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Getting Started with PowerPoint: Set Up a Theme

This chapter explains the colors, fonts, and effects - the steps to defining your theme elements - that form the foundation of a PowerPoint template.
This chapter is from the book

Now that you’re familiar with the pieces that comprise a template, it’s time to learn how to put them together.

The next few chapters take you through building a template step by step. Follow along in PowerPoint, building a sample file as you become comfortable with the process. (The tutorial files are available at http://www.quepublishing.com/title/0789749556.)

Numerous decisions go into a template design. From color and font selections, to background styles and layout arrangements, many choices affect how the template looks and how it will work for users. In reality, the design process begins long before you open PowerPoint because you must make decisions about these things before you start working.

After you’ve gone through the steps to build a practice template and are ready to create a template for yourself or your company, we suggest that you read Chapter 10, “Designing a Template.”

This chapter covers the steps to defining your theme elements: the colors, fonts, and effects that form the foundation of a template.

Understanding Theme Colors

The color scheme is one of the most important parts of a template. Setting up the colors correctly is imperative because your choices affect the appearance of everything moving forward. Not only do the colors influence background styles and placeholder text, theme colors populate all the style galleries as well.

If you’re working with a specific existing color scheme, such as a corporate identity, you might already have a set of RGB values in hand and think you’re ready to plug them into a new color theme. Or perhaps you’re working with an existing template and wondering why certain things don’t look right on your slides. Sound familiar? You’re not alone because this template issue is a common one. Read this section to learn how theme colors work and how extremely important the order in which you position them is.

As mentioned in Chapter 2, “Introducing Templates and Themes,” there are 12 colors in a theme. These include two light, two dark, six accents, hyperlink, and followed hyperlink colors (see Figure 3.1).

Figure 3.1

Figure 3.1. The Theme Colors dialog box includes settings for 12 colors.

Text/Background Colors

The first four color chips are designated as Text/Background - Dark 1, Light 1, Dark 2, and Light 2. These colors work together to ensure that your text is visible, no matter if your background is light or dark.

Background styles are based on the four light and dark colors (see Figure 3.2). When setting up a new template, you choose one of these styles as the background. (Read more on background styles in Chapter 4, “Formatting the Slide Master.”)

Figure 3.2

Figure 3.2. Choose one of the Background Styles when you set up a new template.

Text always defaults to either Dark 1 or Light 1, whichever is the opposite value from the value you chose for the background style. For instance, if you select a dark background style, the default text color is Light 1. Choose a light background style, and the default text color is Dark 1. You can see the various background and text color combinations in Figure 3.3.

Figure 3.3

Figure 3.3 . Text colors default to Dark 1 or Light 1 theme colors, whichever is opposite in value from the current background style.

Considering that text defaults to either Light 1 or Dark 1, you must choose colors that contrast well against the background colors. You want all text to be legible for the audience, right? Quite often in the default color themes, you see white and black chosen for Light 1 and Dark 1. These colors make sense because they offer the highest contrast you can achieve.

How do you determine what colors to assign to Light 2 and Dark 2? Generally, you can define them as the lightest and darkest background colors other than black and white. For instance, let’s say you decide on forest green backgrounds with white text for the primary template design. For the alternative lighter version, you decide on celery green backgrounds with black text. Assign celery green to Light 2 and forest green to Dark 2. Easy decision.

What happens if you’ve changed Dark 1 to charcoal so all your text (including charts, tables, and SmartArt) is gray? In this situation, it might be helpful to include black in the color palette so you can assign it to Dark 2 (see Figure 3.4).

Figure 3.4

Figure 3.4 . If you change Dark 1 to a color other than black, it helps users if you assign the color black to Dark 2.

Accent Colors

The six accent colors form the basic palette for your presentation graphics. As demonstrated in Chapter 2, all the style galleries are filled with the accent colors. It’s important that all accent colors stand apart from the background colors and that they look harmonious as a group.

The order of the accent colors is significant. Charts populate with the accent colors in numerical order, from Accent 1 through Accent 6 (see Figure 3.5). When determining the order of accent colors, consider how they will look next to one another in a column or bar chart.

Figure 3.5

Figure 3.5 . Charts automatically fill different series with accent colors, in order from Accent 1 through Accent 6.

SmartArt graphics also pull from accent colors, although “colorful” SmartArt begins with Accent 2 in most SmartArt diagrams (see Figure 3.6).

Figure 3.6

Figure 3.6 . The SmartArt gallery is populated with all six accent colors, along with tints and shades of these colors. Note that the Colorful style options begin with the Accent 2 Theme Color.

For most corporate templates, accent colors are derived from a branding color palette. Make sure you have the RGB values for all corporate colors because you need them to set up the theme colors in PowerPoint. (If you’re starting from scratch and need ideas for choosing accent colors that work well together, see Chapter 10.)

We can’t stress enough that colors appear vastly different when projected versus printed on paper. Before finalizing a template, projecting sample slides to review colors, contrast, and legibility is best. Tweak the color values as needed and project again to test. These preliminary steps might seem like a lot of extra work, but the time involved early in the process can save you hours of rework later.

You need to consider some things as you set up your proposed accent colors for early testing. The goal is to achieve contrast (foreground and background colors are distinguishable from each other) and harmony (they look pleasant as a set) for all six colors. Considering how these colors will apply to content in future presentations is helpful. Keep in mind that a column chart might use all six accents. When one color is lighter or brighter than the rest, that data series tends to stand out or appear highlighted. For this reason, it’s best to choose accent colors that are of relatively similar intensity.

Figure 3.7 shows the Office Theme accent colors in relation to all four background colors. This format works well for preliminary color exploration; you can quickly check for contrast and harmony.

Figure 3.7

Figure 3.7 . This graphic demonstrates the Office Theme colors. All six accent colors overlap the four background colors.

You can also create slides on light and dark background colors, using filled textboxes for each of the proposed accent colors. Create a slide for each light and dark background color. Draw six textboxes on each and fill them with the proposed accent colors (see Figure 3.8). You can quickly see whether there’s enough contrast with the backgrounds, how the accent colors work together, and how text contrasts with each accent color.

Figure 3.8

Figure 3.8. Create example slides to see how the accent colors look together and to determine whether they have enough contrast with the backgrounds.

The best advice regarding accent colors is to test them thoroughly with various types of content (charts, SmartArt, tables, and so on), on light and dark background styles, and in different presentation environments (for example, on a boardroom projector or web-conference platform).

Hyperlink and Followed Hyperlink Colors

The Hyperlink and Followed Hyperlink colors do not appear in Theme Colors or any of the other galleries. The Hyperlink color applies only to text with a defined hyperlink. The Followed Hyperlink color displays only in Slide Show mode after a hyperlink has been clicked. We recommend repeating one of the accent colors for the Hyperlink color. It should differ from the body text color so it stands out a little, calling attention to linked text. A Followed Hyperlink is usually more subdued in value because it signifies a link has already been clicked. (There’s no need for attention at this point.) A medium gray works well in most cases for the Followed Hyperlink color. See Figure 3.9 for examples of Hyperlink and Followed Hyperlink colors.

Figure 3.9

Figure 3.9. The Hyperlink color should stand out from body text. The Followed Hyperlink color should be more subdued, signaling that the link has already been clicked.

Applying Built-In Theme Colors

Each of the built-in themes includes a color scheme. One of them might work well for your template design or at least be a good starting point. When selecting from the available themes, you want to be able to see the colors in action. The best way to do this is to start with a colorful sample slide that includes a chart or a SmartArt diagram.

To apply one of the built-in color themes, follow these steps:

  1. On the Design tab, select the Colors gallery to view the built-in theme colors (see Figure 3.12).

    Figure 3.12

    Figure 3.12. As you hover through the list of built-in theme colors, your current slide colors will dynamically change, showing you a preview of the new colors.

  2. Scroll through the list and hover on different color schemes. Your current slide colors change, showing you a preview of the new theme colors.

  3. Click on a set of theme colors to apply it to your current PowerPoint file.

Defining Custom Theme Colors

If the stock color themes don’t quite work for your template or if you have a set of RGB values you need to use, then you must create a custom color theme. To do so, follow these steps:

When you save a new theme colors file on your system, the name appears in your Colors gallery. This will not be the case for other users’ systems. Although theme colors are coded into and travel along with a template or theme file, users do not see the custom theme colors name listed in their Colors gallery.

If you find later that you need to change any of the values in the color theme you created, you can right-click the theme color’s name and choose Edit. Make your changes and save, retaining the original color theme name.

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