A Better Box Of Crayons

Perhaps because I was never the kid who had the super sized 128-pack of crayons, I never developed much of an artistic eye, especially for colors.  Having only the 16-pack, with nary even the free crayon sharpener is something I obviously rue to this day.  (Made worse by the fact that, only a few years later, my younger brother got a 64-pack of crayons complete with built-in crayon sharpener.  Sigh.)

Anyway, the point is, if anyone needs help with colors, it's me.  That's why I love that Office 12 helps me make better looking documents by improving the selection of colors throughout the product.

Now, it is true that many of the core Office 12 products (including Word, Excel, and PowerPoint) support a new model for document themes, which let you change the color scheme, font scheme, and special effects scheme on a per-document basis.  Much can and should be written about how all of this works in the future.

But putting that aside for the time being, every document comes with a "default" theme which contains a color scheme full of well-matched colors.  The result is that, even if you don't mess with the new theme or color scheme features at all, your documents look modern and well-matched.  (Of course, it doesn't hurt that all of the default object styles in the contextual tab galleries will be based on these colors as well--so when you put a chart or table in, all of the styles you can choose between will match by default.)

In general, Office programs started out by supporting 16 colors.  These were the standard "Windows 16-color palette" colors, and they're formed by trying out various combinations of 0, 128, and 255 as red, blue, and green amounts.  For instance, RGB(0, 0, 0) is black, RGB(255, 0, 0) is bright red, and RGB(0, 255, 255) is bright teal (a mix between full blue and full green.)

As the Office programs continued to improve, certain programs were upgraded to 32 or even 64 colors in their color picker.  These were still generated based on binary mathematical principles instead of on aesthetic design principles, but at least if you allowed some of the RGB values to be 64 or 32, you could get a wider range of colors.  And, of course, in recent versions of Office you could always bypass the color picker and choose from any possible color--but this was a one-off selection and did not make choosing matching colors easy unless you are a graphics designer.

The new Office color gallery has two parts: the top half contains 10 fully saturated colors (meaning as bright as possible) and then a number of less saturated variants.  The colors have been selected to look good together, and many of the default styles in Office use gradients between a lighter and darker variant within a color column.  The bottom half of the color picker contains 10 "standard" colors that don't change based on the color scheme.  Here you have a true red, a bright yellow and green that you can use, for instance, to mark up a spreadsheet with good values green and bad values red.

The Office 12 Beta 1 Color Gallery showing the default color scheme

Just as always, whenever possible you can choose to bypass the color gallery altogether and choose from any of the 16.7 million colors supported by Office.

But using the color gallery ensures that the objects in your documents match and helps you choose colors that look a lot better than the "computer colors" brought to the foreground by old-school Office.  And, it makes it a lot easier to choose colors for gradients and shadows by going up and down the column of matching tints and shades.

There's a lot more to write about the Office 12 themes and color schemes story, but this gives you a small glimpse of how the products work even if you don't explicitly use these new features.

Comments (19)

  1. John Topley says:

    Looks great! I can’t believe how much is going into the Office 12 release. Is there no stone that’s been left unturned?

  2. ChrisC says:

    Red, Yellow, and Green are fine for background colors… I like the orange.

    I’m glad you have (what looks like) a real orange, for those of us who [are told to] color the text instead of the background (yes I can see yellow text on a white background, but cannot read it).

    The current choices of ‘tan’ and ‘gold’ don’t look right to me – but my little brother was the first to get the 64 pack too, so maybe that’s why I haven’t been able to determin the RGB of a good looking orange on my own.

    Jensen – is there an easy want to find the RGB of the color you have just used? (or even in the pallet)

    i.e. If I wanted to use the same shade of orange as the upper-right color in the box in another app, can I find its RGB so I can match? (or could you just tell me the RGB of just the top row orange & green? 🙂


    -Chris C.

    P.S. I really like the green in the upper row also – looks like I can use it as a text color too.

    P.P.S. Why would I paste in from outside Office?

    Here’s an IBD chart (the S&P 600) similar to mine that Excel won’t do, which I might want to paste in an Excel doc with a matching red-orange-green: http://www.investors.com/indices.asp?it=100&tf1=12m&tf2=12m&tf3=12m&mi=sp6 (login not req)

    I show the volume as red-orange-green with orange indicating the 25% heaviest trading days, red indicating the 25% lightest days, and the remainder green.

  3. Edgar Plonk says:


    If it’d been me, I’d’ve hidden the fully-saturated colors and the "Standard Colors" — with end-users that’s like leaving a can of nerve gas in the kid’s crib — but it’s a vast improvement in any case.

  4. Adrian says:

    Since colors can have lots of cultural baggage associated with them, will Office 12 have different color schemes for different markets?

  5. MSDN Archive says:

    *captures screen and opens paint*

    The orange is 244,148,75 and the green is 148,180,86

  6. Keff says:

    Hi, did you think over including a possibility to define a corporate identity set of colors and add them into this clever menu (preferably globally – in word, excel, powerpoint at once and even better remotely through network)?

    And thanks for a great blog 🙂

  7. AndrewG says:

    How about a user selecting a colour from the full-colour wheel, dropping into that ‘spectrum’ panel and generating an additional set of shades based on that selected colour.

  8. Rob F. says:

    Chris C:

    Give Pixie a try; it’s free.


  9. Terry Blanchard says:

    Chris C.

    If you are a Firefox user, there is an extension called ColorZilla that places a small "Eye dropper" tool at the bottom of the status bar. You can just click on it and place the mouse cursor over the color. The text of the status bar will change to reveal the color values underneath the cursor as you move it around.

  10. jensenh says:


    Yes, this functionality is built into the themes and color schemes engine. You can define and deploy a corporate theme or color scheme. Details to come…

  11. Mario Goebbels says:

    Hope you don’t change the default color palette for upcoming builds, because as it is, they’re a great selection of colors. But I’ve seen already people complaining about it, and you know how vocal they can get.

  12. ChrisC says:

    Rob F: Exxxcelllennnt! (and only a 9 KB exe!)

    Terry Blanchard:

    Actually I tried it for several months last summer and got really frustrated with the number of pages I frequented which it wouldn’t render (wouldn’t render as IE does).

    There were some things I really liked though, such as allowing a cookie for only the duration of a session.

    If this has improved, or you just suspect that I did something bone-headed, please drop me an email at earthlink (.net) and I’ll reconsider.

    Thx y`all,

    -Chris C. (jccompton)

  13. David says:

    Good stuff… now while you’re at it, how about a better selection of icons for users to attach to customisable toolbar buttons etc, as well as a better icon editor?

  14. Howard
    Cooperstein is a Lead Program Manager in the PowerPoint and OfficeArt
    Last week I gave…

  15. Ahruman says:

    Anal-retentive, I know, but none of those “fully-saturated” colours are fully saturated. In fact, neither are most of the Standard colours, even the “true red.”

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