How to Do a Color Overlay in Adobe Illustrator

You can use the color overlay blend mode to change the color of an image, but first of all, you’ll need to turn the image into a grayscale. Then all you need to do is create a shape on top of the image and change the blending mode.

If you’re wondering where the Overlay blending mode is in Adobe Illustrator, you should be looking for it on the Transparency panel, or if you have an object selected and click on the Opacity option on the Appearance panel under Properties, you can also make a color overlay.

How to Make a Color Overlay in Adobe Illustrator

I will show you an example of how to change image color in Adobe Illustrator using a color overlay. 

Note: The screenshots from this tutorial are taken from Adobe Illustrator CC Mac version. Windows or other versions can look different. 

Step 1: Open or place an image in Adobe Illustrator. For example, I want to add a color overlap to this photo. 

Step 2: Make the image grayscale. There are different ways to convert an image to black and white, but in this case, you shouldn’t change the document color mode to grayscale. Simply select the image, go to the overhead menu, and choose Edit > Edit Colors > Convert to Grayscale

Now your image should be black and white. If you want to do a couple of different versions of the color overlay, you should duplicate the image a few times, so that you don’t have to open and turn the image to grayscale each version you make. 

Step 3: Create a shape on top of the image. The shape area is where you will be able to add a color overlay. If you want to do a color overlay on the whole image, create a rectangle that’s the same size as the image. 

The color of the shape should be the overlay color. For example, if you want to change the image to a pink tone, change the shape color to pink. 

If you want to only add a color overlay to part of an image, simply create the shape and place it on top of the area you want to overlay the color. 

Step 4: Select the shape, go to the Appearance panel under Properties, click on Opacity, and you’ll be able to change the blending mode. 

Change the blending mode to Overlay, and you’ll see how the shape’s color overlaid on the image. 

And this is how it’d look when you do a color overlay on the whole image.

Tips: Besides using the Overlay blending mode, you can other try other blending modes to make different color overlay effects. Here are a few examples for your reference.


Here are more questions you might be interested in about making blending or overlay effects in Adobe Illustrator. 

How to overlay textures in Illustrator?

If you want to blend texture into artwork, you can place the texture on top of the area of your where you want to add texture, select the texture, and change the blending mode to Overlay

How to do a layer overlay in Illustrator?

You can select the layer or objects on the layer, then change the blending mode to blend layers together in Adobe Illustrator.

Can you do a gradient overlay in Illustrator?

You can follow the same process as making a color overlay, except when you change the shape color to a solid color, choose a gradient color instead. If you don’t know how to make a gradient in Adobe Illustrator. Feel free to check out this article where I explain how to use the gradient tool in Adobe Illustrator in detail.

Final Thoughts

Making a color overlay in Adobe Illustrator is basically changing the top object’s blending mode. It’s often used to change image colors or blend texture into artwork. A trick to create different color overlay effects is to try using different blending modes instead of the “standard” Overlay option.

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