Adobe Illustrator tutorial: Use the Kuler iPhone app to develop a colour scheme for use in Illustrator CC

How to snap a photo, then use the Kuler app to map its colour scheme – and use the resulting palette to colour an artwork.

I’ve been using Adobe products professionally for over a decade now, and each new version brings us some improvements and new toys to play with. This year with the launch of the Creative Cloud, things have really moved on.

My favourite new toy/tool is Adobe Kuler, the colour-palette creating iPhone app and its integration with Illustrator CC. 

In this tutorial I’ll guide you through getting started with Kuler and then using your colour palettes in Illustrator.  We’ll also go through another new function in Illustrator CC, the Image Brush tool, where we’re able to apply a jpg or bmp image to a brushstroke.

In order to get started you will need an Adobe ID, without which you can’t sync all your apps together and pass information (ie. your Kuler colour palettes) from one app to another.

Time to complete

3-4 hours

Software needed

Adobe Kuler (on the iPhone), Illustrator CC


You have a choice of two starting points here: either the artwork idea or the colour palette. For this piece, I’ve got this sketch to work from ­– but I already know I want a bold, clashing colour palette to add an epic, exciting punch to the finished artwork.


Once you’re using Kuler regularly you’ll want to start curating your own found colour-palette photos. I took this photo at The Australian Open tennis in Melbourne this year.

It’s not a perfect photo by any means, but I couldn’t believe how well the three t-shirt colours went together and I had to record it for a potential artwork.

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Open up Adobe Kuler on your iPhone and either select your chosen photo from the camera roll, or take a photo there and then to record your colour-palette.

Kuler will automatically seek out predominant colours in the photo, and pick them out inside five circles.


You can drag the circles around the photo to seek out the perfect colours for your palette. You’ll see each circle has a close-up viewer so you can find the exact tone you want so long as it’s available and recorded in the photo.

Colour is important: don’t be flippant or rush this process. The automatically selected colour palette is edging towards what I want, but it’s not strong enough.


Look at the palette as a set in the top viewer, ensure all five colours work well together and it has the right feel or impact that you want for your artwork.

Here, I’ve now got a strong, bold and colourful palette – which is exactly what I wanted to capture for my artwork.

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With your colour palette perfected, click the tick icon and save it. You can also access the hex numbers and RGB values for your palette and edit the colours if need be.

Finally you can tweet it, email it to your colleagues or share it on the Kuler website where you can also explore other Kuler user’s palettes.


Thanks to the wonders of Creative Cloud’s integration, when you now open up Illustrator CC, your Kuler palette should be there waiting for you in Window > Kuler.

If your new palette is not appearing then ensure you have the correct Adobe ID logged in – then just click the Refresh icon at the bottom of the Kuler panel.


You can now use your Kuler palette in the same way you would any swatch or palette in Illustrator: select the colour you want for your tool and go.

Here I’m using the five key colours from my original photo, but I’m also adding a few variant tones of some of those colours to add cer-tain highlights and depth.

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You’ll notice that my original photo subject and the subject of my illustration are not related whatsoever. Personally, I think this is a great approach, as its less predictable than replicating the subject directly.

I’m taking the Kuler colour palette to convey the right mood and using the serendipitous balance of varied colours to bring some impact to my illustration.


All coloured up, it’s time to use another of the new tools in Illustrator CC, the new Image Brush.

This is another way of bringing an element of photography into your vector work. This tool allows you to use a bitmap or jpg image as a brush. You can use any shaped image: I’m using a long strip here.


Illustrator CC does struggle a little if you use a high-res image for a brush, so keep it as low-res as possible without losing too much quality.

Place the image on your artboard (File > Place) and – with the image selected – click on the Embed button in the application bar along the top of Illustrator’s interface. Open the Brushes panel (Window > Brushes).

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Drag the image into the Brushes panel and select Art Brush when prompted. You can alter the specs of your brush in the Brush Options panel if required, then click OK.

You can now use any drawing tool and apply your Image Brush to the linework. The effect will depend on the dimensions of your image, especially on curves. A long strip often works best.


Here I’m using my Image Brush on a series of circles emanating from the volcano to add some texture.

With each line applied with the Image Brush having a very low-transparency  – 15-20% – you no longer see it as a photo stretched along a line. Instead you see the speckled effects of the lighter shapes from the photo.


Image Brushes can be treated in the same way as most Brushes or line tools. You can alter their thickness – either of the line as a whole, or at different points along the line using the Width Tool (Shift + W).

The more you stretch an Image Brush though, the more quality is lost. Be careful not to end up with pixelated brushes in your super artwork.

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As with all new tools, it’s worth playing and experimenting. Here I’ve used the same Image Brush, applying it to a single circle. However,  by with making it different widths at each end, it has given me a great effect for the helicopter blades.


I’m all finished here. Although the drawing that started the creative process here was fairly usual for me, making use of Kuler and the Image Brush functions has allowed me to create an illustration that’s quite different from what I otherwise would have produced.

Trying a new colour palette that I had admired and captured in the real world and playing with found images to create brushes and textures in a new way has really made its mark on the piece.


Capture a colour palette

In the opposite way to what I’ve done here, one of the real gems of Kuler is being able to capture a colour palette for a specific object or scene. You can then be able to use it for an illustration of that same subject.

For example, if you’re illustrating a beach scene, then capture the perfect blues, greens and yellows from a beach photo, direct from its natural source.

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Use Kuler colour palettes out of Illustrator CC

As well as taking your Kuler colour palettes into Illustrator CC you can also use them for other creative work, Kuler also syncs with Photoshop, InDesign, Fireworks and Flash (all available within the Creative Cloud package), so you can efficiently experiment with a colour-palette taken from a photo and straight across all your creative work.