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Find Where That Color’s Used

How can you find out where a color is being used in your layout? If only there was a Find Color feature that worked like the Find Font command and dialog box in the Type menu.

You can use Find/Change to search for any text colored with a particular swatch (use the Find Format area, revealed by clicking the More Options button in the Find/Change dialog box), but that doesn’t help you find any instances of that swatch used in a stroke, a fill, or in imported artwork.

Here’s a workaround: Use the Separations Preview palette. Open the palette from the Window > Output flyout menu, and change the View to Separations from the palette’s drop-down menu. (Why the View drop-down defaults to “Off” is beyond me … sigh … topic for another post.)

The palette shows a list of all the process colors and any spot colors used in the document, equivalent to the plates that would be output if you printed the layout to color separations:

InDesign Separation Preview palette

Turn off the visibility (click the eyeball icon to hide it) next to all the color plates in this list except the one you’re looking for. For example, if you want to see where a spot color is used, turn off the visibility of the four process colors: Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Black; or just turn off the visibility of the very first entry in the palette, the composite CMYK plate, which hides/shows all the process colors at once.

When only one separation is visible, InDesign indicates the use of that color on a page with “black ink,” similar to a film separation:

InDesign Seps preview

That makes it easy to spot on the page; and if you have a lot of pages in your document, you could just Zoom Out to view a couple or three spreads at a time and then scroll through it, keeping an eye out for any black splotches.

Select a splotch with the Selection tool, choose Off from the Separations Preview palette’s View menu, and you’ll see the item in full color, still selected. (A great way to track down small instances of spot colors used in placed PDFs or intricate Illustrator drawings, for example.)

Finding non-Spot Colors

What if the color you’re looking for is a custom CMYK you’ve added to Swatches? Or an RGB swatch? The Separations palette won’t show you these. Custom CMYK swatches are broken out into their individual plates, just as they would be if you printed seps. RGB colors are converted to process equivalents – Seps Preview assumes that’s what you’re going to have InDesign do in the end, otherwise why would you be looking at the palette, huh? huh? So the palette shows you how they’ll be converted.

Here’s how to runaround this over-helpfulness: In the Swatches palette, double-click the custom CMYK or RGB swatch and change the Color Type from Process to Spot. Here, I’m trying to find where my golden brown CMYK color, C19 M35 Y0 K0, is being used in the document. So first I double-click its entry in the Swatches palette and change its Color Type to Spot:

Change color mode to spot

That forces Seps Preview to list it as a distinct plate. Turning off all other colors except for this one spot CMYK plate (separation) makes it easy to find where it’s being used in my document. Anything that shows up in black, such as these bullets, are filled and/or stroked with this color:

Found the CMYK color in seps preview

Of course, after you’ve found where the color’s used (and had your way with it), you’ll want to change its type back to Process or RGB again. Double-click its entry in Swatches and change the Color Type back to Process, then click OK. Don’t worry, this move doesn’t affect the color mix of the swatch in any way.

To recap: The advantage of using this Seps Preview method to track down colors is that it shows all instances of the color; including objects created with InDesign tools, live text, imported images, and even spot-colored objects that were in a PDF you placed into a layout as artwork.

Anne-Marie Concepcion

Anne-Marie Concepcion

Anne-Marie “Her Geekness” Concepción is the co-founder (with David Blatner) and CEO of Creative Publishing Network, which produces InDesignSecrets, InDesign Magazine, and other resources for creative professionals. Through her cross-media design studio, Seneca Design & Training, Anne-Marie develops ebooks and trains and consults with companies who want to master the tools and workflows of digital publishing. She has authored over 20 courses on on these topics and others. Keep up with Anne-Marie by subscribing to her ezine, HerGeekness Gazette, and contact her by email at or on Twitter @amarie
Anne-Marie Concepcion

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89 Comments on “Find Where That Color’s Used

  1. These were some great tips. However, it seems when I place an Illustrator image, that has a ONLY one spot color – no other color – or is just black, in InDesign, I end up with blank CYMK seps in InDesign. I can’t get rid of them. Any tips for this?

  2. I would add that you should not forget to check your master pages for sneaky items that didn’t ultimately end up in your document, but whose colours remain in the separations list, refusing to be deleted.

  3. For some reason my AI artwork (placed in ID CS4) is showing CMY values even though it is spec’d as simply Black in AI (and the swatch is assigned to Greyscale, even). Of course the AI document itself is CMYK (because it’s either that or RGB) but I can’t figure out why I’m seeing these breakdowns in ID.

    If I paste the same object into a new ID file, this does not happen. So the issue is intrinsic to the one file. Color settings are the same between the 2 ID files.

    Any ideas?

  4. Nope, it’s CMYK… Thanks though. Any other document-specific things I may be missing which account for this weirdness?

  5. Interestingly, if I save the AI file as EPS and relink to that, the extra plates disappear. Unfortunately the linked EPS comes in at different scale and position, which creates a whole other mess.

    Up until now I placed all the trust in the world in the use of native AI files. Very disconcerting.

  6. I’ll be darned. I just found the solution. My document color profile had been assigned to Coated FOGRA27 (on the advice of a colleague a while back). Switching that to US Web Coated (SWOP) v2 fixed it. Presto: no more CMY plates. Thank. God.

  7. Hi, thanks so much for this. Question on a large .doc in CS3 or 4. I’d like to select a particular color in text/strokes within the whole document. Is there a way to simply do this and change ALL to the new color? Say I have a light blue wanting to change all to a darker blue in my swatch palette. Thanks in advance!

  8. Don’t know if anyone’s mentioned this yet, but I found one solution for those who tried to find a color using the separations palette, but still can’t find it. You might have the color selected in a character style or a paragraph style. If one of those styles is not used, obviously you wouldn’t see it, but InDesign still considers it a “used” swatch. Go through your style palettes and delete any unused styles and then see if the swatch palette changes the status of the color to “unused.”

    • This solved a huge problem for us today. I had this exact situation: after deleting all unused colours there were still swatches in the palette that remained even though they didn’t show up on the separations preview. After deleting all unused text styles I could then go back and delete the remaining unused swatches without being asked to replace them. Thanks so much, this helped an entire design department!

  9. I’ll be testing this out in the morning. I’ve been scratching my head as to why CMYK is still appearing in a 56 page booklet I’m working on. I believe some of the grayscale images supplied to me by corporate contain the problem but I can’t pinpoint which ones and since there are over 200 images time is an issue. Need to get this puppy to the printer but also need to save big money: 4/4 will cost too damn much.

    • Lazy man approach. Just tell your printer to rip it as a composite black. Their rip should be able to handle it. I know we all want our files to be perfect, but most rip and imposition software have much more control than we do, especially when we are given working files from other sources. Just ask for a proof to double check before print.

  10. Would it be as effective to just use the Find Object Format Options window?

    Works almost exactly like the font feature. You can pretty much set any parameter. Use it all the time at work to sort through customers garbage files

  11. Six years later and I just found it! You have no idea how crazy-making this has been. Thank you (for discovering it in 2006 and still having it available now. Regards. –j

  12. Pingback: InDesignSecrets Podcast 178 | InDesignSecrets

  13. My saviours!! I’ve just spent 2 weeks trying to work out why my 50 page journal kept coming out with 49 pages in CMYK when there should only be 5. NOW I can see it’s all down to the rubbish that I was sent from the authors. . . silly me for assuming they were OK I suppose.

    This is such a simple solution – can’t believe I didn’t find out about it until now.

    Thanks SO much for keeping such a old thread live.

  14. This thread was super helpful. I had a lab color stuck in an annual report and with your help found the tiny gremlin. You’re the best.

  15. I soooo wish this solution was available to me, but since the document I’ve inherited contains more than 25 spot colors, I can’t even use the separations view in the Separations preview panel (InDesign protests). The file contains no less than 36 copies of the same Pantone Green spot color (after I’ve cleaned away all unused and changed all that were deletable, there were more than 60 copies to begin with). None of the remaining are deletable. And this is just the green colour. There are more.

    And the worse part is that I’m considering myself to be somewhat of an amateur or at least not a very experienced professional. I’ve gotten this document from a large, well known professional branding agency and they have kept no order at all within the file.


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