Defining and Using Custom Colors

by Allen Wyatt
(last updated January 24, 2015)

Excel allows you to use a wide variety of colors in your worksheets. These colors are maintained in a palette, which you can see by choosing Tools | Options | Color tab. The palette contains up to 56 colors, 40 of which are "standard" colors (i.e., they are available from anywhere in Excel), and 16 of which are used for various purposes in charts.

You may have a need to define and use a custom color in Excel. For instance, your company may have a logo that uses a particular color, or you may just like to use a custom color for your own purposes. You can define custom colors by following these steps:

  1. Choose Options from the Tools menu. Excel displays the Options dialog box.
  2. Make sure the Color tab is selected. (See Figure 1.)
  3. Figure 1. The Color tab of the Options dialog box.

  4. Click on the color you want to modify. (Your new custom color must replace a color already defined in the palette. You cannot increase the size of the palette.)
  5. Click the Modify button. Excel displays the Colors dialog box.
  6. Using the Standard tab, select a color you want to use. (See Figure 2.)
  7. Figure 2. The Standard tab of the Colors dialog box.

  8. If you do not see the color you want on the Standard tab, display the Custom tab. Here you can specify the HSL (Hue, Saturation, Luminance) or RGB (Red, Green, Blue) values of the color you want to create.
  9. Click OK to close the Colors dialog box. The color at the palette position you selected in step 3 should be changed to your custom color.
  10. Click OK.

You can now use the color in your worksheet as you would normally use any other color.

You should note that the color you choose to replace or modify in step 3 is important. If you want your color to be available in most areas of Excel, you should choose a color from among the 40 colors categorized as "standard" palette colors on the Color tab of the Options dialog box. If you want to use the color in charts, then you should change one of the colors in the other parts of the palette. You may even want to define the color in each of the areas of the palette, so that you get the widest possible use of the color.

You should also note that the color palette is stored with the workbook. Thus, the changes you just made using the steps above will affect only the current workbook. If you want the palette to be available in other workbooks, you must copy the palette from one workbook to another, or make the changes within those workbooks, as well. You can copy the palette from one workbook to another by following these steps:

  1. Open both workbooks—the one you want to copy the palette from and the one you want to copy the palette to.
  2. Make sure the workbook you want to copy the palette to is displayed.
  3. Choose Options from the Tools menu. Excel displays the Options dialog box.
  4. Make sure the Colors tab is selected.
  5. Use the Copy Colors From drop-down list to specify where you want to copy the palette from.
  6. Click OK.

If you want the palette to be available for all future workbooks, you must make the changes to the palette and store them in the default workbook. (See other ExcelTips issues where the default workbook is discussed.)

ExcelTips is your source for cost-effective Microsoft Excel training. This tip (2734) applies to Microsoft Excel 97, 2000, 2002, and 2003.

Author Bio

Allen Wyatt

With more than 50 non-fiction books and numerous magazine articles to his credit, Allen Wyatt is an internationally recognized author. He  is president of Sharon Parq Associates, a computer and publishing services company. ...

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