LGBTQ+ pride flag as if drawn by a highlighter pen. (Article originally published during Pride month.)
LGBTQ+ pride flag as if drawn by a highlighter pen. (Article originally published during Pride month.)

How to set the PowerPoint highlighter colour – and three practical uses

PowerPoint's highlighter pen doesn't appear all that useful at first glance. Partly because it offers you a choice of neon colours, but not your own template's colour scheme. But it is actually possible to choose the highlighter colour, which opens it up to a lot more practical uses.

Setting the colour

Screenshot of the highlighter pen dropdown

We discovered this by accident: if you use the eyedropper tool to pick a colour, it then appears in the highlighter tool:

  1. Find a shape that is filled with the colour you need. Or draw one, say a simple rectangle and fill it with that colour.
  2. Draw a temporary shape, say another rectangle. Make sure the shape is selected.
  3. Choose the fill dropdown, and select Eyedropper
  4. Use the eyedropper to pick the colour you found or created in step 1.
  5. That's it. You can delete any temporary shapes you drew in steps 1 and 2.

The highlighter tool will now have that colour listed under 'Recent colours'. These recent colours will be stored in the PowerPoint deck, so next time you open it, they will still be available.

Screen recording of adding a colour to the highlighter pen dropdown

Three practical uses for highlighting

1. Highlighting key words

Maybe this is almost too obvious, but sometimes when you've got a large block of text in your document it's worth highlighting the key words and phrases to guide the skim-readers in your audience. While a simple application of bold and colour can do this, sometimes a coloured highlight can bring some extra emphasis. It can be quite distracting, so don't overuse. Try to restrict to emotive statements and calls to action.

Example slide using highlighting to draw attention to key phrases

2. Labelling arrows

At some point, we all end up drawing a diagram that consists of several shapes connected by arrows. If you need to label the arrows, a simple white highlight blocks out only as much of the line as the text needs. We also use this trick for labelling tasks on a plan so that they are legible on top of the timeline grid. (If your slide background is not white, use the appropriate colour.)

Example slide of a simple process diagram, where the arrow labels have white highlights so the text behind them covers the arrow.

3. Alternative chart legend

The standard office chart legend – with its tiny colour swatches – often falls short of being actually helpful. Try using highlighting to create a more intuitive legend like this example.

Example slide where the data labels use highlighting to match the colour of the bars in the bar chart
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June 30, 2020

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