Illustrator Can’t Change Color? [How to Fix It]

Adobe Illustrator is still the top-of-the-line product when it comes to image editing. Still, it can have its problems. Sometimes you go to change the color of a portion of an image only to find it stays gray or black. If this is happening to you, you’re probably wondering why can’t Illustrator change the color and how can you fix it? Well, fortunately, we’ve got the solution.

Most of the time when Illustrator can’t change the color of an image or part of an image, it is because the image file being edited is set to grayscale. To fix this problem you simply need to go into the color panel and change the settings for grayscale to something like RGB or CMYK depending on your needs. 

If you’re having trouble adding a splash of color to your Illustrator project, you’ve come to the right place. In our guide below, we will explain what exactly causes these kinds of issues as well as what you can do about them. We will even provide you with a step-by-step guide on how to transition images out of grayscale and finally get that color you’ve wanted. So let’s jump right in!

» MORE: Why Are Your Illustrator Colors Gray? [5 Easy Fixes]

Why Are My Colors Only Black and White in Illustrator? 

So you may have noticed that your image is fine in areas where it is black, white, or gray but where it’s supposed to be more colorful it falls short. Even if you select a certain section and try to change it to a color it just comes out as a different shade of gray. What exactly causes this? 

As we stated in our intro, when your colors won’t change from black, white, and gray in Illustrator it usually means they are set to grayscale. More specifically, this means that the colors you choose will be translated into simple shades to make a black and white image. 

What Is Grayscale and Why Does Illustrator Use It? 

If you’re new to using Illustrator you may be asking yourself “what in the world is grayscale and why is it a setting in Illustrator? 

In the world of graphic design and image editing an image or graphic that has been grayscale has had all of its color translated into shades instead. Specifically shades of black and white. 

Illustrator allows users to have the option for both artistic and practical reasons. 

» MORE: What To Do When Illustrator Gradient Looks Choppy

How To Fix Illustrator When the Colors Won’t Change

So onto the main event. How exactly do you fix this grayscale problem and get that color back into your image? Well, it’s a pretty straightforward process and can be done within minutes or even seconds. 

Below we present you with our step by step guide to fixing illustrator when the colors won’t change to anything but black, white, or various shades of gray: 

  1. Click on the part of the graphic you want to change: You first need to simply use your mouse to select the part of the graphic you want to fill in with color by clicking on it. When you do so it should be highlighted in a blue frame.
  2. Find the color panel in “Window”: On the taskbar, you’re gonna want to select the table labeled “Window.” Again, this is the second to last option on the taskbar. Within the dropdown menu, simply select “Color.” This will take you to the color panel. 
  3. Change the color setting away from grayscale: The color panel should be a little box that pops up in the top right corner of the screen. In the top right corner of the box itself, you will see a little icon with a tiny triangular arrow pointing down. It’s easy to miss. Once you find it, click it and select an alternative color option like CMYK or whatever you need. 

After that, full color should return to your image with whatever colors you were suggesting. It’s important to note that you don’t have to go with the CMYK option, however, it is one of the most commonly used. Other options like RGB and Websafe RGB will work as well. If you don’t know which one to use, feel free to experiment and find which one suits your needs best. 

What’s the Difference Between RGB and CMYK?

So now that you know you can use either RGB or CMYK in place of grayscale, the question becomes what’s the difference between these two color options? Which ones are best for what?

Below we breakdown both RGB and CMYK color settings in Illustrator and how they differ so you can have a better idea of which will best suit your project: 

  • RGB: RGB colors are created through an “additive” process. This means that the whites they create are made from a combination of all the other colors. Because of their additive nature and boldness, RGB colors tend to look better on a screen than in print (though if you’re planning to post your image online you should use Websafe RGB.) 
  • CMYK: CMYK colors use white as the default background color in a “subtractive” process. CMYK colors are really what you want if you plan on printing your image and delivering it to your audience that way. They tend not to have some of the distortion problems RGB colors have because they don’t have to use as much for the same effect. 

So that’s really it. At the end of the day, if you plan on presenting your project within a screen it will probably be best to go with RGB. If you plan on having your project printed, on the other hand, then you really should consider using CMYK instead. Thankfully you can use our guide above and change it back and forth any time you want. 

» MORE: Should Logos Be in CMYK or RGB Colors?

So Really, Why Can’t Illustrator Change Colors?

Usually, when Illustrator won’t change colors, it is because the image you are editing is set to grayscale. Grayscale essentially means that the image will be presented in various shades of black, white, and gray instead of full color. 

To fix this you simply need to go into the “Window” tab on the top taskbar, select “Color” from the dropdown menu and change the setting to either CMYK or RGB. Remember CMYK is best for printed images and RGB is best for on-screen images. Best of luck!