Corrective lenses for the colorblind

dave ludwig

Dave Ludwig

Design with confidence, even if green looks like red to you.

Are you colorblind? I am. And after years of wearing mismatched socks and squinting at traffic lights, I've become accustomed to my lack of color-coordination talent.

However, Microsoft Office has some great features that can help you if you are colorblind. There are tons of built-in, ready-made themes, SmartArt graphics, and pre-made templates in all the Office applications. Those solutions are great, but sometimes you want to break away and set up your own color scheme. This article shows you how to do that — even if you're colorblind.

For example, here's a party invitation that comes with Word 2007:

invitation with swirls and the text: it's a party!

The invite is pretty nice, right? But I want to replace these three colors with colors of my own. What colors are available to me? The colors in this color picker:

Microsoft Office color palate, aka the color-picker

I know — if you’re colorblind, this is daunting. If you're like me, many of the colors look the same. It's hard to choose. But stay with me, because we’re going to tackle how you can use this picker effectively.

Choosing three colors that work

Choose three colors. But pick corresponding colors that, if lines were drawn, would form an equilateral triangle around the center of the color picker. Then you'll have three well-coordinated colors. (In color theory, this is called "harmony.") For example, I picked these three colors:

color palate

And then filled each of the shapes accordingly:

"it's a party" invite with a brighter palate

Here are some other variations:

This scheme…

color palate

…looks like this:

"it's a party" invite with a paler palate

And this scheme…

color palate with triangle

…looks like this:

"it's a party" invite with darker, richer palate

Print this out

Here's something you can print out to make picking colors easier:

large color palate with six sides, with numbered and lettered swatches of color.

Here's how to use it:

  1. Pick any color you like.

  2. Starting from the outside, count the number of swatches until you reach your color.

  3. Find the corresponding number or letter on the other side of the picker. When I say "corresponding," I mean: count the same number of swatches, starting from the outside.

  4. Then find the final corresponding number or letter — again, count the same number of swatches from the outside. That will give you three harmonious colors.

Where can you find the color picker?

Here's how to find it when selecting shapes. In Word, Excel, or PowerPoint 2007:

  1. Insert or click a shape.

  2. At the top of the window, click the Format tab.

  3. Click Shape Fill, and then click More Fill Colors.

  4. Click the Standard tab.

Tip: Right-click the More Fill Colors command in step 3, and then click Add to Quick Access Toolbar. That will put a button in the upper-left corner of the program window — up near the Save button. The picker button will look like a painter's palette.

About the author

Dave Ludwig is a Technical Writer for Office Online. He creates training courses for Visio and SharePoint Server.

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