How to Change Background Color in Adobe Illustrator

If you want to change the background color and have it printable, you will want to add a rectangle of color behind your graphics. For the interface background, you can change the color in the preferences menu. You can also change the color by enabling the transparency grid and altering the color of the grid. 

My name is April, and I’ve been working in the graphic design field for 14+ years now. The type of design you are creating will determine a lot of the way you go about utilizing Illustrator. There are multiple ways to do just about everything in Illustrator so that you can tailor your workflow to what works best for you.

In this tutorial, I’m going to go over how to change the background color of your document, the user interface, and the color of your background that won’t be printed.

Let’s get into it. 

Key Takeaways

  • Adding an extra layer with a rectangle the size of your artboard is the easiest way to change the background color.
  • You can manually type in the size of the rectangle when you click on the artboard with the Rectangle Tool selected. 
  • Edit > Preferences > User Interface lets you change that background color.
  • You can show the transparency grid from the View menu.

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

How to Change Background Color in Adobe Illustrator

My favorite way to change the background color is to use a colored rectangle in the background layer. Follow along as I show you the steps below.

Step 1: First we are going to create a background layer. If your Layers panel is not showing, go to Window > Layers, or keyboard shortcut F7 to open the panel.

Step 2: Click the Create New Layer button and a new layer will appear.

Step 3: Now click and drag Layer 2 to below Layer 1. 

Step 4: Double-click on Layer 2 and change the bottom layer name to “Background”. Click OK.

Step 5: Select the Rectangle Tool (keyboard shortcut M) from the toolbar and create a rectangle. 

You can either click and drag to draw a rectangle or if you know the size of the artboard or the size of the background you want, click on the artboard to bring up the Rectangle dialog box. 

Input the size you want it to be and click OK. I am using an 11” x 17” artboard, so that is the size of the rectangle I want to use.

Step 6: Align the rectangle with your artboard. Select the rectangle, click the Horizontal Align Center button, and then the Vertical Align Center button. This will perfectly align your rectangle to the center of your artboard. 

Step 7: In your toolbar, you will see a filled square and then an outline of a square. 

Make sure you still have your rectangle selected. If you are going to just pick a custom color, double-click the fill box and choose your color. Then click OK.

Step 8: If you want to use a swatch, go to the Swatches panel. It will have the same fill and stroke boxes. 

If the fill square is forward, the swatch you choose will change the fill color. I am choosing Cyan for my fill color.

Notice I do have a stroke on my rectangle, so we will want to get rid of that. Click on the stroke square to bring it forward. 

I do not want a stroke on my rectangle, so I am going to click on the white swatch with the red slash through it. This is the None swatch. 

Step 9: Once you have the background color you want, you can lock the background layer so that you don’t move it by accident. 

In your layers panel, click the square space beside the eye next to your background layer. After you click, it will show a lock icon, meaning your layer is locked.

If you want to change the background color, simply click the lock icon to unlock the layer and choose a new color to fill the rectangle. 

How to Change the Background Color of Your User Interface

Follow the steps below to change the workspace color in Adobe Illustrator.

Step 1: Navigate to Edit > Preferences > User Interface.

Step 2: This will bring up the Preferences dialog box. The very first section is where you can change the Brightness and you have four options.

Click on one of the option and this will change the entire software user interface, not just the background.

How to Change Background Color with the Transparency Grid

Everything in Illustrator is based on a grid. If you’ve ever used Photoshop, you may be used to seeing a gray and white grid in the background to indicate there is no color there. In Illustrator you can easily enable the transparency grid and change the colors, just know that this color will not print or show in the file outside of Illustrator.

Step 1: Go to the top main menu, View > Show Transparency Grid. Or use the keyboard shortcut Shift + Ctrl/Command + D to show grids.

This will bring up the transparency grid across your artboard and the user interface background.

Step 2: To change it to a color grid, go to File > Document Setup. Or use the Keyboard Shortcut Alt/Option + Ctrl/Command + P.

This will bring up the Document Setup dialog box.

Step 3: In the Transparency and Overprint Options section, you will see to the right two swatch rectangles and then a preview of the grid colors together. You are going to click on those two swatch colors and pick a new color. When you click the swatch, it will bring up a color picker. Once you have chosen the color, click OK.

Step 4: Now click the next swatch for your grid colors. You can choose the same color or you can choose a similar color, it is up to you.

I am choosing the same pink color.

Click OK on the Document Setup dialog box and you can see your artboard and user interface are now filled with that color!

Final Thoughts

I almost always use a rectangle of color behind my work. If I am in the beginning stages of a design, I may pull the artwork outside of the artboard and use the user interface background color so it is important to know how to adjust that as well. 

While I don’t utilize the transparency grid often, it can be a great choice if it works well for what you’re designing and fits into your workflow!

Have you changed the color of the user interface in Illustrator? Which method do you prefer for your workflow to change the background color? Let me know in the comments below.

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