Article title set against a backdrop that is divided diagonally into two different colours to illustrate what the article is referring to
Article title set against a backdrop that is divided diagonally into two different colours to illustrate what the article is referring to

How to use a sudden gradient change to fill with two colours

Sometimes you’ll find yourself using a two-tone gradient fill to represent something that is in two states, or comes under two categories. For example, a programme issue that is amber, but turning green. Or a role on an org chart that is split across two workstreams.

The default with gradients is to create a graduated change. But that introduces a whole range of intermediate colours. Better and simpler is often a sudden change of colour:

Two versions of a gradient between two colours - the first is gradual, the second changes immediately

This is exactly the same gradient tool in PowerPoint, but configured so the colour changes suddenly. It’s pretty straightforward:

Bring up the gradient fill pane. The least clicks is usually right click > Format shape > check gradient fill.
Screenshot of where to find the gradient fill pane
You only need two of the stops, so delete any others: select the stop and click the delete button with the red cross. (The number and position of the stops is usually set by the last gradient fill you did, so it's unpredictable.)
Screenshot highlighting how to remove colour stops
Set the colour of each stop to the two colours you want.
Screenshot highlighting how to change the colour of a colour stop
Set the position of each stop to 50%. Or any other position, as long as you set them both the same. Mac users - see the note below.
Screenshot highlighting how to set the stop position
Choose the Type and Direction until you have the effect you need.

Here’s an example:

Screen recording of the above steps in practice

Mac users

This is one of those slightly frustrating situations where PowerPoint on Mac behaves a little differently. You will find that if you set both stops to the same number you'll get a very gradual gradient. Instead, you have to use very close numbers, for example 50% and 51%. The colour change change isn't quite as sharp – but most people won't notice.

Not just shape fill

This also works for table cells - so it can be used in risk and issue status, for example.

You can also apply it to outlines, text fill and even charts - but be careful how you use it, it could be easy to over-complicate your message.

Multiple colours

You can have more than two colours. You just need to add a new pair of stops for each colour change, and make sure each pair has an identical position.

Example of creating a gradient with 5 different colours

Sometimes you might find that it doesn’t quite work at one of the colour changes – all you need to do is swap the colours of the two stops concerned. You’ll need to adjust the position of one stop so that you can see the other clearly, and then move it back to the right position after you’ve swapped the colours around.

Final note

Make sure that if you are using this effect, that it has a clear purpose. Don’t just apply it to make things look ‘pretty’.

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February 12, 2021

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