artwork was created using gradient mesh.
Gradient mesh itself is wonderful, it's great, but it also uses many different shades of colors. So if I ask you wanted to start modifying colors here, or reducing colors, I may be working with a very large number of colors that I want to reduce down to a few colors. For example, if I needed to turn this into just a two color print job I want to use one color maybe for the petals and then the other color for the stem and the leaves, for example. I may just think that I can just jump into the recolor artwork feature, change into two colors and be on my way.
Well, unfortunately it's not always that simple. Let me show you what you what I mean. I'm going to press Command+A to select all of my artwork. Again, if you are on Windows that would be Ctrl+A, and then, I am going to actually click on the color wheel over here, to open up my Recolor Artwork dialog box. Now you can see that right now in this Illustration there are currently 34 colors in use and if I scroll down here to the bottom, you'll also see right now, that black and grays are also right now being protected. Now if I really needed is to be reduced to two spot colors, and I don't want to waste one of those colors on black, I need to make sure that black or white are not protected.
So I'm actually going to go over here, click on the options here to not preserve Whites or Blacks or Grays, actually I'm fine preserving whites. So let's just leave white on there for now; we do want to keep that kind of my highlight area and click OK. But I now see that these colors now are available for reducing the number of colors. So now I know I need to get down to two colors, so where it says, colors here, I'm actually change this to 2 and hit the tab key, but taka a look at what happens here, almost all the colors that are right now being used inside of my artwork are all lumped together in one big row.
So I have how much of light colors and I have how much of dark colors then, because I'm not protecting black or gray, Illustrator kind of lumps all those together here, but I'm not really going to be using black or gray. So I'm really not that interested in separating the colors in this way, that's why when I'm reducing a large number of colors down to a small number of colors, I very really jump directly to the final number that I need, which in this case would be to 2, and let me explain why. Let's click over here on the top over here this button which gets the colors from the selected art, that's going to reload all my colors again.
So now I have all my colors, they're all kind of separated out. Remember, I'm not protecting black or gray at this point. And before I actually change any of the number of colors here, let's go over to the Edit button here. Now remember the Edit section of the dialog box maps all the colors to a color wheel. So all these little circles over here represent all the colors that are currently being used inside of this Illustration. Now remember, when we talk about the HSB color wheel, which what we're using right here we know that we separate color by Hue, Saturation And Brightness, and one of the primary things that Illustrator uses to classify colors or to group colors together is by looking at their hue values.
Additionally, Illustrator will also try to differentiate colors based on their saturation values. So, for example, when I start to reduce colors, Illustrator sees that all of these colors now are in one general area. So it's going to automatically start to lump those colors together into a single row. Then I have these three colors here, which kind of identify or occupy the same area in the color wheel, so those will get grouped together. Then I have a whole lump of colors that appear over here, because they're close or similar to each other, Illustrator will try to group those together and then of course, I have a whole bunch of blacks and grays here, which have very, very low saturation values and those get kind of grouped together as well.
So if I right now, were to just kind of take a look at my color wheel and jump immediately to now break all these colors down into two colors. I would put all these colors which are currently desaturated into one category, and then I put all of these into one category as well, because these have higher saturation values, but that's because I'm forcing Illustrator to go from, in this case, in like 30 colors down to just two. So Illustrator has to make someone a choice. It says, okay, let's put all saturated colors in one category and all desaturated colors in another category, because if I look at my hue, I have too many across the spectrum, I can't really make a good distinction on the colors in that way.
So let's go back to the assigned part of this dialog, you know before, we've either been looking at the edit side of the dialog or the assigned part of the dialog, and we've kind of been treating them as like two separate features, but in reality we can use them both to our advantage at the same time, there's nothing that prevents you from going back and forth to understand and to see the value of what each of those options bring to me. So, let's for a minute now think about what we saw in that color wheel? We saw different areas of color, in fact, just to quickly go back and refresh our memory here, I kind of have one section here, I have another section here, I've another section here and another section here.
So I had like these four groupings of colors. So instead of jumping down to it right now to colors, let's go back to assign. So now I am actually going to change this value here to 5 and hit tab. Let's go back to the Edit part of the dialog box and see what has happened. Before we had those groupings, and we can see that Illustrator now uses those groupings to kind of reduce down to those four areas. I actually have some overlapping areas here, because I had some colors that also have a very big difference in their brightness values, but those are in the desaturated areas, right here.
Bit I went now from something like 30 colors down to 5, so I still maintain this separation or this area of color that I now can kind of focus on. If I now go back to the assigned part of a dialog box, I can see that I have all these bright colors in one section. I have another color row that has these colors inside of it, then I have these colors. So the separation that makes a lot more sense. Now, I can decide how to further reduce the number of colors inside of my Illustration. So I may decide that these colors here, these two color rows are pretty similar, so I'm going to take this entire color row, I can click on this little icon on the far left here, and click and drag it, up into this color row.
So now I am starting to manually perform this color reduction process. I may decide that I actually want all these shades of black and gray to be merged with this color and then convert them also to be using the lighter color. So now, I've basically grouped all the colors down more in a manual process. So I started out by reducing it down, closer to what my final goal was going to be, and then I manually made some adjustments once it was more easier to do so. Now I can actually change the colors themselves, I maybe need a darker color for this color right here, so may be I choose something little bit darker like that.
And then for the lighter color here, may be choose something in the blues; let's do something totally psychedelic here, and create something like that. But again, I have much more control over the process when I don't jump directly to the final number of colors that I need, but instead, I kind of take steps towards that direction, which allows me to use Illustrator to help me get to that goal in a far more precise and controlled manner. Now that you have a better understanding of how Illustrator goes about reducing colors, I think that you'll have a much easier time when you need to reduce colors in your projects.
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