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

Learn to vary the fill color of a series in a chart in PowerPoint 2010 for Windows. This is very important when you have just one series with multiple categories in your chart.

When a chart in PowerPoint contains only one series and several categories, then by default individual chart segments may 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. If your chart uses the same colored series in all categories, it 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 lets you resolve this problem using two ways. The first way is to select each category element (series) individually and change its fill color, which is time consuming. The second option is using the Vary colors by point option. This option fills individual category elements with different colors in a single step. Another benefit of using this option is that, since these changed colors are Theme based, if you apply a new Theme to the presentation, these colors change automatically to match the new Theme colors.

Before you proceed further, there are certain characteristics of the Vary colors 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 2010, 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. You cannot really vary colors of all columns representing Series 1 in this case since that will end up confusing your audience!


Figure 1: Chart in PowerPoint

However, the Vary colors by point option works for a chart with a single series and two or more categories, as shown within Figure 2, below.


Figure 2: One series and four categories

Follow these steps to learn how to change the color of category elements in a chart with just a single series and multiple categories in PowerPoint 2010 for Windows:

  1. Select the data series by clicking on it. Alternatively, you can select the data series from the Chart elements drop-down list.
  2. Activate the Chart Tools Format tab of the Ribbon, as shown highlighted in red within Figure 3, below. Towards the extreme left of this Ribbon tab, within the Current Selection group, make sure that you have the correct data series selected as shown highlighted in blue, within Figure 3. Then, click the Format Selection button below it, as shown in Figure 3, below.

  3. Figure 3: Format Selection button to be clicked with the proper data series selected


  4. This action summons the Format Data Series dialog box. Make sure that the Fill option in the sidebar is selected, as shown in Figure 4, below.

  5. Figure 4: Format Data Series dialog box
  6. Contextual Tabs

  7. The Chart Tools, Desgin, Layout, and Format tabs are contextual tabs. Contextual tabs are special tabs in the Ribbon that are not visible all the time. They only make an appearance when you are working with a particular slide object which can be edited using special options.
  8. Select the Vary colors by point check box, as shown highlighted in red within Figure 5, below. Remember that you can see this option only when there is just a single series in your chart. Then, click the Close button, as shown highlighted in blue within Figure 5.

  9. Figure 5: Vary colors by point check box selected
  10. This step will change the color of individual category elements to match the accent colors of the active Theme of your presentation 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.

  11. Figure 6: Chart Series colors changed after selecting the Vary colors by point check box
  12. Where Did These Colors Come From?

  13. 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!
  14. 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 2011 for Mac