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PPT101: Creating a custom color palette in PowerPoint

Colors are complicated. Sure, most programs will give you a list of popular colors to choose from, and that can be a great place to start. But what about people who aren’t experienced with visual design, or haven’t learned how to match complementary colors? And what about brands with large teams who want to ensure that the PowerPoints they create meet standards every time?

For anyone who wants more control over the colors they use in presentations, PowerPoint offers the powerful and convenient ability to create a custom color palette that is “locked in” and ready for any presentation. It’s a great way to save time if you use any non-standard colors, to ensure quality control and brand consistency, and can even help to improve overall design by minimizing the number of colors a user uses in a given PowerPoint.

Let’s take a look at this feature, and some of the many ways it can improve your next PowerPoint presentation.

On Color Theory

Before we cover how to set up a custom color palette in PowerPoint, let’s talk more broadly about color and palettes. Color palettes can be valuable because they ensure that all the colors you select work together.

We frequently work on presentations for clients that have strict brand guidelines covering what primary, secondary and accent colors can be used, and when you should use each one. But every brand doesn’t have clearly defined standards like this. So if you’re creating a PowerPoint on your own, without a predefined palette, here are a few ways to approach making your own palette.

To get started, all you need to do is choose one color. In these examples, we’ll choose a light blue/cyan color as our base.

Monochromatic Color Palettes

Monochromatic color palettes rely on using the same color, but varying it in brightness and saturation. The upside is that the colors in a monochromatic palette work well together, and are effective for achieving a singular mood. However, they can feel limiting and repetitive in certain instances, like long presentations.

Analogous Color Palettes

Analogous color palettes choose colors that are all relatively close to each other in hue and brightness. These palettes can create some pleasing subtleties when the colors are used next to each other. However, depending on how you give your presentation (a brightly lit room, over Zoom, via print outs, etc), these differences can sometimes be too subtle to distinguish.

Complimentary Color Palettes

Complementary color palettes select colors from opposite sides of the color wheel. Complementary colors often look pleasing next to each other and can create a striking visual contrast. These bold palettes can be highly effective, but may also feel “harsh” at times.

Triad Color Palettes

Triad Color Palettes pick a grouping of colors from three equally spaced areas of the color wheel. Triad color palettes' strengths are their contrast, pleasing combinations and variety. However, as with any method, it comes down to the individual execution. Depending on the context and starting colors you select, triad palettes can feel unsophisticated in comparison to other palettes.

If you’re new to working with color palettes, this can seem like a lot to take in at once. Fortunately, there are tons of free resources to help you get started!

Defining a Color Palette in PowerPoint

Luckily, choosing colors is the hardest part of the process. Once you have chosen a color palette to work with, building it into PowerPoint is actually very easy.

Custom palettes are a part of the PowerPoint master slide section and a typical step in creating a PowerPoint Template (which we will discuss in more depth in an upcoming article), but even if you do nothing else in it, there is a great benefit to defining the color palette in the slide master section.

(Please note that these instructions are for Mac users).

To access the Master section, from the menu, click: View > Master > Slide Master.

Once you’re in the Slide Master section, you’ll find the colors button near the top. From here, select Colors > Customize Colors.

From here, you can define 6 regular (or “Accent”) colors, plus define the color of hyperlinks and visited hyperlinks. You can also change what PowerPoint calls Text/Background colors – and while PowerPoint calls these by different names, they essentially give you up to 4 more custom colors for your palette.

However, as a best practice, we recommend setting Dark 1 and Light 1 to be pure back and white, respectively. That’s because we find it useful to have each of these colors ready by default, regardless of what the rest of the palette looks like. Additionally, we typically limit custom palettes to 8 colors, in order to leave space for black and white.

From here, you can choose to define the colors that work best for your project, including using RGB, CMYK, or HEX values using the dropper tool. Once you’ve selected your colors, simply name your palette and save. To return to your normal view and start building slides, simply click: View > Normal.

That’s all there is to it! Now, you have a custom color palette that can be applied to any element in PowerPoint that takes colors. And you can reuse that palette for future presentations, ensuring that color usage is consistent time after time.

This might seem like a lot of effort to set up something so simple, but 1) it’s actually easier than it sounds, and 2) the benefits are huge. You’ll save time, create stronger, more cohesive presentations, and add an element of personalization to everything you create.

Check back for more PowerPoint 101!


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