Choose the right colors for your PowerPoint presentation

Color can be a powerful tool for presenting information. It conveys meaning and influences attitudes. The colors you choose and the way you use them together can have a strong impact on your audience, ensuring the success of your presentation.

This article provides some suggestions for color selection, to make your presentations more effective and impressive.

Understanding the relationship between colors

To understand color, a good place to start is the color wheel. The color wheel contains 12 hues, and illustrates the relationship between colors.

On the color wheel, the 12 hues are separated into three distinct groups:

  • The primary colors: red, blue, and yellow. In theory, all other colors can be derived from these three.
  • The secondary colors: green, violet, and orange. These are created by combining the primary colors.
  • The tertiary colors: red-orange, red-violet, blue-violet, blue-green, yellow-orange, and yellow-green. These are made from combinations of the first six colors.

Color wheel - primary colors

Colors have specific relationships depending on their location on the color wheel.

  • Colors opposite one another are called complements. Complementary colors contrast each other to create a dynamic effect.
  • Colors directly next to each other are called analogous. Each color has two analogous colors (one on each side of it). Analogous colors used together create a harmonious and unified feeling because two of the colors contain the third. In the example below, the first color (yellow) blends into the third (the green) by way of the middle color (yellow-green).

Color wheel - associations

Color selection tips

When you're choosing your colors, consider your audience. The challenge is to strike a balance between professionalism and attractiveness. The following tips may help you choose the appropriate colors for your audience.

Color combinations

  • Use the predefined color schemes in Microsoft PowerPoint®, which successfully combine colors, to format your presentations.
  • Color combinations may look different when projected. If possible, test your presentation on the projector to verify that the colors work well together. This will allow you to make changes before the presentation, if necessary.
  • Certain color combinations provide high contrast for ease of reading. For example, the following combinations of text color on background color work well: green on purple, white on black, violet on yellow, blue-green on red.
  • When using graphics in your presentation, try to choose one or more colors from the graphic to use as text colors. The color combinations will tie the elements of your slides together for a uniform look.

Background color

  • As a guideline, pick a background color and use three additional colors of text for maximum impact.
  • Consider both color and texture for backgrounds. Sometimes a neutral background with a pleasing texture will work better than a solid color.

    Texture background
  • When using multiple background colors, consider using analogous colors; the colors will blend together without detracting from the foreground text. You can further contrast the foreground text by using a complementary text color.

Color purpose

  • Use colors sparingly for more effect, and to avoid overwhelming the audience.
  • Similar colors may interact differently; a slight variation can change the tone or feel of the information.
  • Use color to indicate relationships between information, to convey a particular message, or to emphasize the information. If the message isn't clearly illustrated by a particular color choice, don't use that color.
  • Certain colors have common associations in society, such as red with warning or green with go. Use these color associations to illustrate your point, but proceed with caution, because these associations can differ depending on the nationality of the audience.

The same information written in different colors can convey different meanings. For example, you can greatly emphasize the meaning of the word hot by using red and orange font colors. Blue font, on the other hand, will detract from the meaning of the word.

Hot color comparison

Color and accessibility

  • According to various sources, 5 percent to 8 percent of men have some form of color blindness, red-green being the most common. For this reason, it's a good idea to limit the use of red and green to high contrast color combinations.
  • Avoid relying exclusively on color to present information; everyone, including blind and visually impaired individuals, should get all of the information from your presentation.
Applies to:
PowerPoint 2003