Process, Global and Spot colors in Adobe Illustrator

Hello again,
Here on Productivista I want to make a series of blog posts dedicated to the theme: Changing colors in Adobe Illustrator.
First I want to make a brief introduction to the differences between Process, Global and Spot colors.
I´m one of these persons, who loves autumn.  That´s why I created an autumn inspired illustration for my posts about color changing.

Process colors swatch

In Adobe Illustrator Process colors are a mix of some primary colors. For example CMYK or RGB.
I will start with making a swatch of the color I used as a background. In order to do it I choose the orange rectangle and go to swatches panel where I choose “New Swatch” from drop down menu in the upper right corner.

In option dialog box I give my swatch the name “Background” and then press OK.

My new swatch appears in the swatch panel and this swatch is a Process color swatch.

Global Color Swatch

In order to create a Global swatch you just need to mark the checkbox “Global” in the Swatch Option dialog box.

It will create the swatch with a little triangle in the bottom right corner.

The distinction is crucial. There is a big difference between Process and Global swatches. A Process swatch is just a placeholder for the colors and not linked to the drawing. Now, try and apply the Global swatch to a couple of elements at your artwork. Double click on the swatch and the Swatch options dialog box will appear.

Remember to put a check mark in Preview and you will see changes on the fly.
You will see, that when you change color values in the Swatch option dialog box the color will be changed at every place the Global swatch have been used: in fill, in stroke, in gradient or even in symbols.

Spot Colors

You can recognize the Spot colors by a little dot in the white triangle in the lower right corner of the colored square on the swatch.
The Spot colors indicate, that the person in the printshop must create a separate plate for these areas. Usually spot colors are swatches from one of the Pantone books, but you can also create your own Spot color. Choose “Spot Color” from the drop down menu in the Color Type option and press OK.

The color choice for the custom Spot Swatch doesn’t really matter, because it usually just used to communicate with your printshop responsible. If you want some special effects in your artwork, for example if you want to make some areas shiny or metallic or put some glitter on, then you can use spot color to tell the printshop that they must make a separate plate for it. And you must of course tell them separately, what effect you want to use.

Let us say, that I want the small flying leaves in my illustration to be printed in gold. Then I will assign my own Spot color to them, as you can se below.
I choose my color to be 100% Magenta (as I explained before it really doesn’t matter, what color you choose) and I name the swatch “Gold”. The printshop then create a separate plate for them and use it to apply a golden color on the area.

I hope you find this information useful. I will be back next time with a simple trick how to easily merge swatches.


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My name is Katja Bjerrum and I love to eliminate boring routine tasks in Adobe Illustrator. I work with scripts, actions and other tricks in Adobe Illustrator to streamline work processes.

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