Cool, Kuler, Coolest Color

The colors of spring are starting to pop where I live. The forsythia are spewing pure 100y by the driveway. The birch are popping a crazy out-of-gamut green, something like L74a(65)b65, The magnolias are blooming default [paper] on Comm Ave. and even my grass is a greener shade of brown. So what better time than to play with the swatches palette in InDesign, and see how we can fill it up with cool colors.

Of course you can mix your own swatches, or choose from the various libraries like Pantone. But what if you want to tap into libraries of color that an actual designer has put together for your enjoyment? Illustrator comes with a bunch of these in the form of .ai files, located on a Mac inside the Illustrator folder, at Presets > Swatches. You can’t open these files directly with InDesign, but you can still load them, if you know the trick.

First, in Illustrator load the swatch library you want by choosing Open Swatch Library from the Swatches palette.

The library appears in a new palette, separate from the main Swatches palette. From this new library palette, choose Add To Swatches.

Then from the main Swatches palette, choose Save Swatches for Exchange. This creates an Adobe Swatch Exchange (.ase) file, that you can load into InDesign. Sweet.

Another, even cooler way to feed InDesign colors is with Adobe’s kuler application.

The desktop version of Kuler is a Flash-based rich internet application that allows users to upload, search, rate, and download color schemes. It is free and available at It’s also kind of fun. You need an Adobe ID to download color schemes and save collections of favorites. And you need to install the latest version of Adobe AIR and the Flash player to run kuler, but these installs are quick and painless it’s totally worth the effort.

From the main kuler palette, you can browse or search through thousands of color libraries made by other users.

You can tear off your favorites into separate palettes, and save them as .ase files, which can be loaded into InDesign, Illustrator, and Photoshop.

You can also use the browser-based version of kuler at to come up with your own color schemes. Mix ‘em from scratch or sample colors from an image.

Here I have uploaded a sample image of a vaguely familiar cat, and dragged the little circles to the points I wanted to sample.

Then I named my scheme, allowed sharing, and saved it. It’s like but for colors instead of bookmarks. Then I downloaded my scheme as an .ase file and loaded it in InDesign.

And now it’s possible that somewhere in the world, somebody’s InDesign swatch palette has a color based on my cat’s fur. The Web really makes life weird, doesn’t it?

There is one thing we should deal with here: the cat colors arrived as RGB, and I want CMYK. No big deal: I select all the Siamese swatches from the palette by shift clicking and choose Swatch Options > Color Mode: CMYK. That’s better. Now I’m ready to design that Siamese Cat Newsletter the world is crying out for.

OK, maybe this last one isn’t a cool as kuler, but it can be quite practical, and practical is its own brand of cool. In InDesign, it’s easy enough to make tints of swatches, just highlight the swatch and choose New Tint Swatch. Then drag the tint slider, click Add instead of OK if you want to make several tints. But how do you make a shade of a color (i.e. the color + black)? There’s no Add Shade menu item. But there is a halfway decent workaround. Double click on the swatch you wish to shade and change it to a spot color.

Egads, is he serious? Yes, he is, and don’t worry, this is temporary. By redefining the swatch as a spot color, you can now choose New Mixed Ink Group from the palette menu. Mix up as many shades as you want by combining black plus the temporary spot color. I chose 10 shades.

Once we have them made, we double click on the original color swatch and change it back to CMYK, and all its children follow suit.

Now you have tints and shades, swatch libraries, photo sampling, and a never-ending stream of color schemes to play with. No excuse to have a boring default swatch palette any more.

2 Responses

  1. Wouldn’t the Intelligent Designer have created the forsythia with just a hint , maybe 10 or 15 %, magenta to warm them up? I think I saw a video about that on

    Although, considering how I talk up your smarts to people, you are probably correct!

  2. Hi Jerry, great to hear from you. You may be right on the forsythia. I was doubting myself as I backed out of the driveway the morning after I wrote that. But I can always cheat my answer and say, I didn’t mean SWOP. Color management is such a silly, slippery science, you’re almost never really right or wrong (till the ink dries). Hey, that gives me an idea…

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