Why Are My Colors Changing in Illustrator? Here’s the Fix!

Color management is essential, especially when switching between media. If you notice the color change you definitely should be asking why. You’re in the right place. I’m a graphic designer for over 25 years. Let me explain your Illustrator color.

The most common reasons that Illustrator colors are changing include:

  • Document Color Mode vs Color Panel
  • Illustrator doesn’t default to the correct color
  • Colors are not synchronized
  • Illustrator preferences are corrupt

In this article, we’ll look at why the colors are changing, how to diagnose the problems and how to fix them.

Document Color Mode vs Color Panel

The most common reason for colors to change in Illustrator is there are different color modes within the document.

The media that you are preparing for is directly responsible for the mode you must choose whether it is for Print or for Digital media.

PrintCMYK Color
DigitalRGB Color

CMYK is made from Cyan – Magenta – Yellow, and Black. Each color is created using a blend of these four inks. All CMYK print when mixed equally creates Black.

RBG on the other hand is made up of Red – Green, and Blue. RGB uses the device screens light to create a color. If RGB is mixed equally it creates White.

If you print an image (or color) in RGB it will appear completely different than it looks onscreen.

Within your document, you must ensure that all modes are the same. If you are creating artwork for print it must be CMYK in the Document Color Mode.

If you are seeing changes occurring you also need to check that your Color Panel selection is also CMYK. If they are different it can cause confusion in Illustrator.

In the Color Panel, you can have a selection of different modes. It’s essential that they are consistent.

But what if you are creating artwork for both Print and Digital? Files are easily swapped between the color modes. Just remember to send the correct one to the printer.

To change the color mode:

  • Select all
  • Edit
  • Edit Color
  • Convert to CMYK (RGB)
AI Convert Color

CMYK colors will look peculiar on a Digital platform ie a website, but it’s not the end of the world. Whereas RGB printed will appear quite dark and incorrect if printed.

However, a Digital file with all colors in RGB and saved correctly in a .jpg, .png, .GIF, or .PSD format may look different when viewed on another screen.

This is because all monitors don’t have the same color processors. There will always be slight variations in color from screen to screen.

Illustrator Doesn’t Default to Correct Color

There are some exceptions in the Color Panel that you need to be aware of and check. These could be changing your colors. Pantone and Spot Colors are not made from CMYK or RGB. They are only used in print and are made from a separate ink pot, which in turn generates a separate print plate.

You can change them to CMYK to negate the need for an extra plate, but they will appear slightly different than they do in the Swatch book.

AI Swatch

Pantone colors are generally used as specific corporate colors to make a brand stand out, but they can be pricey to print, so I would steer clear of them unless it has been requested by a client and they are aware of the extra cost involved.

When you select a Pantone from the Color Panel you can alter it just like any other color with the sliders. HOWEVER! Pantone colors are Universal, and although you have changed them within your document if the file moves to another computer or Graphic Designer the Pantone color will revert to the correct makeup. You can’t mess with them.

You might think that you have changed P165 to a green color but in actual fact, it’s still burgundy and will print as such.

This can be quite confusing as it will remain Green on your document, so you think why has it printed a different color. If you change a Pantone color you must first duplicate it and then rename it as something else. This is the only way to ensure that your color stays as you wish.

Colors are not Synchronized

Synchronizing your colors is something you need to do if you are using multiple Adobe Products. If you are generating artwork that uses items created externally you should ensure that your Adobe Creative Cloud is synchronized so images and colors look consistent throughout.

This is done through Color Management using Adobe Bridge

  • Open Bridge
  • Edit
  • Color Settings
  • Select the option that best suits your needs (RGB / CMYK)
  • Apply

This will synchronize all your Adobe apps. In most cases, Adobe’s default will work fine but if you feel colors are changing then it’s best to look at the Color Management Setting.

  • Color Management
  • Preferences
  • Select a Color
  • Click Ok

You can add certain settings here that ensure if your file goes to print for example the colors will remain the same. It’s always a good idea to discuss color management with your printer, especially if the job is very big or has a very specific requirement.

Corrupt Preferences

Preferences can become corrupt for a number of reasons. An incomplete update, a glitch in your machine. Resetting preferences should sort all niggly problems out, including color issues.

Resetting the preferences is the best way to get everything back in sync.

You can reset them in any one of 3 ways

  1. Remove the preference file from your machine
  2. Reset the within Illustrator
  3. Override them with a Startup Command

Remove the Preference File

To remove a preference file you first have to locate it on your computer. The easiest way is to do a search.

macOS: Adobe Illustrator Prefs

Windows: AIPrefs

They are generally hidden files in Windows but will show up if you click on View – Show Hidden Files.

Once you have removed them a new Pref file will be generated the next time you open Illustrator.

Reset within Illustrator

While Illustrator is running you can select Edit – General – Preferences – Reset Preferences.

You will have to restart Illustrator for the new prefs to kick in.

Startup Command

You can also create a new pref by holding certain keys on the keyboard while starting the app.

Windows: Alt + Ctrl + Shift

Ctrl Alt Shift PC Keyboard

macOS: Opt + Command + Shift.

Cmd Opt Shift MAC Keyboard

You will get a prompt to ask if you are sure you want to reset. Click ok.

Resetting the preferences removes any presets you might have saved. It will default your Illustrator back to the last installed version. This is not ideal if you have presets created for certain files but sometimes it’s the only way to get everything back in order.

You can save copies of your Presets and reload them but in my opinion unless it’s a mammoth task you’re really better off starting afresh.

Tara Cunningham

My name is Tara. I am a Graphic Designer for the last 25+ years. Designing everything from Wedding stationery to Magazines. I have been using Adobe products since I was in college and know all the tips and tricks that make life a little easier when completing a project. Hopefully you will find the answer to your question on PurpleHotKeys.com

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