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Understanding Theme Colors

Understanding Theme Colors

When you use a formatting feature that involves a color palette, such as when you change the fill color of an object, the colors that appear depend on the colors that are currently loaded into the theme placeholders. Check out the palette in Figure 3, for example. This palette shows 10 theme colors, with lighter and darker tints/shades of the colors beneath. If you choose one of these theme colors for an object you are formatting, and then you change to a different theme, the color will change as prescribed by the new theme. In contrast, if you apply one of the colors in the Standard Colors section of the palette, that color is forever fixed until you manually change it, regardless of the theme. (The same goes if you choose More Colors and select from a dialog box; all those custom colors are fixed too.)

Figure 3: The colors for the currently selected theme appear on color palettes in Office applications.

A theme has 12 color placeholders, named for their functions: Text/Background Light 1 and Dark 1, Text/Background Light 2 and Dark 2, Accent 1 through Accent 6, Hyperlink, and Followed Hyperlink. (Remember the XML code for the colors back in Figure 1?) You might not always see all 12 of them, depending on which palette you are looking at. In Figure 3, for example, you only see 10. The two missing are the colors for followed and unfollowed hyperlinks. In other areas of some applications you might only see 8 of the placeholders, because sometimes Text/Background Dark 1 and Text/Background Light 1 are omitted. (That’s because they are almost always black and white, respectively.)

You can apply different theme colors separately from applying the theme itself. That’s handy because you can pick a theme that has the fonts and effects you want, and then customize it with the colors from some other theme. (You can change the fonts and effects separately from the main theme too, as you’ll learn later in this article.) To choose different theme colors, do one of the following:

  • In Word: On the Design tab, click Colors, and then choose a different set of colors. The colors you see on the menu that appears only show 8 of the theme’s colors, as you can see in Figure 4.
  • Figure 4: Choose different theme colors in Word from the Design tab.

  • In Excel: On the Page Layout tab, click Colors, and then choose a different set of colors.
  • In PowerPoint: On the Design tab, click the More button (the down arrow with the horizontal line over it) in the Variants group, and then on the menu that appears, point to Colors to open a submenu and choose the desired set of colors.

Here’s the non-intuitive thing about choosing the colors separately, though: the names of the color sets don’t match up with the names of the themes. So, for example, if you really like the colors in the Ion theme, you can’t get them by looking for Ion on the Colors menu. So, if you want to make sure you get the colors from a certain theme, you are better off starting with that theme and then customizing the Fonts and Effects manually as desired. It’s much easier to duplicate the fonts and effects from another theme than it is to duplicate its colors.

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