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Choosing Colours In Microsoft Office Applications
Part three 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
  3. Colour Quirks in Specific Applications (this blog)

Posted by Andrew Gould on 19 September 2011

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Colour Quirks in Specific Applications

So you've seen how to accurately pick a single colour from a choice of nearly seventeen million, and you're feeling pretty confident about it all.  The final part in this series covers a few of the quirks of individual applications that might just trip you up.

Microsoft Excel 2003 And The 56-Colour Palette

If you work with Excel 2007 or 2010 you'll be pleased to know that each workbook allows you to use the full RGB colour palette.  If you work in an earlier version of Excel however, each workbook limits you to using only 56 of the available colours at any one time.

56-colour palette in Excel 2003

The standard 56-colour palette in Excel 2003.


Fortunately, if you need  to use your own corporate colours in a spreadsheet you can modify the default palette to choose your own colours.  To do this:

  1. From the menu select Tools -> Options...
  2. On the dialog box, click the Color tab.
  3. Select the colour you want to replace and then click the Modify... button.
Changing the default colour palette in Excel 2003

Here we're changing one of the horrible, murky green colours into something more... "palette-able".

  1. In the Colors dialog box, select the colour you want to use and then click OK.
Changing colours

This dialog box should be looking quite familiar by now.

  1. Continue replacing the colours you don't need with ones that you do, and finally click OK.

Whenever you click one of the colour picker tools you should see your selected colours have replaced the original ones.

Seeing custom colours

Your custom colours will replace the originals in any of the colour picker drop down lists.


Your custom colours are saved along with the file you modified the colours in, so if you create a new workbook you'll find that Excel reverts to using the original colour palette.

The Hideous Colours Of Microsoft Project

If you thought that only being able to choose 56 colours in Excel was limiting, if you happen to use a version of Microsoft Project prior to Project 2010 you'll be used to only having access to 16 colours.  To make things worse, the default colours are horrible and you don't even have the option to change them!  It's almost worth buying Project 2010 just for the ability to use the full range of colours.

The 16 colours in Microsoft Project

Seriously, who thought this was an attractive colour set?


The Extra Colour Models Of Microsoft Publisher

As already mentioned in this blog, Microsoft's desktop publishing software, Microsoft Publisher, has a couple of extra colour models available to help you if you're having your documents printed professionally.  You can see these extra models from the standard Colors dialog box.

The CMYK model The pantone color model
The CMYK model is available on the same tab of the dialog box as the RGB and HSL models. The PANTONE colour model has it's own dedicated tab in Publisher 2007 and 2010.


And that's pretty much all there is to know about how to choose colours in Microsoft Office applications.

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