What Should Your Default Illustrator Color Setting Be?

Adobe Illustrator allows you, as the designer, to have complete control over your design process. This application enables you to do so by giving you a plethora of options for each of your settings— that way; you can customize as you see fit. Each project has its unique needs, which means you might constantly be switching up your settings, but it’s beneficial to know what settings would work best overall.

The default color setting you should have in Illustrator is RGB for digital work and CMYK for print products. RGB stands for the red, green, and blue hues on which computer screens are based. CMYK refers to the four-color ink plates printers use: cyan, magenta, yellow, and key (black.)

It’s important to note what kind of project you’re working on so you know what default color setting works best. Let’s look at why each of these settings is best suited for their respective functions. We’ll also note how these two settings interact with one another across applications.

Changing Your Default Color Setting in Illustrator

You may have a variety of projects on your plate, and each one has its unique needs in terms of settings. Once you’ve established what setting would best suit your project, you may need to change the color setting in Illustrator. Adobe Illustrator is automatically set to North America General Purpose 2— an all-purpose color setting.

If you would like to change this color setting in Illustrator, follow a few simple steps:

  1. Select “Edit” for the menu in the top left-hand corner of Illustrator
  2. Select “Color Settings” from the drop-down menu; the option is toward the bottom of the menu.
  3. Click the arrow in the drop-down menu box next to “Settings.”
  4. Select desired setting from the menu (Custom, North America Newspaper, Monitor Color, etc.)
  5. Change preferences under “Working Spaces” and “Color Management Policies,” if desired.
  6. Select “Ok” to update color settings.

You may be looking at the list of settings in the drop-down menu and be confused about which one you should select for your particular project. Let’s take a look at each color setting and what it does so you can choose the best one for your project.

The Color Settings in Illustrator

First, you need to know that the color settings you have in Illustrator are dependent on your version of Illustrator, as well as your geographical location. For example, if you are in North America, which are the settings tackled in this article, you’ll have settings titled with the North America label. If you are in Europe, your color settings will reflect your location.

If you want to avoid changing color settings in a program, you can always use a website like placeit.net for your print or web designs.

Here is a comprehensive list of the color settings for Illustrator in North America:

  • Custom: Gives you the ability to control your settings manually.
  • Monitor Color: Mimics most video application colors. Should not be used for print images, reserve this setting for screen images.
  • North America General Purpose 2: All-purpose color setting for print and screen. It uses the same CMYK working space as North America Prepress 2 and the web standard sRGB for the RGB working space.
  • North America Newspaper: Specifically used for North American newspaper printing presses—preserves the CMYK values.
  • North America Prepress 2: Uses the color setting for all other North American print images— preserves the CMYK working space.
  • North America Web/Internet: Gives the color setting for North American web images— utilizes sRGB for the RGB working space.

Most users prefer the “Custom” color setting because it allows you to change the working spaces and color management policies for your particular work— digital or print. For example, if you’re doing web design and you select the “custom” option, you can set your RGB working space to sRGB like in North America General Purpose 2 and North America Web/Internet. Additionally, you can change your RGB color management policy to “Off” so that all imported work will automatically be set to sRGB.

CMYK Model Versus RGB Model

Knowing the difference between these two models will explain why each model works best in its function. It will also let you know what will happen to images if converted from one model to the other.

CMYK is a subtractive color model, for starters, while RGB is an additive color model. With RGB, black is the absence of white, while white is a combination of all primary colors. On the other hand, CMYK uses white as the default color of the print background, while black is the combination of colored inks.

RGB is used for any media that transmits light, i.e., a computer screen, because these channels emit color as red, green, and blue light. The white light coming through the screen combines red, green, and blue onto the retina of the eye to create a wider range of perceived colors. The more color beams there are, the closer to white and the absence of color beams makes black.

CMYK works in the opposite of the RGB model. CMYK creates dyes or pigments by subtracting colors from natural white light. Printers then use these pigments in close together or spaced out dots to achieve the desired color. With CMYK, the more ink, the closer to black, and subtracting the CMYK inks makes white.

RGB has a greater range of colors compared to CMYK. All the colors produced by a screen cannot be duplicated in print because printer ink does not emit light– this is why it is important to convert the file to CMYK if you want to print to avoid color problems in the final product. Converting will allow you to preview the image and make adjustments.


The beauty of any design setting is it can be changed and customized to accommodate your design needs. It’s just a matter of understanding how each functions in relation to your specific project.