Steal from the Best: Get Your Gradient Swatches for InDesign by Lifting Them from Illustrator

And while you’re at it, get your InDesign know-how by lifting it from Anne-Marie Concepcion and David Blatner.

As I’ve probably mentioned ten thousand times already, I have a project I’m working on that requires InDesign, and I’m heading to PEPCON (the Print and eProduction Conference) this weekend and don’t want to seem dull-minded as I mix with the InDesignerati. (In my experience, the crowd, speakers, and attendees alike, are wicked sharp at PEPCON.)

So, one of the ways I’m feeding my craving for more InDesign know-how is to watch a lot of David and Anne-Marie’s course, InDesign Secrets. In fact, that’s where I stole this movie on how to get gradient swatches out of Illustrator and into InDesign.

If you’re an InDesign user with a design-centric version of the Creative Suite or a subscription to the Creative Cloud, then you already have access to Illustrator, so go grab those swatches. They’re already yours. I’m just using the thievery motif for dramatic effect. Much like one might use these gradients:

InDesign Secrets by David Blatner, Anne-Marie Concepción

Like Deke’s Techniques, the InDesign Secrets collection at is a continually updated series of short episodes. And if this level of InDesignery is over your head, there’s an Up & Running with InDesign course taught by some guy named Deke there, too. And if you’re not a member, you can get a free week’s trial at

For those of you who like to read, here are my insightful observations on Anne-Marie’s trick: 

1) You can create gradient swatches in InDesign, but you have to do it by hand.

There are no default gradient swatches in InDesign. You have to create the stops yourself in the Gradient panel or the Swatches panel.

2) It’s easy to load prefabricated gradients in Illustrator by using the Swatches Libraries menu button at the bottom of the Swatches panel.

You’ll find a whole menu full of interesting gradient collections, like the Metals collection that Anne-Marie uses in the video.

Adding a swatch library in Illustrator

3) Try as you might, you can’t exchange a set of gradients (or patterns or tints) as an ASE (Adobe Swatch Exchange) file that you could then load into InDesign.

You might try, but you’ll end up with this warning.

Warning dialog about creating an ASE file with gradients

4) You can however, create objects in Illustrator, color them with the gradients you want to export, and copy/paste those objects into InDesign.

While tooling around, I noticed you can even select them in an Illustrator window, drag the objects to your InDesign window, and drop ‘em.

Imported swatches in InDesign

5) At that point, the swatches will magically appear, in all their editable glory, in InDesign’s Swatches panel.

You will have to name the new swatches yourself, because all the cool descriptive names from Illustrator will disappear, as you can see in the interesting comparison below. The shiny panel on the left is from Illustrator, with all the swatches descriptively and romantically named. The anemic panel on the right is from InDesign after I pulled the objects over. And yes, that’s as big as I can make the swatches and still see the names.

6) You can even save these swatches as default gradients for InDesign, by saving your gradient-filled document, closing it, then loading those gradients into ID with no document open.

There are a few steps; check out the end of the movie where AM shows you how.

I always say steal from the best, my nefarious dekeComplices, whether it be Illustrator for gradients or Anne-Marie Concepcion (and David, too) for InDesign Secrets.

Next entry:Quick-Change Artistry: Using Illustrator Symbols for Efficient Icon Iteration

Previous entry:Deke’s Techniques 216: Making a Danger Sign Even More Dangerous


  • Seems kind of weird

    Thanks for the great info Colleen! It seems kind of weird you can’t load Adobe Swatch Exchange gradients right into InDesign. The “Exchange” in the ASE name would imply that but I guess not. wink

  • Agreed, Vectorgeek. And it tricks you…

    into thinking that it’s going to work. It actually created a file on my desktop, but it’s empty since all I put in it were gradients.

  • Some Adobe programmer is

    Some Adobe programmer is snickering about it too!

  • Hi Deke!

    When you are finished Illustrator CS6 One-on-One: Master ???

  • Illustrator Mastery course due this week!

    Stay tuned. Sneak preview coming later today (as soon as I finish writing it!)

  • I’m doing something wrong…

    I cannot get the gradients from Illustrator into InDesign by following these instructions. I’ve tried several times. I used to do this, I know, but for some reason, I cannot get it to work now. I’m using Illustrator and InDesign CC. Any help would be appreciated.

  • Illustrator gradients not appearing in InDesign CC

    I tried the colors I used in the post, and they all came in from Illustrator CC to InDesign CC. But I did attempt to bring over some different gradients, and one in particular, Apple (from the Fruits and Vegetables collection) came in white.

    It appeared to be a bug. The swatch was there in the ID Swatches panel, but it was also white. Opening up the swatch, there appeared to be one color at the final stop of the gradient, that, when removed, seemed to restore things.

    Which gradients were you trying to bring over? Are they appearing in ID’s Swatches panel when you paste the objects into your ID file?


  • RE: I’m doing something wrong.

    Make sure your document color mode in Illustrator is set to CMYK.

Share your feedback, work, homages, questions, wisecracks, advice, critiques, riffs, derision (within reason), frustrations, and love of all things graphical. Log in (or register) to lend your voice.