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Find Where That Color’s Used

How can you find out where a color is being used in your InDesign layout?

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).

You can also search for specific colors used in strokes and fills, using the Find Object Format controls.

But how do you find everywhere a color was used? The trick is to use the Separations Preview panel. Open the panel from the Window menu and choose View: Separations from the panel’s drop-down menu.

The panel 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.

Finding Spot Colors

To find everywhere a spot color was used in your InDesign document, turn off the visibility (click the eyeball icon) next to the composite CMYK plate at the top of the list, 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.

That makes it easy to spot the spot on each page. 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, and choose View: Off in the Separations panel. 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 placed Illustrator files, for example.)

Finding Non-Spot Colors

What if the color you’re looking for is a custom CMYK? Or an RGB swatch? The Separations panel won’t show you these. Custom CMYK swatches are broken out into their individual plates, just as they would be if you printed separations. RGB colors are converted to process equivalents.

But there is a workaround (at least for native InDesign text and objects): In the Swatches panel, right-click the custom CMYK or RGB swatch and choose Swatch Options. Then change the Color Type from Process to Spot. Unfortunately, if you’ve used the Name with Color Value option for your swatch, that name will be replaced with the generic “New Color Swatch” (another good reason to name your color swatches something descriptive).

In this example, I’m trying to find where my Golden Brown CMYK color is being used in the document.

That forces Separations Preview panel to list it as a distinct plate. Turning off all other colors except for this one spot plate makes it easy to find where it’s being used in my document. Anything that shows up in black, such as the word “News” and the bullets in my example, are filled and/or stroked with this color.

Of course, after you’ve found where the color’s used, you’ll want to change its type back to Process CMYK or RGB again. Don’t worry, this move doesn’t affect the color mix of the swatch in any way.

Note that this trick won’t help you find specific process colors in placed art, since the colors remain defined as process in the art files.

Create a Preflight Profile to Find Specific Colors

To take it one step further, you can use InDesign’s Preflight panel to create a custom preflight profile that searches for spot colors.

That way you can see all instances of a color in your document listed in the panel with links you can click to jump to them.

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

Originally published June 16, 2006

Anne-Marie Concepcion

Anne-Marie Concepcion

Anne-Marie “Her Geekness” Concepción is the co-founder of Creative Pro 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 dozens of video courses on LinkedIn Learning 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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92 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.


  16. Make that 13 years later and this was fabulous – not just the article but also all the comments. I tried (what I thought was) everything and it still didn’t work – but it’s taught me how to use those colour separations – brilliant.
    Turned out it was a text STROKE on one blank space that didn’t have any styles applied – will remain a mystery how that ever occurred in the first place. So always run a Find on Text formats first just in case, including your master pages, before you try separations etc. Whodda thought? :)

  17. With so many years of working with InDesign, I hope there could be some built in feature to find colour(s). Sometimes it is frustrating to create spot and then revert. Isn’t it achievable through JavaScript? I think there are some Genius people out there who with the help of JavaScript can highlight the area containing the search colour and then it will be an easy catch!

  18. I found using the preflight settings I was able to do this in a bit more of a quick manor. I set the unwanted swatch to a spot colour, then I made a preflight profile that said spot colours were not allowed in my document. Then preflight told me everywhere that spot colour was being sourced so I could quickly go and fix things.

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