More about InDesign color
(See below for CC update)

By Ross F. Collins, professor of communication, North Dakota State University, Fargo

Color is easy to add to InDesign documents. But graphic artists also need to think of publication requirements. On the web, color is generated electronically. It costs nothing to add full color. Printed documents rely on ink, and so color increases publication cost. This is particularly true in the mass media, as large press runs require offset techniques and multiple passes through a press for each color.

We usually generate one or two extra colors using the spot color system--mixing colored inks as we might mix paint--while more than two, and color photographs, rely on the process color system. This uses four colors, cyan, magenta, yellow and black, to generate all colors. For more information, see a brief introduction to color theory.

CMYK color is process color, used subtractively (starting with white) to produce colors for printing.

RGB color is projected color, used additively (starting with black) to produce all colors for televisions, monitors, and film.

Lab color is also available in InDesign and Photoshop. It is pronounced "L-A-B" (not "lab"), and stands for Luminance, plus two components, Green to Red (A) and Yellow to Blue (B). It aims to more closely approximate human vision, but is not used by graphic artists for printed materials.

Stroke and fill boxes.Ways to choose color in InDesign

Most people begin, logically, with the Color panel. For printing, Choose CMYK from the flyout menu at top right, and simply click on the color ramp at the bottom to choose a color. You can adjust a color using the sliders. If you have an object in your document selected, that color will be applied to it as a fill. Alternatively, choose Add to Swatches from the flyout menu, and your color will be available for future use.

To apply color to a stroke, choose the stroke box (bottom right of two small boxes in the color panel; hover cursor over to see), and again from the flyout menu choose CMYK. Same process to color an outline (stroke) around your object.

In the color panel, to choose black or white, click on those choices at the right of the ramp. To choose no color, click on the red diagonal at the left of the ramp.

Note the color panel gives you unnamed colors. Most graphic designers avoid this by defining a color and then adding it to the Swatches panel, as described above, instead of applying the color directly from the color panel.

If you are choosing spot colors, however, you can't define them from the Color panel. They are pre-defined, and so need to be applied as noted in Exercise Two.

You can modify a swatch color by selecting it in the Swatches panel and choosing Swatch Options from the panel flyout menu. Why is this cool? Let's say you used that swatch for colors on page 6, 17, 34 and 37-45 of your magazine. But now you think, eh, this is a little too green. Let's adjust it. Adjusting that swatch will change the color in all applications. If, on the other hand, you used the Color panel ramp and choose an undefined (no swatch) color, you'll have laboriously go from page to page changing each instance of that color. The flyout also gives you other fairly self-explanatory options.

The color picker

Yep, yet another way to choose a color. Double click on the Fill or stroke icon at the bottom of the toolbox. The picker perks up. Choose by dragging or clicking on the Color Space View, or by setting numbers in the appropriate boxes. Add the color to your swatches. Another example of InDesign giving you really more choices than you need.

To color text

Highlight some text you want colored with the text tool. Click on the text icon (T) in the Stroke or Color panel. Click on the Fill box, and choose your color. Note the text will become outlined (see illustrations at left). That's because you need to choose the Stroke box and either delete the stroke around the letter (choose None), or color that outline as well.

Lighten up

To create a tint (sometimes called a screen by printers), you add white to your color with the tint slider. Choose your base color swatch, and ramp down. Choose New Color (or New Tint) Swatch to add that to your Swatches panel for future use.


To create a gradient, see instructions for Exercise Four.

Pull a color from your document

Graphic artists may try to achieve harmony by repeating colors taken from objects such as photographs or art work. To sample a color you'd like to use for other elements, Choose the Eyedropper tool. Move the tool over your color choice in a photo or other colored art work. Click to sample. In the Swatches panel, choose New Swatch to add that color to your Swatches.

The Kuler panel (CS5 and CS6)

Kuler panel.Kuler really is cooler for those of us who struggle with color harmony. (And you know I do by my tie choices for class.) Kuler helps you generate color harmony ideas based on a starting (base) color, or even offers top choices of professional designers.

1. Choose Extensions and Kuler from the Window pulldown.

2. Choose a color. You can do this from your document: select a colored object in your document and choose "Add current color as fill color," the left icon in the Kuler panel.This sets your base color. Alternatively, use the sliders to choose a color, or enter a hexadecimal color number (used for Web colors).

3. Note the colors that come up to suggest a harmonizing color theme. Use the flydown menu above to alter themes. Or drag the interactive color wheel spokes to adjust the theme.

4. When you have your theme set, click on each color to add to your Swatches panel. (Note: graphic artists need to change these from RGB to CMYK mode by choosing each color and Swatch Options.)

5. Alternatively, choose Browse to see popular themes of professional graphic artists.

Practice with the Kuler panel.

InDesign CC: the Kuler panel comes to an end

Sadly for those of us who liked peculiar names, the InDesign Kuler panel has been replaced by the Color Theme tool and panel. But this tool does a better job of creating color harmony quickly based on a photo or colors in the document.

1. To begin, choose Color, and Adobe Color Themes from the Window pulldown. Try choosing Complementary from the Color Rule icon, far right under the color boxes.

2. You can drag the color wheel below to see complementary choices. Choose a different Color Rule to see other color combinations based on the wheel. When you find something you like, click on the Add to Swatches icon. Check your swatches panel. Those colors will be available in a folder labeled My Color Theme.

3. But probably more often you’ll want to pull a color from your document to find harmonizing alternatives. To do that, in the toolbox choose Color Theme tool (might be under Eyedropper tool).

4. Click the Color Theme tool in your photo or art. The tool generates a selection of color harmonies around the color of your entire art work.

5. To apply, note the eyedropper will turn into a tiny color swatch showing one of the chosen colors. You can use that, or change by clicking on the strip of choices. Then click on an element to apply that color"

6. Again, if you wish, you can add those colors to your Swatches panel. (If you don’t like the default name, such as "my color theme" in the Swatches panel double click and change.)

Practice with the Color Theme panel.

Download and open this poster in InDesign. Pull colors from the photo using the Color theme tool. Add a border, box, line or other element and choose a color from the theme. Alternatively, practice using this tool on one of your own InDesign documents.