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Yes, You Can Create a Color Scheme

Nondesigners are usually reluctant to attempt a PowerPoint template redesign: there are many layout and color scheme issues that designers are trained and better able to handle. But the good news is that it is getting easier for nondesigners to take on these projects. There are a growing number of resources available online that offer immediate and high-quality assistance to help nondesigners (and probably designers as well) create striking, effective, and functional templates. Among the most notable are the many sites that provide support and assistance for developing color schemes.


Before taking on the task of developing a color scheme, it might be helpful to gain a basic understanding of how colors work together, blend, create moods, and send messages. There is certainly an abundance of information available about the strategic use of color: in-depth studies as well as abbreviated descriptions of the fundamentals. It's probably not necessary to dive too deeply into this subject, but it will probably serve you well to heighten your sensitivities in the following areas:

  • Understanding color theory and principles. There are many wonderful resources available to feed you on this subject. There are also the fast-food equivalents. TIGERcolor is a good example and does a reasonable job of presenting the basics. Thankfully, many of the resources that are listed under "Resources" (below) factor these principles into their tools. These tools are literally push-button color-scheme generators that create pleasing and usable schemes.
  • Psychology of color. How do colors affect people? Do you want to tap into the moods that colors create to strengthen your presentation messages? A quick scan of About.com and Infoplease will help you to gain insights in this area. Both provide suggestions about colors' effects on moods. This is an interesting topic, and you may be tempted to delve more deeply into these studies.
  • The significance of colors in different countries/cultures. If you will be presenting to an audience in a different country and/or culture, it may be worthwhile to gain some awareness of their tolerance for and interpretation of colors. Many presenters adjust their messages for their audiences. Color adjustments may be an extension of that practice. Princeton developed a reference resource on the subject that you may want to review.


You need a starting point. If you're a start-up and don't have any branding established, you can begin with a color scheme. Otherwise, you need to decide whether to take your queue from the colors in your logo, your website, from marketing collateral, or perhaps a photograph that captures the essence of your business. It's a preferred practice synchronize all customer-facing communications, but that doesn't always happen. If it isn't clear to you where to start, then begin with your logo. The color scheme that you develop should incorporate the colors in your logo.

You've got your starting point and are almost ready to begin working with color. Before you do, though, you'll want to keep a few things in mind:

  • The color scheme needs to contrast appropriately with your template's background color. High contrast colors work best. This is an incredibly important consideration. Design your background color as part of the color scheme.
  • Primary colors (the colors that are set as defaults in a template) and secondary colors (hues or complementary colors to the primary colors) are needed for an extended palette. You don't want to run out of colors and have to introduce another color on the fly. Develop an extended palette as part of your process.
  • Light and dark colors are needed. Strong colors and soft accent colors are both necessary and useful.

At this point you have a fairly clear idea of where you want to go with your scheme and guidelines to help you get there.


It's time to start testing colors. The better color-scheme generators incorporate color principles and theory without being prompted to do so. They also provide options developing for one, two, three, or four main colors using a push-button color wheel tool. We'll share a few of our favorites (and this is where the fun begins). Be prepared to visit the sites as you read along.

  • Color Scheme Designer. This is a free online resource that is comprehensive and easy to use. You can select mono, complementary, triad, tetrad, color schemes as you manipulate the color wheel. It provides also an option for viewing the color scheme on a dark page and a light page – very handy.
  • Color Schemer Online. This is another free resource that is very easy to use. You can just type in an RGB formula from your logo or other (see next bullet point to get that formula), click button to set it, and the program generates a color scheme of 16 colors. It's not a fully functional tool, but it produces interesting schemes.
  • Color Picker. If you don't know what the RGB formula are for the colors in your logo, this great little utility will help. It's only about $20 and very easy to use. We love this utility.
  • Color Wheel Pro. This is our favorite, but it costs $40. However, the tool is comprehensive, fully functional, and fun to use. You can test color schemes on sample logos, graphics, product packaging, websites, and printed material to see how the colors look. When the colors in the examples are clicked on, the RBG formulas appear. You just tot them all down and create a PowerPoint page full of squares that are filled with the colors – you'll have a lot. From those you can choose your primary colors and secondary colors, light and dark colors, etc.
  • Color Palette Generator creates a color scheme from a photograph that you upload into the tool. It generates 25 HEX colors from that photograph. The HEX number needs to be converted to an RGB formula, which can be done at EasyCalculation This site is better than others because the converted numbers produce a color that can be seen and verified.

Spend some time testing different color schemes with the scheme generator(s). Once you decide on a scheme, create a few sets of colors from the scheme that could be the primary colors for the template – same with secondary colors. Decide whether you want some or all of the logo colors in the scheme. Don't be surprised if you eliminate colors from the total scheme. Be sure to test the colors on your template's background, or select a color from the scheme to become the primary background color.