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Vary Colors by Point Option for Charts in PowerPoint 2011 for Mac

Learn to vary the fill color of a series in a chart in PowerPoint 2011 for Mac. This is very important when you have just one series with multiple categories in your chart.


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Product/Version: PowerPoint 2011 for Mac

OS: Mac OS X



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Presentation Management: The Entire Series



If your chart includes only one series and several categories, then by default individual chart segments will use the same fill color (such as individual columns in a column chart) or varying colors (such as segments in a pie chart), depending upon the chart type you are working with. For all charts, you can always change the color of the entire series but that works best if you have multiple series in your chart, as shown in Figure 1, below. The same is not true for a chart that has only one series. In that case displaying all individual elements of a chart series in the same color can make your chart look dull as with the chart shown in Figure 2, later on this page. This similar colorization also does not provide a proper way for your audience to compare the individual series' elements.

PowerPoint 2011 for Mac lets you resolve this limitation by using the Vary color by point option. This option uses different colors for individual series' elements. Before you proceed further, there are certain characteristics of the Vary color by point option that you should be aware of:

  • Not enabled by default for Column, Bar, and Line charts, but can be turned on
  • Enabled by default for Pie and Donut charts, but can be turned off
  • Does not work for other chart types such as Area, XY Scatter, Stock, etc.

When you insert a new chart in PowerPoint 2011, it may look like the one you see in Figure 1, below. As you can see, this is a column chart in which there is a set of 3 series in each of the 4 categories. The color of these 3 series represent the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd accent colors in the active Theme respectively, from left to right.

Chart selected in PowerPoint
Figure 1: Chart in PowerPoint

The Vary color by point option works for a chart with a single series, and two or more categories, as shown in Figure 2, below.

One series and four categories
Figure 2: One series and four categories

Now, follow these steps to learn how to change the color of category elements in a chart with just a single series and multiple categories:

  1. Select the data series by clicking on it, as shown in Figure 2, above. Alternatively, you can select the data series from the chart elements drop-down list.
  2. With the chart series selected, select either the Chart Layout or the Format tab of the Ribbon that you can see in Figure 3, below. Within any of these tabs, you will find the Current Selection group towards the extreme left as you can see in Figure 3. Within this group, make sure that the Chart Elements drop-down list, as shown highlighted in red within Figure 3, is displaying the name of the selected data series. Then, click the Format Selection button below it, as shown highlighted in blue within Figure 3.
  3. Format Selection button to be clicked with the correct chart element selected
    Figure 3: Format Selection button to be clicked with the data series selected
  4. This action summons the Format Data Series dialog box. Make sure that the Fill option in the sidebar is selected. Next, select the Solid tab, as shown in Figure 4, below. Here, you will find the Vary color by point check box, as shown highlighted in red within Figure 4. This option appears only when there is just a single series in your selected chart.
  5. Format Data Series dialog box
    Figure 4: Format Data Series dialog box
  6. Select the Vary color by point check box, as shown in Figure 5, below and click the OK button within the Format Data Series dialog box.
  7. Vary color by point check box selected
    Figure 5: Vary color by point check box selected
  8. This action will change the color of individual category elements to match the accent colors of the Theme as shown in Figure 6, below (compare with Figure 2). Also compare the Legend in both Figures 2 and 6. You will see that this has also been updated to match the varied fills used.
  9. Chart Series colors changed after selecting the Vary color by point check box
    Figure 6: Chart Series colors changed after selecting the Vary color by point check box
  10. Where Did These Colors Come From?

  11. So, how did PowerPoint decide which colors should be used as fills for the individual series' elements? If you look at Figure 1, you will notice that the multiple fill colors used are the same as those shown in Figure 6, above. As you can see, the colors of second and third series in Figure 1 have been applied to the second and third category in Figure 6. These color values are sourced from the active Theme. Apply a new Theme to your presentation and these colors will change!
  12. Save your presentation.

Custom Colors or Automatic?

  • If the selected series of your chart are filled with any other fill than Automatic, like a pattern, gradient, a picture or a solid color fill, then selecting the Vary color by point check box will immediately change the fill to Automatic. Automatic is the same as the color fills that are based on the active Theme of the presentation.

  • See Also:

    Advanced Chart Techniques: Vary Colors by Point Option for Charts (Glossary Page)

    Vary Colors by Point Option for Charts in PowerPoint 2013 for Windows
    Vary Colors by Point Option for Charts in PowerPoint 2010 for Windows

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