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Color: Contrast

Get started with learning more about Color and Contrast.


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Product/Version: Microsoft PowerPoint

OS: Windows and Mac OS X








A fascinating quality of color is contrast. Contrast is the quality that distinguishes one color’s luminosity from another. If you place black next to white, you will end up with striking contrast. But yellow placed next to white will certainly not provide the same contrast. You can compare the contrasts for these colors in Figure 1, below.

Contrast is dependent upon the luminosity of colors
Figure 1: Contrast is dependent upon the luminosity of colors

That's because the difference in luminosity between black and white is so much more than the luminosity change between yellow and white.

Good contrast aims to differ as far as possible. In presentation slides, contrast is something that comes into play when you have more than one color being used, and of course, that definition encompasses almost any slide ever created! When you create slides, you almost always have at least two colors:

  1. The first of these two colors is the predominant slide background color. Even if the slide has a solid white background, that's also a color choice. The slide you see in Figure 2 has a large white area with a thin orange band below. But for design decisions, you would still call it a single white color background – the orange here just accessorizes the slide.

    A blank expanse
    Figure 2: A blank expanse
  2. The second color is the color of your text, your shapes, or anything else that populates the slide. In Figure 3, you can see that we chose that second color to be orange as well. These orange elements such as the slide title, the text, or the chart don’t just accessorize – they are vital elements within the slide.

    An expanse with added elements
    Figure 3: An expanse with added elements

You can have more than two colors in a slide, and that's OK. However, every slide at its least basic level possesses at least two colors.

Finally, contrast does not depend entirely on two colors within slides – it actually depends on luminosities of an entire color family! Let's make this easier to understand:

  1. The first component of this color family encompasses the predominant color found in the slide background. The slide you see in Figure 4 has a textured background that uses several lighter tints and darker shades of brown. Brown thus is the base color of this color family.

    Brown epitomizes the color family's base
    Figure 4: Brown epitomizes the color family's base
  2. The remaining colors that you see on the same slide shown in Figure 5 are ones that contrast with Brown.

    Contrast makes a color family stand apart
    Figure 5: Contrast makes a color family stand apart

Thus, Brown plus the other colors constitute a color family in this example slide. Slides in another presentation may use another color family altogether. Different presentation programs call these color families with different names. Different presentation programs call these color families with different names. For example, PowerPoint calls all the colors within a family a Theme Color set. Older versions of PowerPoint called them Color Schemes.

These Theme Color sets or Color Schemes are built-in within PowerPoint and other presentation programs so that the colors available contrast well with each other to create slides that are more readable and viewable. If you decide to create your own color families, you will have to make sure that you do focus that the colors within the family do contrast with each other.

Although getting all colors to contrast with each other may pose a challenge, the choice of these colors will form as a foundation for the hundreds or thousands of slides you may create using this color family. That is why it is important that at least the colors of the background and foreground elements on your slide are as contrasting as night and day.

In the next article in this series, we will look at Color Models.

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