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Sometimes Adobe Illustrator can seem intimidating. And maybe even more so when working with patterns inside Illustrator.
But today I am going to share two simple ways that you can change the colors of pattern motifs and pattern backgrounds within Adobe Illustrator.
If you are a visual learner, I’ve created a step-by-step video tutorial for you to follow the process with me. You can find it, here on my YouTube channel, or view it below.
Now let’s dive right in to our color change options.
Method 1: Manually Change Pattern Colors in Adobe Illustrator
I will be referencing the Creative Cloud version of Adobe Illustrator, but I believe these instructions apply to earlier versions starting at CS6.
STEP 1: Go to your Swatches panel (Window > Swatches) and select the pattern that you want to change.
STEP 2: Drag it out of the Swatches panel and into your workspace.
At this point, you can either right-click/two-finger tap the entire pattern, and then select “Ungroup” in order to access individual elements. Or, you can double-click the pattern several times in order to enter Isolation Mode where you can access individual elements.
Use the method that works best for you.
STEP 3: Once you have access to individual motifs, you can change their color using the Color Panel. Or by double-clicking on the Color Fill options to the left.
STEP 4: To change the background color, click on the existing background color, and then use the Color Panel or Color Fill options to change that color as well.
Be careful not to alter the no-fill/no-stroke bounding box that surrounds the entire pattern.
Also make sure that you recolor the entire element. Motifs repeated from the top to the bottom and on either side will need to be colored the same so that they do not appear cut off in the recolored pattern.
STEP 5: Once you are done, either exit Isolation Mode or select all of the elements – including the background and bounding box – and then group them
STEP 6: With everything selected, drag the pattern tile back into your Swatches panel.
STEP 7: Now you can test out your changes by creating a shape and filling it with the edited pattern.
Method 2: Change Pattern Colors in Adobe Illustrator Using the Recolor Artwork Tool
The other method is to use the Recolor Artwork tool. This is probably the easiest method when you use the basics of this tool.
Recolor Artwork is a complex tool, though. So know that you can make changes beyond what I am describing here. Since this is a basic tutorial, I am sharing an overview of how the tool works.
STEP 1: With your pattern selected, click on the Recolor Artwork icon above – right beneath your menu bar. (It looks like a color wheel)
STEP 2: Now you can randomly colorize the current colors being used.
Or you can drag on the sliders at the bottom of this tool and change colors that way.
Alternatively, you can click out of the recolor artwork tool (Click, “Cancel” at the bottom right), and then add your own color groups to the Swatches panel.
For instance, with the Swatches panel open, select “Swatch Libraries Menu” at the bottom left. Choose a set of existing colors or your own User Defined colors and add them to your Swatches panel.
The only rule is that you add color groups with the minimal number of colors in your preexisting pattern. So if there were five colors used in the original pattern, you must add color groups with at least five colors, otherwise this option won’t work well. (Unless you don’t mind how the pattern looks with fewer colors)
STEP 3: Once you are done, select your pattern again, and then return to the Recolor Artwork tool.
Now more Color Groups appear to the right.
STEP 4: Click on one of them, and you will see your pattern change colors immediately.
STEP 5: Click on the “Randomly change color order” icon to toggle between those colors.
STEP 6: Once you have settled in a new color scheme, click, “Ok” (I also choose, “No,” for the second prompt).
You will notice that this recolored pattern now appears in your Swatches panel.
STEP 7: Now you can fill a shape with this recolored pattern as you normally would.