If you've tried to apply the color rules that you use in Word documents or print media to your PowerPoint slides, you already know that the rules of color work a little differently in PowerPoint. Although printed documents are mainly printed on white sheets of paper, your PowerPoint presentation may never be printed at all and the slide backgrounds may not be white. In this article, I explain how you can use color effectively in PowerPoint. In addition to the background color, I also explore wise color choices for other slide elements such as text, shapes, diagrams, and charts.
Selecting a Background Color
First, let's look at the background. If you are comfortable with a white background, you certainly can use it. White does have the virtue of all colors in the spectrum working well with it. As long as you follow basic rules of contrast, such as avoiding light yellow text on a white background, you shouldn't have too many problems.
However, with that said, white is not most people's favorite presentation background color at all. If you thought that blue is the favorite background color, then you were right. A blue slide projected or shown on a computer is comfortable to view. Dark blue backgrounds with white or yellow text work well, as you can see in Figures 1 and 2.
Other cool colors like green and violet work well too however stay away from bright and fluorescent greens. Black works great too most light and bright colors work well with black. Warm colors such as red, orange, and yellow do not make great presentation backgrounds.
No matter what color you use as a background, make sure that either white or black text placed over that color is legible and contrasting as you can see in Figure 3. If neither black nor white text works with a particular slide background color, stay away from that color!
Of course, when it comes to backgrounds sometimes you don't have a choice. For example, your company may already have custom templates and you can't change background colors because they reflect a corporate identity. If your slide background is some variant of blue, green, white, black, or grey, you don't have to worry. If you're stuck with a red, yellow, or orange background, it's still okay. I'll show how you can play with the color of other slide elements to neutralize this disadvantage.
Choosing Colors of Slide Elements
Everything that is visible on a slide except the slide background is a foreground element. Figure 4 shows typical foreground elements that you might find on a PowerPoint slide.
Text is the most important foreground element. You may have several types of text, and the type of text directly influences your color choices.
Title text is normally no longer than three to six words on each slide. Because it's normally larger than the other text, you can choose from a wider range of colors. Always remember that smaller text sizes need more contrast. In other words, if you are working on a dark blue background, you can use light blue title text very effectively. Of course, white would offer more contrast and would work, it's better to save it for other text elements. Plus a different title text color can add a little color.
The other text is what you use for bullet points, sentences, and chart legends. Try and provide as much contrast as you can. Most of the time, use either black or white text depending upon whether you have a light or dark color slide background.
Although you should try to avoid using very small text in a presentation, sometimes it is unavoidable. Just remember that the smaller the text, the more contrast you need. White text on a black background or black text on a white background is always the highest contrast option. So for really teeny tiny text, try creating a black rectangle on the slide, and then place white text on the rectangle.
Alternatively, sometimes you can make text work even if there's not much contrast between the text and background slide color by using a text shadow. PowerPoint has several text shadow options that you can experiment with. You can change the color of the shadow as well. A dark grey shadow works most of the time, and if your text is white, then a black shadow color will help the text really stand out.
Coloring Your Charts, Shapes and Fills
Once you have the background and text colors figured out, it's time to explore color options for all the other items on a PowerPoint slide. You want the colors of elements such as charts, diagrams, and AutoShapes fills to complement the other colors on your slide.
Most of the time, PowerPoint uses four distinct colors for fills. You should explore how these colors work with each other along with how they look with the slide background color. Figures 5, 6, 7, and 8 show the same slide, but each figure shows a different color combination.
Because these colors often are used in larger areas, you can experiment with quite a few color options, but here are a few general guidelines.
- Use colors that contrast well with the background slide color.
- Make sure that all four colors work together. For example, if your first fill color is a pale blue, don't use a fluorescent green for the next fill color. A pale green looks better next to a pale blue fill. In the same way, a fluorescent green will look good next to a fluorescent yellow fill.
- Keep experimenting with your color choices. You might get one of those large crayon boxes and scribble some colors next to each other on a sheet of paper. It's a great way to get an idea which colors complement each other.
This article talks about color in layman's terms. I stayed away from all the color science terminology such as color schemes, hues, saturation, and brightness values. But if you want to delve deeper into color, there's much more you can learn. Naturally, learning more about color theory can reap rewards far beyond PowerPoint slides alone. But if you don't have the time or interest, the basic information in this article gives you a set of no-brainer rules you can put to use in your everyday PowerPoint work.
For more on PowerPoint, check out Geetesh Bajaj's Cutting Edge PowerPoint for Dummies, a book that goes beyond PowerPoint basics while remaining easy to read and use. Learn more about the book at http://www.cuttingedgeppt.com