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Choosing Colours In Microsoft Office Applications
Part two of a three-part series of blogs

Have you ever been asked to reproduce your company's brand colours in your latest PowerPoint presentation, or wanted to use your corporate font colours in your latest Word report? This blog will show you how to pick your colours accurately in any of the standard Microsoft Office applications.

  1. Choosing Colours in Microsoft Office
  2. Defining Colours Using a Color Model (this blog)
  3. Colour Quirks in Specific Applications

Posted by Andrew Gould on 19 September 2011

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Defining Colours Using a Color Model

In the first part of this series we revised some of the basic ways of picking colours in Microsoft Office applications, including how to display the Colors dialog box to make sure that you can always see the full range of colours that are available to you.  In this part we'll look at how we can be much more accurate when we choose colours by using one of the standard color models.

The Standard Color Models

There are several standard color models that you can choose from in Microsoft Office applications, although some color models only appear in certain products.  The table below summarises the main models you are likely to see.

Color Model Description
RGB RGB stands for Red, Green, Blue and is the most common color model that you'll encounter when working with Microsoft Office products.  All modern computer monitors and projectors display different colours by shining different amounts of light through red, green and blue filters.  When you specify colours using the RGB model you choose how much red, green and blue goes into the colour - each of the three colour settings has a value between 0 and 255 giving you access to 16,777,216 colours.
HSL HSL stands for Hue, Saturation and Luminosity (or Luminescence).  As with the RGB model the three settings can each have a value of between 0 and 255, giving you access to the same number of colours but defined in a slightly different way.
CMYK CMYK stands for Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Key (or Black) and is a color model associated with the way most modern inkjet printers work.  In Microsoft Office you'll only see this color model in Publisher.
PANTONE PANTONE is the name of the company which produces the PANTONE colour matching system.  Much like going to your favourite DIY superstore and choosing paint using a swatch, PANTONE colours are selected from a pre-defined list where every colour has a number (and often a flowery name to go along with it!).  In terms of Microsoft Office you'll only see PANTONE colours in Publisher.
Hex Hex (Hexadecimal) colours are primarily used in Microsoft's developer tools (applications used for designing websites or other applications).  Hex values use a combination of numbers and letters to denote a value, for example #FF0000 is the hex code for bright red.  You can see hex colours being used in Microsoft Access, as well as the more sophisticated tools such as Visual Studio.

How Do You Know What Colours To Choose?

When you've been asked to reproduce your corporate colours for your next presentation or newsletter, how do you make sure you get exactly the right colours?  Some organisations (usually in the public sector) have their colour schemes available on their websites.  You can often find this information by searching for the company name followed by "brand guidelines".

NHS brand guidelines National Archives brand guidelines
NHS brand guidelines National Archives brand guidelines

Private sector companies are less likely to make this sort of information freely available, so you might need to get in touch with your marketing department to find out which colours you're allowed to use.

What If You Can't Find The Colour Definitions You Need?

If you're in a rush, or nobody seems to know the definition of your corporate colours all is not lost!  As long as you have an image, such as a corporate logo in the header of a Word document, or you can see a website that uses the colours you want, you can use a colour sampling tool to find out the definition of your colours.

In Microsoft Office there is only one application that has a built-in colour sampler tool: Microsoft Publisher.  To use this tool:

  1. From any of the colour picker tools, select the option that allows you to Sample a colour.
The colour picker tool in Microsoft Publisher

In each of the colour picker tools in Microsoft Publisher you will see an option to sample a colour - here it is Sample Fill Color.

  1. Click and hold the left mouse button and hover the mouse over any coloured pixel within the Publisher window.  When you have the mouse over the colour you want, release the mouse button to sample that colour.
What colour is a Wombat

What colour is a Wombat? Microsoft Publisher is about to tell us!

  1. Go back to the colour picker tool to find the definition of the colour you have just selected.
The sampled colour

When you go back to the colour picker tool, the colour you have sampled will be in the list of recently used colours.  Hover the mouse over the colour to see its definition.


If you don't have Microsoft Publisher, or you want to sample a colour that isn't in a Publisher file you'll need a different application altogether.  There are several free colour sampling applications available for download that you can find with a quick web search.  This Owl recommends ColorPic - it's a small download and very quick and easy to install and use.  You can get it from here.


Once you've installed the ColorPic application all you need to do is start it up and then hover the mouse over a coloured pixel on the screen to see a variety of definitions of that colour.

Selecting Your Colours

Once you have determined the definition of the colour you want to use, selecting the colour is trivially easy.  First of all, head to the Colors dialog box, as described in the first part of this blog series, then follow the diagram below:

Choosing colours using RGB

1. Select the Color Model you want to use.


What Else Is There To Know? 

You now know pretty much all there is to know about selecting colours in Microsoft Office applications!  Of course, some of the applications have their own specific quirks when it comes to the colours you're allowed to use.  Read the final part of this series for some Microsoft colour trivia.

  1. Choosing Colours in Microsoft Office
  2. Defining Colours Using a Color Model (this blog)
  3. Colour Quirks in Specific Applications
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