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How Two Free Sites Can Make Colors for Your Excel Reports More Professional

Microsoft's built-in color themes offer few ways to generate professional-quality color palettes for your Excel reports. But two free sites built for web designers offer some great color tools for Excel users.

by Charley Kyd, MBA
Microsoft Excel MVP, 2005-2014
The Father of Spreadsheet Dashboard Reports

About two hours before I started this article, I received email from Alan Lawrence, a frequent ExcelUser visitor. He told me about two sites—Paletton and Colorotate—that he uses to improve Excel's color schemes in his reports.

I looked quickly at both those sites, and I agree. If you're looking for ways to give your reports more professional-looking colors than you can find in Excel's default color schemes, you can create interesting color palettes on both these sites.

The sites are intended to be used mostly by web developers. But even so, you can use them to set up their palettes as color themes for Excel.

Working with RGB as Hex

Both sites work primarily with hexadecimal colors, which typically are used in HTML. So you need to know how to switch between Hex and Decimal RGB (Red, Green, Blue) colors.

To illustrate, Palleton's home screen has a setting that allows you to specify a base RGB color. But that setting is in hex, with the default of AA3939.

Hexadecimal RGB colors are always six characters long. The first two characters specify red; the next two green; and then last two blue.

Switching between deciamla and hex RBB in a workbookTo convert AA to the decimal number that Excel requires, we use the formula: =HEX2DEC("AA"), which gives us a value of 170.

And to go in the other direction, we use the formula =DEC2HEX(170) which gives us the text value, AA again.

Column A in this figure shows a simple way to go in either direction. You enter values in the yellow cells and use the formulas shown in column B to convert the entries.

Column B, by the way, uses the FORMULATEXT worksheet function, which was introduced in Excel 2013 for Windows and Excel for Mac 2011.

The Colors dialogOnce you have the RGB colors for a new color theme, it's easy to use the Colors dialog to change a color in Excel.

For example, here's how to change the fill color in a cell:

In the Home, Font group, click the paint can icon's down-arrow, and then choose More Colors. In the Colors dialog, in its Custom tab, enter your Red, Green, and Blue values, and then click OK.

Similarly, with a drawing object selected, press Ctrl + 1 to launch the Format Shape pane. Make sure Solid Fill is selected. Then click the paint can icon's down-arrow, choose More Colors and follow the same procedure.

The Paletton Site

The Paletton site is free, but it's got unobtrusive ads on each side, and at the bottom of the working area. The working area is dark and its commands are gray, which makes them look like they're grayed-out...but they aren't. 

The main control area uses small circles that you can click and drag around a color wheel. Controls above the wheel allow you to choose whether your palette is monochromatic, adjacent (3 colors), triad (3 colors), or tetrad (4 colors).

One great feature on the site is that after you have a potential palette, you can click on the Examples tab (in the bottom-right corner of the working area), which gives you sample web pages, artwork, and animations that use your colors in various settings. Making the mental leap from a web page to an Excel report is not that difficult.

To get your RGB colors for a completed palette, click on the TABLES/EXPORT tab and then, in the Color list, choose as text. This gives you a page of text that you can copy and paste to Notepad or Excel.

The Colorotate Site

The Colorotate site is a paid site but with an extensive free capablity. The free area has a varity of color palettes created by others, and you can use a color cone to adjust individual colors.

When you hover your pointer over a control, after a short delay you'll get a tool-tip that tells you what the control does.

To use a palette, click on it to move it to the working area, where you can adjust its colors. To capture the color settings in Excel, right-click on the palette in the working area and choose Copy palette to clipboard. And then paste the text to Excel.

Here, for example, I pasted the copied Colorate palette to cell D4, and then I built formulas around the text to convert it to red, green, and blue decimal values.

Changing Colorotate Hew RGB info to decimal.

How to Set Up a Color Palette in Excel

You also can use the RGB information from either Paletton or Colorotate to define a custom palette in Excel. Here's how...

In your Ribbon's Page Layout, Themes group, choose Colors. At the bottom of the dropdown dialog, choose Custom Colors to display the Create New Theme Colors dialog.

You now can click on the down-arrow associated with each color category, choose More Colors to display the Colors dialog where you can specify the RGB colors. (However, I strongly recommend that you DON'T modify the black and white colors.)

When you're done, Enter a Name for your custom color theme and then choose Save.

From this point on, when you chooose Page Layout, Themes, Colors, you'll see your named custom color theme included in the dropdown dialog.

If you ever want to edit or delete your custom color theme, right-click on it in the dropdown dialog, and choose the action you want to take.


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