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How to Change Pattern Colors in Adobe Illustrator

How to Change Pattern Colors in Adobe Illustrator

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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 skip to the bottom of this post.

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.

Steps 1 & 2 - Select Pattern and Pull from Swatches Panel
Select the Pattern + Drag It Out of Swatches Panel

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.


Example of pattern tile dragged out of the Swatches panel
Pattern Tile from Swatches Panel
Isolated motifs that can be recolored
Isolated Motifs that can be Recolored


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.

This is the Bounding Box - Be Careful to Leave it Unchanged
Be Careful to Leave the Bounding Box Unchanged
Identify and recolor the entire motif!
Identify and Recolor the Entire Motif
This motif was improperly recolored
Improperly Recolored Motif

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.

Finally, you can test your new pattern
Test Your New 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)

Accessing the Recolor Artwork tool

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.

Using the Recolor Artwork Tool Sliders
Recolor Artwork Tool Sliders
Pattern Recolored using Recolor Artwork Tool
Recolored Pattern

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)

Selecting a New Color Group
Add the new color group to the Swatches panel

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.

New color groups appear here
New Color Groups to the Right

STEP 5: Click on the “Randomly change color order” icon to toggle between those colors.

Randomly alter the color scheme
Randomly Alter 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.

I hope you found this tutorial helpful. If you have any questions, leave them in the comments below, and I will respond as soon as I can.

Video Tutorial: Change Pattern Colors in Adobe Illustrator

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How to Change Pattern Colors when using Adobe Illustrator

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