How to Change Artboard Color in Adobe Illustrator

You can change the artboard color In the overhead menu File > Document Setup. If you do not want that color to print in your document, make sure to also checkmark the Simulate Colored Paper option. 

An alternative way to change the artboard color is to create a rectangle the size of your artboard. This would print in your document or you could hide it when making your print file.

My name is April, and I’ve been working in the graphic design field for 13+ years now. Adobe Illustrator is the main software I use to do my graphic design work. When creating, sometimes it is helpful to have a colored background behind what you are creating. 

While you can create across the entire canvas, the artboard is what you use to set up boundaries to tell your document what needs to be printed and for instance, what is viewable in a PDF. 

In this tutorial, I’m going to show you two different methods to change the artboard color in Adobe Illustrator.

Key Takeaways

  • The keyboard shortcut for Document Setup is Alt/Option + Ctrl/Command + P.
  • It’s faster to create a rectangle the size of your artboard to quickly change the color of your artboard.
  • The keyboard shortcut for the Rectangle tool is M.

Note: The screenshots from this tutorial are taken from Adobe Illustrator CC Windows version.

Method 1: Document Setup

This method will help you picture what your design would look like on colored paper, but the color you choose will not show when you save or export your file. 

Note: When using this method, the color will also show on all artboards in this particular file, and cannot be changed for each artboard. Let’s see how it works.

Step 1: Navigate to the main overhead menu, File > Document Setup or use the keyboard shortcut Alt + Ctrl + P (Option + Command + P for Mac users) to bring up the setting window.

This will bring up the Document Setup dialog box.

We want to look at the Transparency and Overprint Options. 

Step 2: You’ll see Grid size, grid colors, and then the two colored boxes followed by a check pattern that is a combo of those two colors. You want to click on the top box, the one that is currently showing white in my example.

Step 3: Choose a new color and click OK.

Now we see the top colored box changed and so did the check pattern.

If you were to click OK, you would find that nothing changed in your document. 

Step 4: For the color to appear, you need to checkmark the Simulate Colored Paper option, then click OK.

Now, you can see my artboard color changed to pink.

What you have to understand about this method is that it is doing exactly what the option said: simulating color paper. That means if you use a white color swatch, nothing shows up. Colored or black swatches will also be affected by your colored artboard. See my examples below:

As you can see in my print preview, the pink color does not show up to be printed.

Same stars with white artboard:

If the colors being affected don’t help your design workflow, check out the alternative method for coloring your artboard next!

Method 2: Make a Colored Rectangle

This is my preferred method. I often work in a build file, with live text, and extra graphics in the canvas or layers. Then when I have an approved design, I create a print file where I delete extra things and outline my text so that fonts are not an issue for the printer.

Here’s how this method works. 

Step 1: Choose the Rectangle Tool from the toolbar or use the keyboard shortcut M to activate the tool.

Step 2: There are two ways you can create your color block. If you know the size of your artboard, simply double-click on the artboard and it will bring up a rectangle dimensions dialog box. Just type in the dimensions of the artboard and click OK.

If you don’t know the dimensions, just click and drag to draw a rectangle the same size as your artboard. Make sure you are zoomed out enough to see the whole artboard. (The keyboard shortcut for zooming in and out is Ctrl/Command + or Ctrl/Command )

Step 3: Now that you have your rectangle the same size as your artboard, you will want to reposition it. Select the rectangle with the Selection Tool (keyboard shortcut V). Go to the Swatches panel and choose a new color.

Make sure you have the fill option selected for your rectangle. As you see in the Swatches panel, the fill/black box is in front of the stroke/white box with a red slash through it. The current conditions show that the fill is black and there is no color in the stroke.

Step 4: Now that we have chosen the color we want for our artboard background, we want to reposition the rectangle to fully cover the artboard. To do this, make sure the rectangle is selected, then click the Horizontal Center Align button.

Then click the Vertical Center Align button. (I found those in the Control panel, but you can also use the Align panel).

Step 5: As you can see, our artboard is now colored. Often, designers will lock this layer so it doesn’t affect them when they are creating designs on top. To do this, navigate to the Layers panel. (If it is not showing, go to the overhead menu Window > Layers.)

Step 6: You can leave the background color its entire layer, or you can lock it within that layer. If you lock it within the layer, you will need to click the little arrow to open up the layer layers.

With either method, now you will click the space between the eye and the layer text and you will see a little lock appear. You can no longer move or manipulate that rectangle color box unless you unlock it again.

Now you can begin designing on top of your colored artboard. I brought back the stars to compare.

And this time the color will print in the background. (unless you hide that layer before you print)

Final Thoughts

There are a lot of factors that go into why you could want to change your artboard colors. Those factors would help you determine which method you may want to use. Your workflow may also determine which you find to be more helpful as you work on a design or layout. 

Changing the color via Document Setup or a colored rectangle will help you learn ways to work in Illustrator and advance your skills.

Have you tried changing the color of the artboard in Illustrator? Which method do you find works better for your workflow? Let me know in the comments below.

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