PowerPoint offers a wide palette of colors to use when customizing objects. You can even match an existing color, but you won't use the palette to do so; that's too much guesswork. Instead, you can use PowerPoint's eyedropper tool. It's easy to use but often misunderstood. In this article, I'll show you how to use the eyedropper tool to match colors. Then, I'll show you how to reduce your work by assigning matching colors to multi-object selections.
I'm using Office 365 (PowerPoint 2016 desktop) on a Windows 10 64-bit system. You can work with any PowerPoint objects or you can download the demonstration .pptx file. The eyedropper tool is available in Office 365, PowerPoint 2016, and PowerPoint 2013. It's also available in Publisher but not in the 365's browser edition. Note: The eyedropper tool isn't available in Touch mode; you'll need a mouse or stylus.
The manual way: Hit or miss
Let's suppose you want the border color for the three objects shown in Figure A to match the blue in the TechRepublic logo. You could select the objects and try to match the logo manually as follows:
- Select an object—in this case, select the book-sitting graphic on the left. Doing so will display the contextual Format tab.
- In the Picture Styles group (Format tab), click the Picture Border dropdown to see several color thumbnails (Figure B).
- Thanks to Live Preview, you can hover over colors until you find a close match. Blue, Accent 5, Darker 25% is about as close as you can get—and it might be close enough.
Let's match the object borders to the logo's blue.
Live Preview displays the active thumbnail.
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The eyedropper way: Exact match
Now, let's suppose that the colors aren't an exact match. You could spend some time trying to match the color by getting the right red, green, and blue (RGB) mix, but that's hard work and fortunately, unnecessary.
Let's try again: Select the object and display the palette from the Picture Border dropdown as you did before. This time choose Eyedropper.
Choosing Eyedropper turns your pointer into a small eyedropper icon. As you move the pointer over objects, the thumbnail displays the color of the underlying color. Figure C shows the icon hovering over the red question mark. It also displays the underlying color's RGB mix.
Use the eyedropper to learn more about colors.
This tool works similarly to the Format Painter in that it copies a format from one element to another. Using Format Painter, you click the source object you're copying, click Format Painter, and then click the destination object. With the eyedropper tool it's reversed. You first click the object you want to change. Then, you grab the eyedropper tool and click the object you want to copy. In addition, the eyedropper works only with colors; Format Painter copies all formatting, including color.
At this point, if you click while hovering over the red question mark, the eyedropper will assign the underlying color (red) to the selected object's border—the border for the book-sitting graphic. But we don't want the border to be red, we want it to match the logo's blue. If you clicked, don't worry. Grab the eyedropper tool again and hover it over any blue area in the logo graphic. Then, click. The selected object's border now matches the logo as shown in Figure D. That was so easy.
The border matches the logo's blue.
You don't have to go through with it though. You can press Esc at anytime to cancel the eyedropper tool. And pressing Ctrl+Z will remove the newly applied color after the fact.
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That was easy, but the slide contains three graphics with borders, and we want all three borders to match. Format Painter is an option, but you might not want to copy all the source object's formats. In this case, you can use the eyedropper with multiple objects as follows:
- Click an object, hold down the Shift key, and click the remaining objects to create a multi-object selection.
- With the two remaining objects selected, click the Picture Border dropdown and review the Recent Colors section. The blue you just grabbed from the logo and applied to the first graphic is the first thumbnail on the left (Figure E).
- Click the blue thumbnail in the Recent Colors section; all three graphics now have the same blue border and it matches the blue in the logo exactly.
PowerPoint remembers the colors you work with.
Power user tips
If you know going in that you want all three graphics to have the same color, you can use the same multi-object selection behavior, reducing your border-changing task from two tasks to one. Create the multi-object selection and then use the eyedropper to assign the color to all three (or more) at the same time. It's great to know both ways, just in case.
In addition, you can grab colors from off-slide. Simply hold the (left) mouse button as you drag to the color you want to match, even outside the PowerPoint window. Don't worry if the eyedropper tool disappears—it will still preview colors and work.
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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.