5 Easy Ways To Change The Color Of An Image In Illustrator

In this guide, you will go through the process of how to change the color of an image in Illustrator with simple steps. Everything will be covered, such as how to adjust the color balance to give a different color scheme. So let’s get going.

How to change the color of the cherry to grayscale in Adobe Illustrator

Raster Images Vs Vector Images

There are two types of images, one is raster images and the other is vector images. A raster image can be a JPEG, PNG image, or Bitmap image.

You can’t separate the elements you see in the images unless you create one raster image with various other raster images.

Raster images also become more pixelated and blurry as you expand them. As for vector images, you can edit them using Illustrator in any way you want and they stay sharp and clear no matter how much they are expanded.

how to change the color of an image in Adobe illustrator with hamburger in the air raster image
Raster image when seen in Illustrator
top burger from hamburger in the air pixel zoomed in
Pixels can be seen when you zoom in on raster images
hamburger in the air with vegetables and meat flying up vector format
Vector image when seen in Illustrator
top burger from hamburger in the air pixel zoomed in
No pixels are seen but clear paths

Photo: Rolling Stones via Adobe Stock, Hot Chilli Burger

Adobe Illustrator has been widely adopted as a graphic design application to create vector graphics or vector-based software.

You won’t normally open up Illustrator to work on raster images. Adobe Photoshop is usually the go-to software for changing the color of an image because it has the the advanced tools to do that. It’s great at times when you can’t change color of object in Illustrator.

But, I’ve done countless designs in Illustrator, and I know that it’s common for you to have artwork that is made up of both raster and vector images.

It’s more convenient to edit the raster image in Illustrator than to switch back and forth between Illustrator and Photoshop. But recent updates by Adobe have made this easier, read on to find out more.

Color Modes in Illustrator

It’s important to understand Illustrator’s color modes before moving on to learn how to change color of PNG image in Illustrator.

An Illustrator document has two different color modes: RGB and CMYK. Both color modes have a mix of different colors to give you a single color scheme.

Note that although the document can only be in either RGB or CMYK mode, the colors that make up your artwork can come from color books like Pantone or Toyo Color Finder.

Red, green, and blue colors are used to create a variety of colors in the RGB additive color model. Digital media, including websites, computer screens, and mobile devices, are where it is most frequently employed.

rgb colors in squares made of red green and blue
The RGB color mode is made up of Red, Green, and Blue

The CMYK color model, on the other hand, uses the hues cyan, magenta, yellow, and black to produce a broad spectrum of colors. It is mostly utilized for printed materials like business cards, flyers, and brochures.

four colors in cmyk color mode includes cyan magenta yellow and black
The CMYK color mode is made up of Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black

When working with a document in Illustrator, it is important to choose the right color mode based on your end goal.

If you are creating this document for web use, use RGB mode. If you need it for printing, use CMYK mode.

To do that, go to File on the top menu and select Document Color Mode in the drop-down menu. Then choose between CMYK and RGB colors. Or go to File > Document Color Mode > CMYK or RGB.

select rgb or CMYK color in document color mode

Embed Your Image Before Changing Color

When you first import the image to your new document, your original image is a linked image. Since you will be making edits to the color of the image, you should embed the image so that you have a backup image with the original color.

Also, some of the methods here only work on embedded images. Follow these steps to embed your image:

Step 1: Duplicate Your Image

Before you make changes to your image color, the first step is to duplicate your image. You can duplicate your image by selecting it and dragging your image while pressing the Option key on your keyboard.

Related: 5 Easy Ways To Duplicate A Layer In Illustrator

Or select Edit in the top menu and select Copy in the drop-down menu. Then, go to Edit again and select Paste in the drop-down menu. Or right-click to select Copy and right-click again to select Paste in the pop-up menu.

Go to Edit and select copy and paste to duplicate an image

You can also use keyboard shortcuts, by pressing Command + C to copy the image

how to redo in adobe illustrator using mac os x command keyboard button
keyboard letter c

Then, press Command + V to paste the duplicated image on your document on a Mac.

how to redo in adobe illustrator using mac os x command keyboard button
keyboard letter v

On Windows, press Ctrl + C to copy the image.

Keyboard control or ctrl key
keyboard letter c

Press Ctrl + V to paste the image.

Keyboard control or ctrl key
keyboard letter v

With your duplicated image, put one of them outside the artboard as a backup.

duplicate image as backup outside artboard

Step 2: Open the Control Panel

With your Illustrator file opened, import your image and place it on your artboard. Next, open the Control Panel by going to Window on the top menu and selecting Control in the drop-down menu. Or select Window > Control.

open control panel

Step 3: Embed Your Image

Select the image by clicking on it once. Then, go to the Control Panel which should be found dock on top. Next, click on the button that says “Embed“.

select embed button in the control panel to embed an image
Photo: Studio-FI via Adobe Stock, orange rescue ring floating on large waves in the ocean 3d render

Now that you have embedded your image, you can change its colors using the best methods in this guide.

1. Adjusting the Color Balance of an Image

One of the easiest ways to change the color of an image in Illustrator is by adjusting the color balance. The Adjust Color Balance Tool lets you alter the intensity of major colors in an image. To do that, follow these steps:

Step 1: Open the Adjust Color Dialog Box

Open the Illustrator document with your selected image. Then, select Window in the top menu and select Edit in the drop-down menu.

Then, select Edit Colors and Adjust Color Balance in the other drop-down menu. Or go to Edit > Edit Colors > Adjust Color Balance.

Go to Edit and select Edit Colors and Adjust Color Balance

The Adjust Color dialog box opens up.

Step 2: Select Color Mode

Next, select either RGB or CMYK as your Color Mode.

Make sure the Preview box is checked so that any change you make will be reflected on your image in real-time.

color mode preview with adjust color balance
Select RGB if your document is in RGB Mode and check Preview to see changes
adjust color balance of balloon with cmyk values and check preview in adjust colors dialog box in adobe illustrator
Select CMYK if your document is in CMYK Mode and check Preview to see changes

Step 3: Adjust Color Sliders

The next step is to use the color sliders to adjust the colors in the image.

adjust color balance rgb
For RGB, adjust the Red, Green, and Blue sliders to change the image color
adjust color balance cmyk
For the CMYK document, adjust the Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black sliders to change the image color

Photo: Pixel-Shot via Adobe Stock, air balloon on color background

Click the OK button when you are satisfied with the color adjustments. Go to the next method to learn how to fill color in an image in Illustrator.

2. Change Image To Grayscale

Another easy way is to convert the original color of the image to grayscale first. Bear in mind, the colors in a grayscale image are made up of a wide range of gray tones. Follow the steps below to learn how to color a grayscale image in Illustrator:

Step 1: Convert Image to Grayscale

First, have your duplicated image ready on your artboard. Select the image, then, go to Edit on the top menu and select Edit Colors and then select Convert to Grayscale on the drop-down menu.

Go to Edit, edit colors and convert to grayscale

Your image changes to grayscale immediately.

convert red cherry image to grayscale
Photo: Inlovehem via Adobe Stock, Maraschino cherry candy cocktail

Step 2: Change the Color of the Grayscale Image

Next, open the Swatches Panel by selecting Window and selecting Swatches from the drop-down menu. Or go to Window > Swatches. Then, click your image one time to make sure it’s been selected.

Pick any color of your choice from the Swatches Panel to change the image color.

select color from swatches to change color of image in illustrator

3. Applying a Color Filter to an Image

This method uses a specific color filter for your image. A color filter is a layer of color applied to an image that changes the overall appearance of the image. To apply a color filter to an image, follow these steps:

Step 1: Make a Shape

First, open the image you wish to have the color changed.

turtle swimming in clear waters
Photo: leonardogonzalez via Adobe Stock, sea turtle resting in a shipwreck Espiritu santo National Park, Baja California Sur,Mexico

Then, create a shape that’s the same shape and size as your image. Use the Rectangle Tool if your image is rectangular in shape, otherwise, a Pen Tool will work better for you to customize a shape layer to match your image.

use rectangle tool to draw shape

Place this new shape layer above your image.

Step 2: Open the Properties Panel

Set the fill color you want for this new shape layer. It could be any color by default. To change the color, first, open the Properties Panel by going to Window in the top menu and selecting Properties in the drop-down menu.

Related: Can You Change The Color Of The Artboard In Illustrator?

Or go to Window > Properties.

select window properties

Step 3: Apply the Color Filter or Color Overlay Effect.

Next, click on the new shape layer to select it. Then, under the Appearance section in the Properties Panel, select the colored square in the Fill sub-section. Select your desired color from the color palette that pops up.

select color from fill in appearance in properties panel

Then, click on Opacity and select Normal in the Blending Mode section. In the drop-down menu, select Hue or Color. for a soft filter or overlay effect. You will see that the color of your image has changed with the help of the shape layer.

select opacity in properties appearance panel

The new layer’s opacity and color can be changed as needed.

4. Change Image Color in Photoshop

Okay, I know going to Adobe Photoshop and opening up the image can be a chore. But Illustrator has made it easier to do this.

Before doing anything, make sure you have the updated Photoshop software installed on your computer. Here are the steps to change the color in Photoshop seamlessly:

Step 1: Duplicate the Original Image File

First, duplicate the image file so that you have a spare or backup image with the original color. In Mac, right-click on the image file and select Duplicate.

For Windows, select the file and use keyboard shortcuts by pressing Ctrl + C to copy the file, then, click on another location in the folder and press Ctrl + V to duplicate the file.

right-click and select duplicate
Photo: Mohith Gowda via Adobe Stock, guy in mask standing in between pink, purple and orange smoke bombs

In this method, you can’t use an embedded image, because the color change will not happen in Illustrator. The image with the new color can later be embedded only after the color is changed in Photoshop.

Step 2: Edit in Photoshop

Next, open one of the duplicated files in Illustrator. Then, open the Control Panel by selecting Window > Control from the top menu.

Select the original or unembedded Image by clicking it once, and select Edit in Photoshop in the Control Panel.

Select Edit in Photoshop in the Control Panel

Step 3: Save the Image with New Color

Photoshop opens up your image automatically. You don’t have to look for the folder to drag the image to Photoshop. Illustrator helps you to link up the image file to Photoshop without extra steps.

Next, make the color changes to your image in Photoshop. Once done, simply save the changes and go back to your Illustrator file, and you will see that the image with the new color is applied.

Final Thoughts: How to Change The Color of An Image In Illustrator

Although it might appear difficult, changing an image’s color with Illustrator is actually fairly easy. You can quickly alter the color of a full image or add a tint to an image by following the instructions provided in this article.

These methods will enable you to obtain your desired outcomes, whether you’re a designer, an illustrator, or just someone who wants to add some color to their photographs.

Keep in mind that you shouldn’t restrict yourself to changing the color of an image in Illustrator only. If you wish to make advanced color changes, Adobe Photoshop has a wider range of tools to provide more digital imaging features.

With both software, you can make more eye-catching designs that are distinctive and visually appealing by playing with various colors, tints, and gradients. You can quickly become an expert at changing an image’s color with a little effort and imagination.


Is there a way to embed all images in Illustrator?

Yes, you can do that by selecting all images you want to place in your file, and unchecking the Link option in the Place dialog box when placing your images.

Why can’t I change the color of an image in Illustrator?

Do check the format of your image before you try to change the colors. It’s best that the image is a PNG format in high-resolution DPI or PPI, clear and sharp. Next, check that you’ve embedded the image and that the layer is not locked in Illustrator.

How do I change the color of a PNG icon in Illustrator?

You can convert the PNG icon to a vector image first in Illustrator by using the function called Image Trace. After tracing it, Expand the paths. Now you can change the colors and edit the PNG icon.

Can you change the color of a vector image in Illustrator?

Yes, Adobe Illustrator is well-known for creating vector images. You can change the color of a vector image by selecting the path layer of any part of the vector image with the Selection Tool. Then fill it with any color from the Swatch Panel.

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