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Use color to identify messages in Microsoft Outlook

Use color to identify people and subjects when you download them to your Outlook Inbox. Copying the format to other views will retain the color, even if you move the message to another folder.

Instructions and figures are for Office 2010. Instructions for 2013 are given when significantly different.

Adding color to identify messages in Outlook 2003 is a simple task, as reviewed in Colorize your Outlook messages to identify e-mail from specific senders. It's still easy, but knowing the 2003 route isn't helpful when applying the technique to 2010.

In this post, I'll show you how to colorize your messages in 2010 (and 2013). These rules are folder-specific, so if you move a message, you lose the color - that might be what you want, but if not, I'll also show you how to quickly apply the rule to other folders.

Add the color rule

In 2003, you used Automatic Formatting to assign rules that displayed messages in specific colors, based on conditions. You can still do this in 2010, but you'll do so through view settings as follows:

  1. Click the View menu.
  2. Click View Settings in the Current View group.
  3. In the resulting dialog, click Conditional Formatting. You'll see a number of built-in formats in the Conditional Formatting dialog.
  4. Click Add.
  5. Give the new format a descriptive name.
  6. Click Font. You can assign other formats, but in this case, we want to color the message - that's a Font attribute.
  7. From the Color dropdown, choose a color. I chose Red.
  8. Click OK.
  9. Now that you have the color, you need the condition. Click Condition (under Font).
  10. In this case, you want to colorize messages from your boss. For this example, I entered suha@manning. You could click FROM to access email addresses from your address book.
  11. Click OK three times to return to the Mail window.

If messages in your Inbox match the condition, Outlook will immediately apply the rule and color them appropriately. Otherwise, Outlook adds color as you download from the server.

Copy the rule

Adding the color is a simple enough task, but if you move the message to another folder, Outlook removes the color - it stops applying the rule. If you return the message to your Inbox, Outlook reapplies the rule and restores the color. To keep the color from folder to folder, you can copy the rule to other folders as follows:

  1. In the Inbox, click View.
  2. From the Change View option dropdown, choose Apply Current View To Other Mail Folders.
  3. In the Apply View dialog, expand the Inbox and check the appropriate folders.
  4. Click OK.

Now you can move your colored messages to other folders without losing the identifying color you need.

About

Susan Sales Harkins is an IT consultant, specializing in desktop solutions. Previously, she was editor in chief for The Cobb Group, the world's largest publisher of technical journals.

2 comments
wdb3mail
wdb3mail

If I set the Condition by clking on the From button and choosing either an individual or group from my address book it won't work - nobody in the inbox gets formatted. But if I type in the email address that single address will get the formatting. Pretty slow way to do it for very many individuals or a Group. Am I missing something?

ssharkins
ssharkins

I think you'll have to identify each individual or find some common text or property that will identify them all with just one rule.