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Combining Colors in PowerPoint


Robert Lane Robert Lane is a presentation design consultant specializing in visually interactive communication techniques and is the primary contact person for this article. References, visual examples, and additional resources are available here on the Aspire Web site.

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The Forgiving Nature of Color Gradients
Color/Text Considerations
General Color Issues

The Forgiving Nature of Color Gradients

Interestingly enough, the process of combining colors is much more forgiving when using gradients—colors that fade into each other. PowerPoint 2010 offers a greatly improved, user-friendly interface for making gradients, by the way (Figure 8).

Adding a gradient to a shape
Figure 8: Adding a gradient to a shape

Because nature regularly blends colors this way (think of a sunset), we are used to seeing colors gradually transition from one hue to the next, meaning that you can get away with combining just about any color set and still end up with a reasonably attractive and professional look. Just make sure the transitions are gradual.

Try blending colors to make a custom-designed slide background, a decorative shape—perhaps for a sectional background (Figure 9) or navigation button (Figure 10)—or even jazzy, 3-D text (Figure 11 ).

Purple, gold, and gray gradient inside a shape
Figure 9: Purple, gold, and gray gradient inside a shape

Gradient-filled shape used as a navigation button
Figure 10: Gradient-filled shape used as a navigation button

Gradient-filled PowerPoint text
Figure 11: Gradient-filled PowerPoint text

Color/Text Considerations

Going back to the issues of color quantity and contrast (black dots on the white background), those considerations are especially important when slides contain text. Unless such text exists in a navigation button or is purely decorative, generally the goal is for audience members to be able to read it, right? Therefore, opting for a simple background that contrasts sharply with the text color helps the message pop out and attract attention (Figure 12).

Text color should contrast sharply with a background
Figure 12: Text color should contrast sharply with a background

Placing text on top of pictures is popular but can be tricky because controlling the contrast then becomes more difficult. The solution, again, is to make sure the text color contrasts as much as possible with a majority of the picture’s colors and then add a distinct shadow or glow to the text (Figure 13).

Shadow on text helps it appear more distinct on top of a picture
Figure 13: Shadow on text helps it appear more distinct on top of a picture

General Color Issues

Here are a few additional PowerPoint-related color tips we’ve discovered over the years:

  • Using red text is almost never a good idea. That particular color, of all colors, tends to washout when projected on a screen if any kind of unwanted ambient light also hits the screen—perhaps from sunlight streaking through a window or glare from a poorly aimed stage light.
  • Unless there is a particularly good reason for using brightly colored text… don’t. Stick with white or light beige on a dark background or black (or otherwise very dark color) on a light background. Your slides will have a more professional appearance as a result.
  • Stay away from gradients in text unless the words are large and intended to be primarily decorative in nature.
  • When using gradients, simplicity is your friend. Limit the number of colors, and, whenever possible, try using combinations that are readily found in nature for maximum appeal.

PowerPoint Keyboard Shortcuts and Sequences:
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PowerPoint Online for Windows and Mac

Have your ever used keyboard shortcuts and sequences in PowerPoint? Or are you a complete keyboard aficionado? Do you want to learn about some new shortcuts? Or do you want to know if your favorite keyboard shortcuts are documented?

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