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How To Clear Color Swatches in Photoshop & Illustrator

As you likely very well know, Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator are very common design tools. Although they possess an incredible amount of power the overall interface can be quite cumbersome even to intermediate users. But if you spend enough time learning the fundamentals everything else will just naturally fall into place.

For this quick tip I'd like to demonstrate how to clear out color swatches in Photoshop and Illustrator. Each program has a slightly different method of clearing swatches and you'll want to stick with the most comfortable way to your workflow. The swatches panel is a little tricky and it's not always used in every design project. But it's still a palette that has plenty of value in the long run and it's worth learning these little tricks.

Clearing Photoshop Swatches

So there's really only one “official” method to clear swatches from Photoshop. Unfortunately it's a little tiresome but let's start with this and move from there.

With Photoshop open head over to the Swatches panel or choose Window > Swatches. When you hover over any swatch you'll notice the cursor turns into an eyedropper. Now hold the ALT/OPTION key and the cursor should change into a pair of scissors.

scissors cut swatches photoshop

If you click on a swatch now it'll simply remove that swatch from your palette. So can you guess how to clear the entire swatches panel? Yes, it requires ALT+clicking on every single swatch until it's empty. Talk about mundane.

Fortunately I bumped into an unconventional yet quicker alternative. This WordPress blog post offers a free swatch file that's completely empty. The .aco filetype is a Photoshop Color Swatch file that contains swatch data. By simply replacing your existing swatches with this filler swatch it'll clear your panel in a jiffy.

The first step is to download a local copy of the .ACO file. You can download it directly from the blog or grab a mirrored copy from Bittbox.

Now jump back into Photoshop and locate the tiny arrow in the top-right corner of the swatches panel. Clicking this will open a dropdown window where one of the options is “Replace Swatches”.

replace swatches photoshop palette

You may be asked if you want to save changes to the current swatches. If you don't care about the current swatch then click no, otherwise save a local copy before erasing all colors. Then browse to the .ACO file location and open it.

save changes current swatches photoshop

All of the original swatches will be replaced with a single black swatch. Now you can start adding other colors or simply remove the black swatch by ALT+clicking on the square. Now you've got a vacant swatches panel in half the time!

photoshop replace swatches empty palette

Clearing Illustrator Swatches

There's a distinction with the swatches panel in Illustrator: documents themselves are often tied to different swatches. Colors are pulled from the image or from a series of pre-selected swatches and this often creates one elongated swatch library.

illustrator basic swatches panel

Unlike Photoshop you cannot ALT+click to delete swatches. But there is a speedier trick you can perform within the palette's context menu. First open a new document of any kind and then open the swatches palette using Window > Swatches.

select unused swatches illustrator dialog

From the arrow context menu choose “Select All Unused”. If your document is blank then it should select almost all of the swatches. Now click the trash can icon and choose “yes” to the popup menu.

trash can delete swatches illustrator

Even though most swatches have been deleted you may still have to deal with a few stragglers. In this case simply SHIFT+click onto all the other swatches you want to delete. Holding shift allows you to select multiple swatches at the same time. Once they're all selected you can either drag them onto the trash can icon or merely click the icon itself.

base illustrator empty palette swatches

The only two options left will be none(no color) and registration, because these can never be deleted. “None” makes the fill or stroke empty while registration is used for different reasons during printing. These are the two swatches that can never be removed so at this stage you've got a completely empty swatches palette. Now would be the time to pop the cork on that bottle of champagne you've been saving for a celebratory shindig.

The key to both of these techniques is memorization. If you don't frequently use the swatches panel then these techniques may become lost in the muddied thoughts of day-to-day work. But keep this post handy and use it as a reference guide whenever needed.

I'm the editor-in-chief of Bittbox.com. I'm a designer and developer by day, and a writer and musician when the feeling strikes. I enjoy vintage advertisements and puzzles with an absurd amount of pieces. Follow me on Twitter.

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