How to customize color palettes in Microsoft 365 Office apps

Microsoft 365 Office apps base color options on the applied theme, but you can change the theme or add custom colors to color palettes.

Image: Tada Images/Adobe Stock

If you use the color palette in any of the Microsoft 365 Office apps, you know that the feature offers a lot of choices. Sometimes, however, the color you need isn’t readily available, and you jump through a few hoops to find and apply it. Doing this often quickly becomes annoying. Fortunately, you don’t have to work that hard.

SEE: Google Workspace vs. Microsoft 365: A side-by-side analysis w/checklist (TechRepublic Premium)

In this tutorial, I’ll show you how to update palette colors using themes. I’ll also show you how to replace individual colors palette with colors you use the most.

I’m using Microsoft 365 on a Windows 10 64-bit system. The web apps will display theme colors in an existing document, but you can’t apply them. Although I’ll be working in Microsoft Word, you can do the same in Microsoft Excel and Microsoft PowerPoint.

How to change color palette by changing the file’s theme in Word

Whether you perform it or not, you’re using a theme. By default, Office apps all use the Office theme, which you can see in Figure A. You can change the theme colors but not the standard colors.

Figure A

Color choices depend on the color theme.

By changing the theme, you can change the options in all the color palettes as follows:

  1. Click the Design tab.
  2. In the Document Formatting group, click the Colors dropdown.
  3. To change the theme, simply select one, such as Blue II (Figure B).
  4. Access the Font Color dropdown to see the new color choices in the palette (Figure C).

Figure B

Choose a new theme.

Figure C

All color palettes in the current document will now use the Blue II theme.

This change works only in the current document. If you want to change the palette in future documents, create a template with the colors you want and use it. You can also update Normal.dotm.

To change the color theme in PowerPoint, click the Design tab. In the Variants group, click the gallery’s More button to choose another color theme. In Excel, click the Page Layout tab and choose Colors in the Themes group.

You might be wondering about the Themes dropdown to the far left. Those themes include fonts, not only colors. Choosing one will update the colors palette but will also change fonts. You have several full-bodied themes if you want to go that route.

Now let’s suppose that no theme works for you. You can create a custom theme. To learn how, read How to create and use the same Office themes across files in Microsoft 365.

Adding one custom color to the palettes in Word

It’s possible to find a color theme that you like even though it lacks one or two colors you need. When this happens, you can customize the theme a bit by replacing colors. To illustrate, let’s change one of the Office theme colors, dark orange, as follows:

  1. Click the Design tab.
  2. In the Document Formatting group, click the Colors dropdown.
  3. Click Customize Colors to display a list of color options for the applied theme.
  4. Find one that you won’t use and click its dropdown.
  5. Choose More Colors and use either tab option to select a new color (Figure D).

Figure D

Replace a theme color.

The new color will appear in all color palettes in the current document as a theme color. Replacing a color in the palette is easy, but what happens if you can’t find the right color in the More Colors options?

How to create a custom color using RGB in Word

If replacing the color palette or two doesn’t work, you still have an option: Set a custom color using RGB settings. RGB is a reference to red, green and blue. By mixing these three primary colors, you can replicate almost any color that the human eye perceives. Fortunately, it’s not hard to find the RGB values ​​for a specific color.

To find RGB values, from the following:

  1. Open a document that contains the color you want to add to the color palettes.
  2. Select the colored text or shape. I’m working with a bright violet.
  3. Click the Font Color dropdown (or any color palette should work).
  4. Choose More Colors.
  5. In the resulting dialog, click the Custom tab.
  6. The resulting dialog will display the color’s RGB values ​​(Figure E). Write them down.

Figure E

Find a color’s RGB values ​​in Word.

Once you have the appropriate RGB values, you can add it to the color palettes as follows:

  1. Click the Design tab.
  2. In the Document Formatting group, click the Colors dropdown.
  3. Click Customize Colors to display a list of color options for the applied theme.
  4. Find one that you won’t use and click its dropdown.
  5. Choose More Colors and click the Custom tab.
  6. Enter the RGB colors you found in the last set of instructions.

Figure F

The bright violet color is now readily available via the color palettes.

As you can see in Figure F, the bright violet is now available in the color palette, replacing the row of orange. Remember, you can make the same changes in both Microsoft Excel and Microsoft PowerPoint.

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