How to Create Color Themes for PowerPoint Presentations

When creating PowerPoint decks you need to know how color themes work in PowerPoint, how many and what colors you need for your custom color theme, as well as how to quickly add more colors. A great PowerPoint color theme that is properly saved can be reused across your slide decks – and even in your Word and Excel files.

The structure of a PowerPoint color theme.

A PowerPoint color theme consists of 10 colors; four text and background colors and six accent colors. The colors should be used as intended – don’t define accent colors as the first four text/background colors and make sure you have six distinctive colors as your access colors.

The PowerPoint Color Scheme
coloe snip 2

The order of the ten colors is important. The order of the text and background colors defines what color will be used as the default text color and default background. Light 1 and Light 2 should always be light colors and Dark 1 and Dark 2 should always be dark colors. The text and background colors also define the automatic background styles available in PowerPoint. Good practice is to keep white and black among the first four text and background colors. You will most likely need to use white or black at one point when creating your PowerPoint, so keeping them handy is a smart move. If another color than black is defined as a default color (maybe you are using a dark gray or a significant brand color as your text color (Dark 1)), make black the Dark 2 color to keep it accessible.

The order in which you add accent colors to the color template is equally important. The order they are added is the order in which PowerPoint will automatically use them in charts and smart arts. Most organizations set their main brand color as the Accent 1 color. However, when you use SmartArt, for some reason the Accent 1 color is not used. So if you do a lot of SmartArt and want the main brand color to be used, avoid setting it to Accent 1. Custom shapes and lines are automatically using the Accent 1 color. You can, however, change this if you don’t want to overuse your Accent 1 color.


Creating colors for PowerPoint – the order of the PowerPoint theme colors

If you need more than six accent colors, you can add custom colors to your color theme by adding them to the XML code or using an add-in (this book is a great resource on how to add custom colors to PowerPoint).

PowerPoint automatically generates tints and shades in the 10 colors. You cannot control how the tints or shades are defined, but you can adjust them by using the HSL color settings to alter the RGB code (this is a link to a great article on how to do this). Sometimes the automatically generated tints (color + white) can be too “neonish”.


Creating colors in PowerPoint – the automatically generated shades and tints

How to add colors to PowerPoint?

So knowing the basics of a PowerPoint color theme, how do you add your own colors to PowerPoint to be used in your next deck? Here are three ways of adding colors:

  1. Use the standard color palette
    • PowerPoint’s built-in standard color palette gives you 127 colors, plus white, black, and shades of gray to choose from (to read more about combining colors, read this article).
  2. Use the RGB color model
    • PowerPoint uses the RGB model to define colors (as PowerPoint was designed to be shown on a screen). Each RGB color has three values, each ranging from 0-255, where BLACK is 0-0-0 and WHITE is 255-255-255. By adding RGB numbers into PowerPoint, you can add your own colors.
  3. Use the HSL color model
    • You can also create colors in PowerPoint using the HSL model. The HSL model is available under the custom dialog box. Using the HSL model you can create colors by defining the hue, saturation and luminosity of a color.


Click here to read more about the color models.

How to add and save a custom PowerPoint color theme?

Once you have your colors, you need to define them as theme colors. You need your four text and background colors and six accent colors. You also need to define the colors for hyperlinks and visited hyperlinks.


How to add and save a custom                                            PowerPoint color theme

This is the procedure to add your colors to your color theme in PowerPoint (using PowerPoint 2013 or 2016 for PC as demo):

  1. Open the Customize Colors dialogue box clicking on the “Design Tab”, “Variants menu”, “Colors drop-down arrow” and then go all the way down to “Customize Colors… “
  2. Define each color in the color theme by using the drop down boxes for each of the ten + hyperlink colors (using one of the three methods for adding colors described previously).
  3. Name your new color theme and save.

Your color theme is now saved as a custom color theme (an .xml file) locally on your computer. It will be available in the colors menu as a custom color theme throughout Office (PowerPoint, Word and Excel) and you can apply this color theme whenever your want. The colors will “travel” with your file, so anyone opening it will see the colors you defined. If you save your PowerPoint as a theme/template, the color theme will be saved with the theme/template as well.

Need more accent colors quickly?

You can add custom colors to a color theme – but if you quickly want to use more accent colors, here are four quick ways to use your six accent colors in multiple ways.

1. Use automatically generated tints & shades

Use the already defined tints and shades of your accent colors. PowerPoint will give you five tints and hues for each color.



2 Use the custom RGB color settings

Use the RGB color settings to quickly generate your own tints and shades by adding white or black to a hue. Click on Custom colors in the Colors dialog box and Drag the tint/shade arrow up for a tint and down for a shade.


3 Use the HSL color model

Use the HSL color settings to create more colors by adjusting the hue, saturation and luminosity. Click on Custom colors in the Colors dialog box and choose the HSL color model. Move the cross hair horizontally to create a new hue, vertically to create a new color by adjusting saturation. Move the vertical bar up (add white) or down (add black) to add or decrease luminosity to a color.


4 Use the transparency bar

Use the transparency function to add a transparent white or black object on top of a hue.


What if I want an even faster way to create a color theme?

If you don’t have time to create a color theme, PowerPoint has a number of built-in color themes. You apply these color themes via the Design Tab, Variants menu, and the Colors Drop-down.

Click here to get an overview of all built-in color themes in PowerPoint 2007, 2010, 2011, 2013 and 2016.

Example of PowerPoint color themes


What if my favorite colors or brand colors are HEX or CMYK?

PowerPoint can only handle RGB codes (and HSL codes, but those are not as widely used when it comes to defining hues). If your brand book defines colors as CMYK or if your web guidelines use HEX, you need to convert them to RGB. There are multiple services online that can help you with this – just Google.

Click here to read more about the relationship between HEX, CMYK, RGB and HSL.

A quick summary of how to create your own color theme for PowerPoint:

1. Define 6 accent colors in RGB
2. Define 2 light + 2 dark colors for text & background in RGB
3. Define hyperlink colors in RGB
4. Add color theme to PowerPoint using Design Tab
5. Name and apply color theme
6. Use shades and tints to create more colors

jr_300JOHANNA REHNVALL is the Founder and CEO of Presentitude™ and was born curious. She is passionate about visual communication and has helped organizations structure their information into strategic presentations for almost 18 years. She was most recently one of the original Partners of the communication agency Prime International, the most awarded independent communication agency in the world. She is also the founder of the communication and insight agency VisionJar™.

PowerPoint Security Vulnerabilities and How to Protect Yourself

Vector of Internet Security Systems.Today, I’ll talk about something we as a presentation community don’t discuss nearly enough: security—specifically, how security relates to our beloved PowerPoint.

If you are a regular here at PresentationXpert, and I hope you are, you know that PowerPoint is a powerful program used for numerous purposes beyond presentations, something black hat hackers (aka “the bad people”) use to their advantage.

While researching this article, I viewed Sami Laiho’s course, Windows: How It’s Hacked, How to Protect It published with Pluralsight.

Laiho argues that PowerPoint is “by far the easiest way to penetrate a company nowadays” (m3-04 @1:09). Though his course is designed more for IT Admins than for presentation experts, it nevertheless made me realize that as a PowerPoint consultant and trainer (with direct contact with end-users who share and open files from a variety of locations), I do not take nearly as many precautions as I should nor stress the importance of such precautions to my PowerPoint students.

Well, that changes now.

Why So Serious?

Total cybercrime damages reported to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) in 2014 was a whopping 800.49 million US Dollars, not including smaller complaints reporting a loss less than $100,000. The average cost of a cybercrime attack in the US was 15.42 million US dollars (as of August 2015).


In short, this stuff costs money—to businesses, you, me, everyone. Not to mention, it can be a real time-suck and, depending on the data breached or stolen, reputation damaging.

In the United States, malicious code accounts for 24% of the attacks. That might not seem like much, but when compared to other attack types, especially ones that get more “press time” like viruses, worms, and Trojans, it’s a decent piece of the metaphorical pie.


Malicious code gets into organizations or home computers in many ways, most of which are outside the scope of this article. But PowerPoint IS an underappreciated source.

How Hackers Use PowerPoint to Infiltrate Businesses

After viewing his course, I contacted Sami Laiho, the author, and one of the world’s leading Windows OS experts, and asked what makes PowerPoint such a vulnerability. He said:

“[PowerPoint] is a tool that can be hard to resist from opening as it can be a demand from your boss that you are required to open or a super entertaining presentation from your best friend. It is a perfect tool for socially engineering people to open its contents.

From a hacker’s perspective, it is a tool that easily allows one to attach code and commands for the computer, hidden behind interesting or sweet pictures and other sorts of media. I’d say if you get one of these you might open it depending on what kind of person you are:
• Click to see the most adoring babies of 2015
• Click to see the most beautiful fitness models of 2015
• Click to see the numbers your salary was based on in our company in 2015″
• Click to see the cutest kittens of 2015
• Click to see the real numbers on how much money the owners of Tesla motor really earned in 2015″

While you might think that you would never download or click on something so ridiculous as the above, you’d be amazed. Hackers are smart. Sami says that “security is 25% technology and 75% psychology.” It’s a chess match, and you are not the opponent; you’re the hacker’s pawn. And all the hacker is trying to do is get you to click.

Malicious code can be attached to a presentation using a shockingly simple technique many of us already know: inserting an action.


Assigning an action to a clickable button or picture, where all the user has to do is click or hover their mouse over the image, could potentially trigger a malicious program used to penetrate your organization. There are other ways too: macros, ActiveX controls, data connections are all potentially unsafe actions depending on the content and intent behind them.

So, Is PowerPoint Safe?

Yes, of course. The vast majority of the time, in fact. PowerPoint is a tool, like a hammer. Is a hammer safe? Inherently, yes. Can it be dangerous? Of course! Like any tool, PowerPoint’s impact depends on the user—something as true for cybersecurity as it is for presentation design.

Actions, macros, and ActiveX controls are not inherently dangerous, and PowerPoint includes many safeguards against malicious code. The problem is, many safeguards are left outdated or disabled by unsuspecting, overly-trusting and/or easily annoyed users. These safeguards include:

1. Windows User Account Control
2. Trusted Locations
3. Security Alerts
4. Safe Mode
5. Protected Views

With recent new threats, Microsoft is ramping up security precautions. A new addition to Office 2016 allows IT administrators to block macros from running in Word, Excel, and PowerPoint if the file originated from the Internet. Your company’s IT department will also have other protections (hopefully), like Firewalls, anti-malware, and such—combined, these measures protect computers considerably.
But despite these safeguards, ultimately, it is up to you, the user, to be discerning in how, when, and from where you open PowerPoint files, and to be smart when you encounter a suspect file.

How to Protect Yourself

1. Keep your software up-to-date.
This one is a big one. Software companies have their work cut out for them just getting a product to the public, and maintaining that product is even more impressive. To keep you safe, developers push out patches for discovered bugs and vulnerabilities ASAP. But that only works if you install updates.

In Office 2016, you can check for Office updates right from within an Office App. Just jump to the backstage view, and click Account. From there, you should see the option to check for updates to the right of the screen:


2. Don’t download/open/click on any files (PowerPoint or other) you don’t know or trust.
As a rule, do not trust anything free—there is always a hidden price. Most of the time, companies just want your email address, but hackers want a bit more, like a ransom.  Also, trust is a funny word here. You might trust your elderly father with a lot of things, but if you regularly have to explain the difference between the Facebook public wall and a private message, be extra cautious when he sends you files and attachments.

3. Enable User Account Control, and Leave It On
I might even suggest ramping this setting up a bit in Windows 8 or 10. Just search Windows for the term “User Account Control Settings” and change the notification level slider to “Always notify me when:”

Yes, you will get more alerts from Windows as a result, but weighing the risk vs. reward…trust me; this one is worth it.

4. Enable Protected Views, Safe Mode, and Security Alerts, and Disable Macros
You can access these options by going to your File menu, to Options, to Trust Center, and clicking on Trust Center Options.


For detailed instructions on adjusting these settings, see this Microsoft Office Security Support Articles.

5. Contact Your IT Support Desk Immediately Should Anything Unexpected Occur
Don’t ignore pop-ups and for the love, do NOT just click OK without knowing what you are clicking OK to. When in doubt, ask your IT folk. Yes, they might groan and roll their eyes, but you’ll be doing them and your company a favor by being cautious.

6. Educate yourself about recent threats, scams, and vulnerabilities.

FBI Website
Incidentally, popular news channels and Facebook are not usually the places for info about recent threats. One great source, unsurprisingly, is the FBI’s Cyber Crime webpage. Yes, the FBI has its own, well-written Cyber Crime News roll cataloging the latest attacks and scams.

Microsoft Malware Protection Center
To stay up-to-date on Microsoft-specific threats, the Microsoft Malware Protection center has its own blog here, as well as a Twitter feed.

PBS has a series of web courses on NovaLabs, one of which is a Cybersecurity Lab with high-quality educational videos, quiz questions, and even a game to guide you through issues of cyber security, hacking, privacy, and cyber codes.


Cybersecurity 101 PDF
This is a short, 2-page PDF publication for the Stop. Think. Connect. ™ Campaign put out by the Department of Homeland Security. In it, there is some useful information and links on how to report cyber incidents.

In short, no one way of protection listed above will keep you safe. It takes a combination of these protective features and your diligence to keep you PowerPoint-ing safely in the 21st century.

About Heather Ackmann:

Heather Ackmann - HeadshotHeather Ackmann is a Microsoft MVP and full-time author and trainer for AHA Learning Solutions, specializing in Microsoft Office, business professional, and soft skills training videos and educational materials. In her spare time, she enjoys blogging at and crocheting hats and scarves for her children who refuse to wear hats and scarves. Follow her on Twitter @heatherackmann and You can download her free book Conversational Office 2016 here

Here’s What PowerPoint 2016 Can (and Can’t) Do For You

It’s time to talk about PowerPoint 2016, since it’s been out for a few weeks now. Here’s a screenshot of it.

Different Look

With each release, the look is a little different. The tab titles are no longer all upper case and have returned to the 2010 (and previous) initial caps. Upper case letters are considered a little harder to read — keep that in mind when creating slide titles.

You have a choice of three color variations. The one you see above is called Colorful. To change the “Office Theme” — called that just to confuse you and make it sound like the type of Office theme that lets you create backgrounds, theme colors, and font sets — choose File, Options.

In the General category, choose one of the Office Theme options. Here you see the others: Dark Gray and White (which looks like PowerPoint 2013).

powerpoint-tips-powerpoint-2016-2      powerpoint-tips-powerpoint-2016-3

powerpoint-tips-powerpoint-2016-4a‘Tell Me What to Do’

There’s a new Help feature called “Tell me what you want to do.”  It’s at the upper-right of the PowerPoint 2016 window. While you can access the standard Help content there, the unique aspect of it is that when you type something and choose one of the options that are presented, PowerPoint opens the actual interface right there so you can use it.

It’s great for people of a certain age, like me, who read instructions and then can’t remember all the steps when I return to PowerPoint to actually try to do them.

For example, if I type “Save a theme” and choose Themes, I see the screen below, where I can actually choose Save the Current Theme.  I’m not sure how much I’ll use this — I know PowerPoint pretty well! — but I like the idea.


Use Smart Lookup

You can right-click a word and choose Smart Lookup to open the Insights task pane with links to definitions from Wikipedia and other places on the Internet. You’ll also get an image search. It’s all powered by Microsoft’s Bing search engine.

General tip: Be very afraid of online image search! While the process tries to find images with Creative Commons licenses (for which you generally need to provide attribution), it’s often impossible to check the license.

6 New Chart Types

  • Treemap: Treemap charts are popular these days and they provide a hierarchical view of your data. The hierarchy levels are called branch, stem, and leaf. Each value is shown by the size of a rectangle. Treemap charts are good for comparing proportions and can show a lot of data in a small space. See the treemap below.
  • Sunburst: A sunburst chart also shows hierarchical data, but in layers around a center. A sunburst chart shows how one ring is broken into its components. See the sunburst below.
  • Box and Whisker: A box and whisker chart distributes data into quartiles, showing the mean and outliers. “Box” refers to a basic column chart, but lines extending above and below (whiskers) indicate variability outside the upper and lower quartiles. Any point outside those lines or whiskers is an outlier. Box and whisker charts are often used in statistical analysis.
  • Histogram: A histogram is a column chart that shows the frequency of data. It’s also used in statistical analysis. Bins are ranges, so the results show how many data points are in each range. You can use the Automatic option or specify your own bins by formatting the axis. See the histogram below.
  • Pareto (a histogram option): A Pareto chart is a variation of a histogram. The columns are shown in descending order and a line (actually a curve) shows the cumulative value of the columns. See the histogram/Pareto chart below.
  • Waterfall: A waterfall chart shows a running total that adds or subtracts subsequent values. You might use a waterfall chart for financial results, since income (positive values) and expenses (negative values) affect initial revenue. See the waterfall chart below.


A treemap chart


A sunburst chart


A histogram/Pareto chart


A waterfall chart

Easier Math Equations

Mathematical equations have always been difficult to create, with all of those numerators, denominators, square roots, squares, etc. I explained the old Equation Editor in “How to display equations and formulas in PowerPoint.” It’s so much easier to just write them, and now you can.

If you have a touch device, you can use your finger or  a stylus; if not, you can use your mouse. The only problem is that it doesn’t work too well. Here’s my attempt at the quadratic equation. Can you read my “handwriting” done with my mouse? People beat out computers, don’t they?


powerpoint-tips-powerpoint-2016-10More Shape Styles

When you insert a shape, you can quickly choose a style for it from the Shape Styles gallery. These styles have changed slightly — and I think Microsoft applied the change to 2013 as well, if you’re updated. I might be wrong about this. In 2007 and 2010, the last row is a 3D look and that’s now gone. (3D is now out of favor in design circles and I like the flat look, but sometimes the design police think they can tell us what we should like.)

There are now 5 more rows of styles, which are called presets. (I don’t know why they’re called that, as all of the styles are really presets.) What I do like is that some of them have transparent and semi-transparent fills.

Insert a Screen Capture Recording as a Video

In PowerPoint 2013, you could take a screen capture and insert it on your slide. Now, you can now include screen recordings as well! Go to Insert > Screen recording, select a region of your screen to record, and specify if you want to include the mouse pointer and audio. The click the Record button and record your video. You press Windows logo + Shift + Q to stop recording and then you’ll find the video on your current slide. If you have the most recent updates, this option is also available in PowerPoint 2013.

Higher Video Resolution

When you export your presentation as a video, you can create a file with resolution as high as 1920 x 1080. This is ideal for large screens. If you have the most recent updates, this option is also available in PowerPoint 2013.


…and more

If you keep presentations on OneDrive or Sharepoint there are also new options for easier sharing, better collaboration, and improved version history.

About the Author:

Ellen Finkelstein is a PowerPoint MVP who can train you or the presenters in your organization to create high-impact, engaging, professional presentations for training, sales, business, or education. For more information visit

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