How to Match Colors and Styles Across Multiple InDesign Documents

By LaurenMarie

Adobe InDesign

I always love sharing little tips and tricks I’ve learned while working on a project. This is a quick little InDesign tutorial on loading swatches and paragraph styles from a previous document into a new one.

First, it’s important to set up paragraph and character styles. These changes I’m going to talk about are impossible without the styles as a base. It’s a good idea to always create styles anyway, because it makes document-wide changes almost instantaneous.

I have been working quite a bit recently in InDesign with series of documents that all need the same color palettes and text hierarchy. Sometimes I make a change or add a swatch or style in one document and I want it reflected in all of them. How can I do this?

Extremely simple, though a bit time consuming.

Load Styles

Load Paragraph Styles
Provided you have defined the styles in another file and you know where that file is, you can select it to load its styles into your current document.

  1. Navigate to the Paragraph Styles palette
  2. Click on the dropdown menu arrow
  3. Select Load Paragraph Styles
  4. Find and select the existing InDesign file that has the desired styles already defined
  5. Click ok

This is the cool part, with CS3 (InDesign v4.0) and CS2 (v3.0) at least. From what I can tell, I don’t think CS (v2.0) had this capability, but please if you know it does, correct me!

A dialog box will come up after you select the document you want to import styles from (incoming). It lists all the styles from the incoming document and will show you if there are conflicting names with the open/current document styles and ask what you want to do about it. If you select a conflicting style from the list, the boxes at the bottom will show you the incoming style definition and the existing style definition.

Load Style Dialog

There’s also a drop down box in the list of styles next to ones with conflicting names. There are two options: auto-rename will add a suffix to the incoming style, which preserves the existing style and gives the new style a name like Basic Paragraph 2. If you’re not sure whether you want to replace the current style with the new style, just select this auto-rename and decide after you’ve imported everything (see What Now? below). The second option, Use Incoming Definition, will replace the style in the current document with the incoming style.

I love that you can do all this swapping and switching in one step; you don’t have to import each style individually. But notice that if you only want to import certain styles, you can uncheck the boxes of the unwanted ones.

Load Colors

Same thing as above, only you’ll be in the Swatches palette now.
Load Swatches

  1. Click on the dropdown menu arrow
  2. Select Load Swatches
  3. Find and select the ID file that has the desired swatches already defined
  4. Click ok

For swatches, there is no fancy dialog after you click ok; it just imports all the swatches and lets you know that it will have to rename one or more of the swatches that have a conflicting name. The incoming swatch is always the one that is renamed.

What Now?

InDesign always appends these new styles/swatches to the bottom of the current list. If you have imported paragraph styles or swatches that have the same name as the ones in the current doc, and you’ve decided you want to replace the old ones with the newly imported ones, you can simply delete the old one.

When deleting a style or swatch from the list, a dialog box will come up asking you what you want to replace that swatch/style with. Select your newly imported style/swatch and your set! It’s a little hassle, but then you should’ve decided on your styles before you had 20 documents in this series *wink*

Oh, and in addition to loading the Paragraph styles, you can also choose Load All Text Styles if you know you’re going to want to import Character and Object styles and go through a similar process, now with all the styles instead of each separately.

Do you need more help with InDesign? Feel free to leave a comment below, contact me or head over to and sign up for their InDesign Tutorials. It’s only $25/mo for unlimited access! This is a resource I use myself and I highly recommend it. You can get a free 7 day pass to, now too! Just follow that link.

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