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Eye Dropper Tool

Apps Used: Adobe InDesign

The Colour Theme tool is a hidden gem in InDesign. It can sample colour and even apply colour. It can magically pull a whole colour theme from a photo for you to use in your designs. Let's try it out!


InDesign’s Eye Dropper tool has a lot of power packed into a seemingly straightforward tool.

Basic Functionality

To switch to the Eye Dropper, first hit Escape to ensure your cursor is not in a text frame. Now it's safe to hit the i key.

The Eye Dropper tool in InDesign is quite unique. It can actually apply colour. Use it to click on a colour. You’ll notice that the tool icon flips over. That’s the loaded eye dropper. It drops the colour into the new shape.

InDesign Eye Dropper Tool
Sample with the tool on the left. Apply the sample with the loaded eye dropper on the right.

Sample then apply colours

Note that InDesign’s Eye Dropper is not a pixel-based tool. To prove it, sample a gradient. It will not sample the spot where you clicked, like Photoshop would do. It works like Illustrator does. It will sample the whole gradient.

Beyond the Basics

To go beyond the tool’s basic capabilities, you can change its settings. Double-click on the Eye Dropper to open its settings dialogue. You can see that it can sample much more than just colours.

InDesign Eye Dropper Tool Settings
Double-click on the Eye Dropper to see its settings.

You can see that you have the option of sampling many elements on the page. The default settings are good for most users most of the time.

Sample Dimensions!

If you change the settings of the Eye Dropper as shown below, you can sample the size of objects on the page.

InDesign sample dimensions
Sample the dimensions of an object with these settings.

Sample the size of objects with the eye dropper

You’ll generally want this setting turned off. It could come in useful in very specific cases.

Sample Text Styling

The Eye Dropper allows you to sample text styling. Simply select the text you want to affect, then click on the text you want it to look like. It will even pick up its style sheets.

indesign sample text
InDesign will make one bit of text look like another. It will also apply the original's style sheet.

Sample Anything on the Screen

You can sample any colour on the screen from InDesign. Go to your Swatches panel. Option-click on the New Swatch button.

Sample any colour on your screen.
Click and hold on the eye dropper tool. Drag the tool around while holding down your mouse. You can sample any colour on your screen -- even outside InDesign!

Switch the colour mode drop-down to RGB. You’ll see an eye dropper appear at the bottom of the dialogue. Click and hold on it and drag around the screen.

Colour Theme Tool

The Colour Theme tool is where the magic really happens. You can drag across multiple items on the page to quickly pick up their colours.

Colour theme tool
Drag across items on the page to pick up all their colours. Click to add them to the Swatches panel.

It allows you to click at one spot on a photo to create a series of swatches based on the colours in that photo. Note how they appear in the theme panel as soon as we drag. All you need to do is click to add them to your Swatches panel.

Sample colours from a photo in InDesign.
Sample colour from a photo by clicking on it with the Colour Theme tool.

The process is just as simple with a photo. In this case, we just click on the photo. You have the option to choose a different theme in the drop-down menu.

If you hold the Shift key, then click, you can choose your own base colour for the theme. Give it a go!

As you can see, InDesign’s Eye Dropper is a way more versatile tool than is immediately apparent. Now you know how to use this tool to its full potential.

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