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Adobe Swatch Exchange

Digitip 060 – Adobe InDesign CS3

The Adobe Swatch Exchange file (.ase), enables sharing of swatches between InDesign, Illustrator and Photoshop. Generally people will use these .ase as means of loading entire colour lists in the various applications. However, it is possible to make colour lists saved as .ase files permanently accessible as colour libraries, without the need to load the entire content of the library in your InDesign swatches panel. Let me take you through the “how-to”-steps….

Creating the .ase file

Why would you want to do that? Well, imagine you have a very large corporate swatch library.. I have encountered these within the newspaper industry, where all of the process colour swatches must contain a total ink weight of no more than 230-240% and well over 50 swatches make up the standard colour list. In addition these colours quite often are so called ‘clean-colours’, colours that are not polluted by a third colour and are mixtures of two primary process colours.

The starting point will be for you to create an InDesign file that contains all of those swatches. Nicely named and properly defined.

swatches01.png Select swatches

To create the Adobe Swatch Exchange file, click the first swatch, ’01’ in my example, then scroll down to the last swatch and whilst holding down the shift-key, click the last of your swatches, ’22’ in my example.

save swatches menu graphic

Next, select Save Swatches… from the Swatches panel menu. You’ll be prompted with a Save As dialog.

save and name swatches graphic

Name your .ase file. I’ve named mine “internal colour set” and navigate to the following save location:

Mac OSX: Applications/Adobe InDesign CS3/Presets/Swatch Libraries
Windows: Program Files/Adobe InDesign CS3/Presets/Swatch Libraries

Click Save

If you’d like to keep a copy of your .ase files elsewhere you can always drag and drop them from their original location into the Swatch Libraries folder

drag and drop graphic

Using our Adobe Swatch Exchange as a library

We are now ready to use our .ase file as an ordinary swatch library in InDesign.

From the InDesign Swatches panel menu select New Color Swatch…

select library graphic

From the Color Mode drop-down select the colour list created earlier ‘internal colour set” in the example above. Then Find the colour number or name you are looking for and click Add. Add all colours from your colour list you’ll be using in your document and click Done to close the dialog.

colours added to swatches panel graphic

You’ve now added only those selective swatches you’ll be using in your job, whilst retaining access to the entire list of swatches you saved earlier.

Lots of libraries

You can remove any libraries you never use from the Swatch Libraries folder. In addition you could use this technique to make client-specific colour libraries permanently accessible and available for all InDesign documents you’re working on.

Note: Installing the .ase file into the Adobe Photoshop CS3/Presets/Color Swatches folder makes your colour set available from the Photoshop Swatches Panel menu. Installing the .ase file into the Adobe Illustrator CS3/Presets/Swatches folder makes the set available from the Illustrator Swatches Panel > Open Swatch Library sub-menu.

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  1. April 19, 2013    

    Hi Arjan.

    In Illustrator to create ASE: Use the ‘Save Swatch Library’ command.
    To Load .AI file into InDesign and use the swatches. You must save the Illustrator file as an Illustrator 8 file.
    To load this as a library in InDesign:

    • Choose New Color Swatch from Swatches panel menu
    • Scroll to the very bottom of the Color Mode Menu
    • Select Other Library and navigate to your AI file

    You can now select colors from the newly loaded library.

    Hope this helps.


    If you appreciate the help provided, please feel free to make a donation 🙂

  2. arjanbg arjanbg
    April 18, 2013    

    I have a swatch panel made in illustrator CS4 as *ai extension (ASE wasnt availble). How can I make this file ASE? So I can import the same swatches palette towards Indesign

  3. Typifire Typifire
    November 7, 2012    

    I need to know how to generate an .ACB file as swatches loaded into the swatch palette in PS are not available in the Color Picker for creating Spot Channels.

  4. March 6, 2012    


    Did you get these from Pantone web-site? I’ve just tested Loading those in the Swatches panel in Photoshop CS5 and it works fine. Instead of copying them to the Color Swatches folder, try going to the Swatches panel menu and choose Load Swatches, then navigate to the .ase file. That imports the colours in the Swatches panel (just only for the current document). If you choose ‘Small List’ from the Swatches panel menu and scroll down you’ll see the Pantone colours there.

    — Hope this helps, Cari

  5. Pete Pete
    March 3, 2012    

    This does not work! .ase files will not install and are not visible in PS CS3. I have the new 2012 Adobe “TangerineTango.ase” and it will not open in CS3 and putting it in the Swatches folder does not work! Dropping it on PS does not work either, it’s an un-readable file. Does anyone actually know how to add this new color to my pantone palette??

  6. December 14, 2010    


    You’d need to edit the “New Document Profile” illustrator files for the colour mode you’re looking at changing

    On your system perform a search for “New Document Profiles” folder, it should sit inside Application Support/Adobe/Adobe Illustrator… Locate the .ai files in this and edit them. The Application Support folder will reside in different locations depending on which operating system you are using.

    hope this helps,


  7. Sophie Sophie
    December 2, 2010    

    How do you delete all the standard/basic colors that show in the Swatches palette every time you open Illustrator?

    I use CS4. Thanks ~

  8. alan alan
    April 18, 2008    

    Wondering if there was an easy way to take my ase swatch file and load it into Dreamweaver?

  9. Cari Jansen Cari Jansen
    January 21, 2008    

    Good question… Your question made me curious enough to check it out…

    Nope, as far as I can tell, that has changed in CS3. If you look at the Illustrator Swatches folder you’ll notice that all of the solid colours are saved as .ase files and it’s just the gradients and patterns that call on .ai files.

    It does mean though that you can grab any of these .ase files from Illustrator and use them in InDesign. Which is kinda cool 🙂

  10. Tony Greer Tony Greer
    January 19, 2008    


    I have a question- in InDesign CS and CS2, in the Swatch Libraries folder under the application folder, the swatch files have the .ai extension. In Indesign CS3, the files have .acb extension. Will a .ai file (like what will work in CS and CS2) work in CS3?

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