Nov 8, 2009

Color Palette Refinement

My creative process is both analog and digital. I love the tactile approach drawing provides and the precision ease of use digital offers in regard to creating artwork and design.

I've had my battles with Illustrator over the years. And it more than anything else in my life is truly a love hate relationship.

Thankfully most of these frustrations and short comings have either been resolved now by Adobe or bypassed via helpful third party plugins that work better than the native tools.

That said, there is still room for improvement and that is what this post is about. I'm specifically talking about the the "Color Palette" in Adobe Illustrator.

Adobe Illustrator 8 Color Palette.

It's been eons since Adobe seriously updated the Color Palette. The above image shows what it looked like back in Illustrator 8 running on system 9 prior to the advent of OSX.

Current interface appearance of Color Palette in CS4.

Not much has changed with the Color Palette since Illustrator 8. Being a former FreeHand user the GUI on this specific palette has always annoyed me.

Why did Adobe ever overlap the fill and stroke controls? OK, so that was a rhetorical question. It denotes which control you have in focus either fill or stroke. Having the overlap as it is now just makes selecting them more of a pain and slows down the build process IMO.

Overlap + Dark Colors = Problem.

The current overlap causes another problem, if you have darker colors it's hard to tell which one is selected, (See above image) so it isn't fool proof from that stand point making it slow you down again. I think my solution below is better. The overlap also gives the illusion of representing a hierarchy, which it doesn't in the actual object itself, that's what the Appearance Palette is for.

But the biggest issue for me in regards to the Color Palette is the fact there is no way to quickly color both the fill and stroke at the same time. (I miss that feature from FreeHand)

My suggested GUI and functional update to the Color Palette.

I think Adobe should re-design the Color Palette. I'm not talking about making the process fundamentally different, I just want to see what is already there improved upon. They should also add in the ability to color both the fill and stroke at the same time. Everything else would work the same as it always has.

Easier to select fill and stroke controls.

Want to color your fill and stroke yellow? Just click the multi-color control shown to the right of the fill and stroke control and then create your color and your done. (You can also drag a color to the multi-color control too) This would seem to be a pretty easy refinement the Adobe engineers could make?

Arrowhead to Identify which control you have selected.

Someone in the comments below pointed out the overlapping fill and stroke denote which one is selected. I realize that but it's still not needed. I could see why they might have done that before OSX and more robust application versions but it's simply not needed.

I propose that an active arrow appears along side which ever control is currently in focus be it the fill, stroke, or multi-color.

I know everyone has different ways of working but I'd use this simple function all the time if it were part of the app. FreeHand had it, Adobe owns FreeHand now so why not implement it? They've already done so with multiple art boards, new masking etc.


agent_x said...

Start the revolution! I am definitely on board with this idea.

Jean-Claude Tremblay said...

Hi Von, Interesting idea and concept. Sure this could be useful in some circumstances. Now how to think this change can be also made into the bottom of the Tools panel and the Control Panel?

George Coghill said...

I'm curious why you need to add a same-color stroke to objects so often. I'm not even sure I would use that at all, interested to hear your approach.

The overlapping fill/stroke swatches are used to indicate which is active, and therefore which one will be affected when selecting a swatch.

Jay said...

Makes perfect sense. Adobe should implement this for CS5.

Randy Hill said...

Good point, Von. It seems like such a little thing, but when you add up the amount of time it takes to make both the fill and the stroke the same color and multiply that by the amount of designers in the world doing the same thing on a daily basis...well, it boggles the mind, doesn't it?

Dacosta! said...

I agree with George on this one. While I understand the idea, I have never had any trouble selecting/switching from one to the other. I feel the language works, but integrating a way to fill both at the same time would be a useful option.

Cheryl said...

>Having the overlap as it is now just makes selecting them more of a pain…

I never use the palette to select the swatch. Just press X to switch between fill & stroke (Shift-X to exchange colors). If they're both black, you can tell which is active. If it's the fill, you can see the lower right corner of the square overlapping the stroke.

andrewharrington said...

Cheryl read my mind. The little arrowheads (for me) are not as good an indicator as the overlapping graphic. Maybe if they were larger

MeMakeMonster said...

I agree on every point, Von.

A serious question: if Freehand were somehow reborn - bought and revived by a company you trusted would stick with the program for years to come, would you switch back?

I've never stopped using it - I only use Illustrator when it's required, and I still almost always start in Freehand.

Vonster said...

The few people who have pointed out the overlap graphic to distinguish which is in focus be it fill or stroke, I understand that but it would still be easier having them not overlapped.

I just mocked this all up in a few hours, there is probably a better way to earmark which is in focus other than a small triangle but anything is better than the current.

I wouldn't switch back to FreeHand. It just isn't as powerful of a drawing app as Ai. The core, base build methods are still better though IMO than Ai. Hence why I use plugins with Ai.

But that said I have no allegiance to tools. Lets say Cupertino is nuked and Apple goes away over night, or more realistically Jobs dies and the new leadership makes bad business choices and Microsoft buys them out and ends the MAC platform. I wouldn't stop creating art I'd just adapt to the new tools I'd have to use because my allegiance is to my art.

Don't be a "Design-O-Saur" adapt or die.

warren said...

This might be a dumb question. If your fill and stroke are the same color, why are you using a stroke at all?

Vonster said...


It all depends on what project you're working on and how you're building the artwork. If you build with shapes ie fill only, it isn't always the most efficient method to accomplish what you need. The flexibility of using a stroke is far easier to gauge and control as you relate content and balance the design.

For example if you go to a recent post called "Creative Faceoff" I used fill and stroke shapes to build the outlines you see around the art which had to go in and out of other shapes. Strokes made this far easier than if I attempted to build with just filled shapes only.

On final deliverable art I may convert the strokes to shapes, but to get there I need to use fill and stroke together on one object. I use this process on icons a lot as well.

andrewharrington said...

I suppose we'll just have to agree to disagree. I just don't find the overlapping squares at all very difficult to read or use. Personally, all the pointing arrows and indicator arrows on your revision confuse me. The overlapping squares accomplish all the same things (except simultaneously coloring both stroke and fill) with one graphic, and even then, to color them both all you've got to do is press 'x' and click the swatch again, which I find very simple. To be honest, I would be pretty perturbed if they revised the color palette to your version :-P. I think it can be improved, but I don't think this is the best solution.

andrewharrington said...

Also, I didn't really realize that I do this often, but I caught myself doing it even more than I do the classic way because it's even more efficient for the purpose of coloring both the fill and stroke:

Say you apply a yellow fill to the object. Now, drag the fill box onto the stroke box, and now you have a object with a yellow fill and stroke.

Pommie Knight said...

I agree that the overlapping squares are difficult to see, especially if your eyes are already square from looking at the screen for a while.

The colour palette is overdue a re-design but I'm not sure that arrowheads are the way forward. Why not use the same highlights that denote which tool your using (in the left hand menus) to highlight either fill or stroke?