Why Can’t You Edit Colors In Illustrator?

Being unable to edit the colors on a design in Illustrator is a common issue that can be solved by checking if the item is set to grayscale. Changing things out of grayscale is one reason you cannot edit colors; there are a few more. So why can’t you edit color in Illustrator?

Grayed-out colors can be a headache if you are in the middle of a design. It can disrupt your workflow and create a logjam in your inbox that Paul Bunyan couldn’t fix. But don’t let a simple fix stop you. Instead, read on and learn why you can edit colors in Illustrator.

Why Can’t You Edit Colors In Illustrator?

Working with color is an in-depth practice and using color in designs is as much science as style. Being locked out of the color wheel can be tricky, and often when working with imported graphics, you could encounter some that are locked in grayscale. However, getting them out is a breeze, and you should have the problem fixed in no time flat.

Items Are Locked to Grayscale

When working with the vector graphic software Illustrator, complications can take time to get past. For example, if you are working with imported pieces of artwork and want to change the colors, you could be stopped because they might be set up for shades of black and white.

The steps to unlock graphics from grayscale are as follows:

  1. Select – Selecting the object with the pickup tool will outline it with blue lines. You must ensure that the parts you want are selected, or you will keep the greyscale on the item. You must have it selected before it can be changed.
  2. Window – As soon as the art is selected, you should look at the options along the top of the screen until you find Window. There are several options in this drop-down menu, and it would be best if you found the Color section.
  3. Color – Selecting Color from the Window drop-down menu, a panel will appear with a color line. This line will be grayscale, so you can’t edit it without unlocking it. Next, in the top right of the color scale, an arrow with lines underneath. Click the arrow.
  4. Color Selection – Clicking the arrows will open a menu that allows you to choose from several different color types. These types each have their strengths and weaknesses, but you should select CMYK or Web Safe RGB.
  5. Color Line – Now the color line that was grayed out before will be colored. Now you can choose whatever color you want and apply them to your design. This color line will have every color available, and you can move the selector around to get a custom color for your brand.

Once you have unlocked the greyscale a few times, it becomes a quick function that can be done in a flash. However, be careful always to have the item selected, or you risk changing color on something you have already worked on or not being able to unlock the thing from greyscale.

Hotkey Function

Another thing that could cause your need for more ability to edit colors is using the hotkeys. Hotkeys are strokes on the keyboard that allow you to perform functions that generally take longer quickly. Think of them as shortcuts for your processes. This problem usually occurs when having hotkeys for different parts of the design overlap with functions like font size or stroke.

A few ways to solve your hotkey problem are:

  • Change Hotkeys – One of the easiest ways is to change your hotkeys. By pressing the D key, the default keys can change your colors to the standard black and white. This could offset your color choice if you aren’t paying attention. Keep a list of hotkeys handy if you are using several different options.
  • Long Way – Sometimes, taking the long way and ignoring the hotkey is your best bet. Using the functions with Illustrator can be quick, but they can leave you open to problems like the default key that swaps color. Going through the menu and manually unlocking the color wheel is your best bet to avoid failure.

Hotkeys are a quick way to get work done and become more productive. There are drawbacks, however; knowing the pitfalls will allow you to create a set that keeps you in the game. Another option is to skip the keys and go with the menu and mouse route. Doing it old school might take longer, but the results will be the same, and it is a temporary fix.

Locked Files Cannot Be Edited

A reason that could creep into the equation is locked files. If you get a file from someone else and they have locked editing, you will have greyed-out colors that you cannot edit. The sender must unlock these files, and until they are, you only have viewing access. Without editing access, you cannot change anything, colors included.

If you receive locked files that must be edited, you should contact the sender and request the access you need. Once access is granted, you can work with the colors and a few other options depending on the boundaries set by the document owner.


Being unable to edit the color of objects in Illustrator can be a frustrating ordeal if you are a new user. Each time you attempt to change the color of an imported item, it only lets you use the greyscale on the item. To change it, all you need to do is head to Window and then Color. The Color menu will have a line with options you should look out for at the end.

Working with the Color tool will allow you to change the greyscale by clicking on the arrow with lines in the top right of the color line. Unfortunately, the hotkey problem will also grey out the color if the hotkey is assigned to another function.