Creating a custom color palette from an image using Image Trace in Illustrator
I do this all the time. Today I saw a photo of President Obama on my Facebook Newsfeed and was struck by the blues in the background. So I tried a few online color palette generators, but I wanted a larger palette, which I will edit until I get a palette I love. So I decided to take screen-shots as I go, to show you how to do it.
Grab an image you love and drag it onto the Illustrator icon.
It doesn’t matter if you hold the shift key down to maintain the ratio, and it also doesn’t matter if your photo gets blurry or pixelated—We’re only looking at the colors. You’re going to throw this file away when you’re done. Just make it big.
Next, with the image selected, open the Image Trace window, and turn on “Preview.”
Make sure you are in “Color” mode.
Then play with the number of colors. With mine set to “Limited,” I’m only getting 30 colors and I don’t see enough blues in the window. So I’m going to choose “Full-tone” and go for 40 colors.
That’s more like it. Open the Advanced menu by clicking on the little triangle and choose “ignore white.”
Now expand it.
And ungroup it.
Open your Swatches palette.
Drag a selection marquee across the windows so that part of the image is selected. IMPORTANT: there’s a size limit on new color groups, so grab sections of your photo instead of the whole thing. I like the blues of the window, so I’m grabbing that section.
Click the little folder icon on the bottom of the swatches palette. Choose “Selected Artwork”, click OK.
Click somewhere on the white page to deselect your artwork while you edit this palette. I’m going to delete the browns, greys and whites from this color group so I end up with mostly blues.
Shift + click on the swatches you want to delete, then hit the trash button at the bottom of the window. Option + click to single out lone swatches. You can drag them around to rearrange them. If you see swatches that are similar, delete them. This is the fiddly part that defines whether you are a color-lover or not.
Okay I’m almost done, just going to delete that first swatch that looks like white.
Click on the folder icon. Choose “Save Swatch Library as ASE…” (By the way, where there is an ellipses—the three dots—it means there is another menu after this.)
I’m going to save mine right into my Illustrator Swatches directory, but you can save it anywhere.
Now it’s one of the User Defined Swatch Libraries. Or, if I had saved it somewhere else, I could have chosen “Other Library” and just loaded the ASE file.
Here is the final version of the color palette I developed from this photo.
Click on the image or here to download the ASE file for yourself.