InDesign Secrets: Using Illustrator to create InDesign gradient swatches

Published by | Thursday, April 18th, 2013

Why are there no default gradient swatches in Adobe InDesign? The Swatches panel tricks us into thinking there are, but you really have to build them by hand. Here’s a tip for leaving your days of manual labor behind: steal your gradients from Illustrator. In this week’s InDesign Secrets video, Anne-Marie Concepción shows you how to commit “gradient larceny” in the Creative Suite.

First you need to open Illustrator. The nice part about this technique is that any version will do, from CS2 to CS6.
1. Click the Swatch Libraries menu at the bottom of the Swatches panel and choose Gradients to open a flyout of over a dozen gradient libraries.

These color libraries ship free with Illustrator. Just within the Gradients group you have options like Earthtones, Metals, Sky, Water, and many more.

2. Choose any library and it will open as a new floating panel group in Illustrator. You can apply the gradient swatches like you would any fill. Simply select an object and choose a swatch from this panel.

Now, to transfer a gradient library to InDesign, you do not choose Save Swatch Library as ASE. If you attempt to do so, you’ll encounter an error message that claims swatches containing gradients are not exchangeable. What to do?

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3. Instead, add the swatches you desire to any of the shapes on your artboard, copy the shapes, and switch to InDesign. Paste the shapes into a new document and watch as the gradient swatches are imported straight into the InDesign Swatches panel.

4. To edit the gradients, simply double-click an individual swatch to open the Gradient Options dialog box. You can rename the swatch, change its direction, or edit the color stops in the Gradient Ramp.

5. Now to add the gradients to the application’s list of default swatches, start by saving the document as a native InDesign document (an INDD). Then close all documents (the Welcome screen should appear), click the Swatches panel flyout menu, choose Load Swatches, and point to the gradients file. Quit the program, and reopen it to commit the changes.

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Now those gradients will be available every time you open InDesign. It’s a sneaky way to steal them from Illustrator and avoid the annoying error message that occurs when you try to exchange swatches the usual way. members can join David Blatner in the next InDesign Secrets video called Building a simple grep style to change character size. And in two weeks David and Anne-Marie will be back with another free video. Stay tuned!

Interested in more?

• Start a free trial membership at
• The entire InDesign Secrets biweekly series
• Courses by David Blatner and Anne-Marie Concepción on
• All InDesign courses

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6 Responses to “InDesign Secrets: Using Illustrator to create InDesign gradient swatches”

  1. Gerry Wallace says:

    This didn’t work for me. I have CS6 and when I paste the gradient shapes in ID nothing happens. The gradients do not show up in the gradient panel. It looks like, when pasted, the shapes are pasted as uneditable objects. I would like to know what I might be doing wrong. I went through the steps a couple of time and each time the same results.

  2. Gerry- I just double-checked the steps in InDesign and Illustrator CS6 (current versions) and it worked as written. I did have to scroll down the Swatches panel in InDesign after the paste in order to find the new swatches, FYI- but they did make it over for me.

  3. Heidi von Markham says:

    Step 3 also did not work for me (I’m using CS6 with Creative Suite). Tried with a new Illustrator file and new InDesign file. I have the Swatches panel expanded the full length of the window and nothing happens when I paste in the object from Illustrator. I’ve tried about 15 different times with no luck. I really need this to saved a rotated gradient as a swatch so I can apply to table cell shape — please advise if there is some special setting you might have omitted from the instructions.

  4. Donna Camacho says:

    Same for me–did not work. I used to be able to do this, but tried in CS6 and CC and it doesn’t work! It’s not saving the gradient.

  5. Rose Hutchings says:

    Doesn’t work for me either. I get the same result as Gerry. They are not in the swatches window. It is not an editable colour. I get a question mark for the colour of the swatch.

  6. dennx says:

    The objects need to be CMYK for it to work.

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