Color Bars in Illustrator

Ai Toolbox lets you easily add color bars to Illustrator projects with just a few mouse clicks. Color bars display inks used by the document and get automatically updated to reflect the changes you make. You can customize color bars in many ways and this tutorial shows how to do that.

Let’s start with a simple project:

Simple AI project for color bars testing

Here we have rectangles for all the CMYK process colors and two spot colors called “Orange” and “Green”. Let’s add a color bar to this project.

Adding a Color Bar

Click the Object menu in Illustrator, then navigate to Color Bar sub–menu and click Create Simple Color Bar item there. You will get this:

Color bar added to Illustrator project

A color bar with all the inks used by the document is added to the bottom left corner of the current artboard. The popup window allows you to adjust the color bar parameters, but for now you can simply click Commit to commit the changes.

Automatic Updates of Color Bars

Once the color bar is added you can move it somewhere and maybe even lock to prevent accidental changes. Ai Toolbox keeps the color bar updated while you working on the document, so it displays the colors you really use:

Color bar gets updates automatically

Here we filled the orange rectangle with green and the color bar does not show the orange color anymore.

Updating color bars is a time–consuming operation, so Ai Toolbox doesn’t do this every time you make a change. Instead, (as with dynamic texts) it updates color bars in three cases:

This way you get more or less accurate color bars almost all the time you work on the project without slowing your process down. If you need an instant color bar update you can use Object → Color Bar → Update All Color Bars menu item, or switch to a different tab and back, or save the project.

Ai Toolbox does not preserve color bars rotation and scaling when updating them. Use the color bar properties to change its direction, use custom color bar symbols to change its scale.

Note that you need a licensed copy of Ai Toolbox installed in order to automatically update color bars in background. The color bars are still visible without the plugin, but they will not reflect the changes you make.

Color Bar Properties

You can adjust the color bar settings by selecting it and clicking Object → Color Bar → Color Bar Parameters… item in the Illustrator main menu. The same window will pop up:

Color bar parameters window

From top to bottom the parameters are:

Ai Toolbox immediately updates the color bar in preview when you edit these parameters, so you can visually check what you do. Let’s discuss the options in more details.

Regardless of its parameters, color bar is effectively a rectangular object with some graphics inside. When the list of used colors changes, the color bar needs to be updated and it may grow or shrink depending on the number of colors being used. In order to control the position of the color bar with these updates, the Starting corner option is used. It effectively defines the anchor point of the color bar that doesn’t move when the color bar is updated.

Anchor point stays the same when the color bar updates

Here I used the Repeats field to make the color bar longer, but as the Starting corner is set to “Left bottom”, the bottom left point of the color bar stays at the same place.

Besides the anchor point, the Starting corner parameter defines the color bar flow direction, as the color bar is constructed from the starting point in the direction defined by the Color bar orientation parameter. On the image above the starting corner is bottom left and the color bar orientation is horizontal, so the color bar is constructed horizontally from the bottom left corner, so to the right.

Here’s what happens if the Color bar orientation parameter is changed to “Vertical”:

Changing color bar orientation to vertical

The color bar now goes up from the same bottom left point defined by the Starting corner parameter.

In a similar manner, if you want the color bar to go right–to–left, you need to select “Right Top” or “Right Bottom” starting corners and use the “Horizontal” color bar orientation. If you want the color bar to go top-to-bottom, you need the “Left Top” or “Right Top” starting corners and use the “Vertical” color bar orientation.

Lets now switch back to the horizontal color bar orientation and change the Columns limits field:

Adjusting columns limit

The document has 4 CMYK and 2 spot colors, 6 colors total. We set the Repeats field to 4, so the color bar has 24 elements total. Before we changed the Columns limit field they were displayed as a single row (or column, when the color bar was vertical). The Columns limit lets you break the color bar down into a few lines. Here we set the Columns limit field to 18, so the first 18 elements are on the bottom row and the rest 4 are on the top one.

Again, exactly as with single–line color bars, the construction direction is defined by the Starting corner parameter. As it is set to “Left Bottom”, the color bar is constructed from the bottom left corner to the right (as the color bar orientation is horizontal), then once the number of elements reaches the Column limit parameter, the new line is added on top (away from the starting corner) and the construction continues left to right.

If you want the color bar lines to break towards bottom, you need to use the “Left Top” or “Right Top” starting corners and so on.

For vertically–oriented color bars the parameters is called Rows limit and works exactly the same, effectively limiting the number of vertical elements of the color bar.

The Horizontal Step and Vertical Step parameters let you configure the gaps between the color bar elements:

Adjusting the gap between color bar elements

Finally, the Repeats field allows you to repeat the color bar elements, say to fill up the length of the page.

More Color Bar Options

That’s the very basic options of color bars in Ai Toolbox. To get the most of the plugin, consider visiting the links below:

More Ai Toolbox Tutorials


Conical Labels

Color Bars

Text Operations

Renaming and Selection

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