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Color Swatches That Won’t Delete

Delia wrote:

I recently worked on an internal design for a book, using black plus a spot (PMS) colour, but in the end I couldn't delete the unused PMS colours from the Swatch palette. I would choose 'select all unused' in the swatch palette and the colour would be highlighted, but when I tried to delete it by dragging to the trash, the trash icon would be ghosted.

You are not alone in this problem, Delia. This has plagued many InDesign usrs. Invincible color swatches (ones that cannot be deleted) usually occur when the spot colour has been used in a graphic (usually EPS, PDF, or PSD). Sometimes you don't even realize the color is in the graphic, and there, and it's not easy to figure out (though here's one method). Unless you change or delete that graphic, you won't be able to remove the color swatch.

However, occassionally, the color is really stuck, usually due to some kind of minor document corruption. One of the best ways to get the document back on track is to use File > Export to create an InDesign Interchange (INX) file. Then re-open that file in InDesign and you should be able to remove the color from the Swatches panel. Make sure to proof the new file carefully against the old one, as things can sometimes change a little in the conversion.

Synchronize a Book

Here's another option for a stuck color swatch, if you're sure it's not in an image. Honestly, I've never tried this method, but I have heard that some people are also able to delete their color swatches after a book synchronization:

  1. Create a new document that has a color swatch with exactly the same name as the one you're trying to delete.
  2. Use File > New > Book to create a book panel, choose Book Page Numbering Options from the book panel's flyout menu, and disable Automatic Pagination (called "Automatically Update Page & Section Numbers" in CS3). Then add the two documents (the old one and this new one).
  3. Make sure the new document is the "master" document (click in the left column in the book panel).
  4. Choose Synchronize Options from the book panel's flyout menu and turn off everything except Swatches.
  5. Click Synchronize.

If all goes well, you should now be able to delete that swatch.

Deep INX Clean

If the INX roundtrip and the synchronize tricks don't t work, here's one last attempt. This is hard core, but it should work:

  1. Export the document as an INX file.
  2. Open the INX file in a text editor (such as TextWrangler on the Mac, or Notepad in Windows). Don't use a word processor or anything that could add formatting to the text.
  3. Search for the name of the color you're trying to remove. You should find it inside an XML tag named "colr". Remove that whole element (see what's selected in the image below).
  1. Now search for the name again. You should find it in a tag named "cink". Remove that whole element.
  1. Use Save As to give the INX file a different name and then open that new INX file in InDesign. The color swatch should be gone.

Messing with INX files is always a little dicey, so make sure you're working on duplicates and save your work before proceeding. A wrong tag in an INX file may crash InDesign upon import.

David Blatner
David Blatner is the co-founder of the Creative Publishing Network, InDesign Magazine, and the author or co-author of 15 books, including Real World InDesign. His InDesign videos at are among the most watched InDesign training in the world. You can find more about David at
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56 Comments on “Color Swatches That Won’t Delete

  1. Another tip I just discovered for those who find this thread through search. You will not be able to delete a swatch that is used in a paragraph style under Paragraph Rules > Rule Above or Rule Below, even if it is NOT ACTIVE (no paragraph rule is on). I had to turn the Rule Below on, remove the defunct color swatch not in use in the paragraph rule that was also not in use, and then turn the Paragraph Rule off again to be able to select the color swatch with Select All Unused swatches and remove the unwanted swatch.

  2. And don’t forget any swatches used for fill defined in a Table Styles or Cell Styles, they show up, too. I sometimes forget these when I’m focused on finding the unwanted swatch in the paragraph and character styles, or in linked images.

  3. Place in an image such as an eps file with the rogue spot colour in it. Then delete it. You should now be able to delete the spot colour.

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