The story so far…

In a recent blog – Microsoft PowerPoint – Templates and Themes – we explored the difference between these two concepts.  We found that a Template defines the layout and positioning of the objects on the various types of Slide in a presentation, whereas a Theme sets the formatting of those objects.

Furthermore, we discovered that a Theme allows you to change Colours, Fonts and Effects to create a corporate look or personalised style for your presentations.

This time we will concentrate on features to do with colour.

Colour Schemes

Microsoft PowerPoint comes with a number of Built-In Colour Schemes.  The ones illustrated below are from version 2010 (still the most popular version with our customers).  Later versions have schemes with different names; however, the concepts we that describe here remain the same.

To see which Colours Schemes are available in your version:

  • Choose [View / Master Views] – Slide Master
  • Next, click the Colors button


Any given Scheme will have 12 colours designed to blend well together.  Each colour in the scheme is automatically used for a different element of the slide – Background, Text and lines, Fills etc.

Clicking the Create New Theme Colors… button lets you see what each colour is used for:


  • The first four colours are for text and backgrounds.  Text created with the light colours will always be legible over a dark background, and text that is created with the dark colours will always be legible over a light background.
  • The next six are accent colours which will always be visible over the background colours.


  • The last two colours are reserved for Hyperlinks and Followed Hyperlinks.

Background Styles and Text

Clicking the Background Styles button lets you set the background for your presentation.  This shows the four available background colours (plus some variants based on them).  Confusingly, the left to right order is Light 1 / Light 2 / Dark 2 / Dark 1.


When you choose a Background Style, all the text in your presentation will be set to an opposite colour so that it remains visible.  Choose Light 1 or Light 2 as the background, and the text will default to Dark 1. Choose Dark 1 or Dark 2 as the background and the text will default to Light 1.  [For some reason, Light 2 and Dark 2 are never automatically applied to text].


Accent Colours and Objects

The six Accent Colours are used for other objects in your presentation.  Accent 1 is the default colour for any shapes that you draw (rectangles, ovals etc.)

Each Data Series in a Chart automatically uses one of the Accent Colours.  They are assigned in ascending order (Accent 1 to Accent 6):


The Change Colors… command in a SmartArt graphic shows a Gallery of choices taken from the Accent Colours:


Using an existing Colour Scheme

Microsoft PowerPoint comes with a selection of ready-made Colour Schemes and it only takes a few clicks of the mouse to switch between them.


These schemes have been designed by professionals, with an aptitude for colour, who spend their whole working lives considering whether various shades go well together.

Be aware that your presentation may be delivered on different types of projector, in venues with different light levels.  Also, colours can appear differently when being projected rather than being printed on paper.

The built-in Colour Schemes are a safe bet for creating a presentation which looks good in all situations.

Creating your own Colour Scheme

If you are trying to create a personalised style for your presentations, bear in mind that ending up with a set of colours which look good together takes skill.  Not everyone has this ability (I certainly don’t).

On the other hand, you may need to mimic a corporate look that is derived from a pre-existing branding colour palette.

The Create New Theme Colors dialog box shown earlier in this blog can be used to define the colours needed for your custom scheme.  To alter any of the colours, click on the button next to it.  This shows a Gallery of choices:


Here you will see the colours being used in the current scheme, some variants of them, plus a selection of Standard Colours.

For further choices, the More Colors… button leads to:

Standard Custom
. .

The Standard page shows 127 popular colours, plus white, black, and shades of grey.  Click on the required tile to select that colour.

The Custom page lets you select from over 16 million shades.  You can drag the crosshair and slider until you see a colour that you like.

If you are looking for an exact match with an existing corporate colour, input its RGB Value.  This consists of three numbers (each between 0 and 255) for the Red, Green and Blue components of the colour.

What’s next?

Once you have picked the 12 colours for your custom scheme, my advice (to paraphrase Kirstie and Phil) is “Test, Test, Test”.

See if there is enough contrast between your Foreground and Background colours.  Do your Accent Colours look harmonious or does one drown out the others.  Try out various Charts and SmartArt Graphics against the light and dark backgrounds.  Try projecting in as many different environments as possible.  Continue to tweak your colours until you are satisfied with the results.

Now that you have your Theme Colours in place, the next thing to consider is finding the right typeface.  We discuss that in the blog – Microsoft PowerPoint  – Theme Fonts.