Color Guidelines to Make Your Charts Look Great

Color Guidelines to Make Your Charts Look Great

Are you one of those who prefers graphical representations to present data rather than text? Or are you one of those who gets stressed while seeing information on charts?

Thumb rule: Charts should never make the data look more puzzling and confusing. One of the easiest ways to highlight information aptly is to use color schemes. Undoubtedly, color is one of the most powerful tools to enhance the meaning while bringing out the clarity of the displayed data. However, the true benefits are only reaped when we understand how it works. That’s why proper use of colors is essential to create a powerful impression.

Here’s a list of color guidelines to make your charts look great:

1. Less is always more

Try using not more than six colors in your chart as looking at similar hues could be confusing and distracting for the reader. However, if you need more colors, try grouping similar categories of data together. This way, categorical palettes will also play an important role in organizing data and highlighting distinct groups.

2. Selection of right colors

To display most of the information on your chart, using soft and natural colors is a good idea. However, if you’d like the readers to notice certain key points, bright and/or dark colors can be used to highlight this information well. It is important to choose colors that look different from each other while bringing out the same level of intensity. Balance is the key. For example, while choosing a palette of bright colors, no one color should pop out more than the other.

3. Don’t shy away from gray

When it comes to charts, gray is your go-to color. You can use it in places that you do not want to draw too much attention to. For example, gray is a great color to bring out less-important information in the background. This will make the real color highlighted data shine through.

4. Choose your contrasts wisely

The most basic and commonly used color contrast is black and white. To add a little color, using deeply saturated colors like blue on a light background like white is also a great combination. However, be careful as not all colors go well with each other. For example, navy blue on black would make it difficult for the viewers to understand the distinction.

5. Keep the color blind in mind while choosing your color codes

We generally use the popular red-green color-coding for various charts. We display “poor/negative” values as red and “good/positive” values as green to mark the distinction. However, you may be surprised to know that approximately 10% of men are color blind with red/green. To guarantee that your charts cater to the colorblind audience, avoid this combination or even orange (since it is close to red) and green in the same display. Instead, blue/red can be used as a good substitute.


The ultimate goal of using colors on charts is to make complex data look simple and easier to interpret with just a glance. So, ensure that you do not let colors distract the audience from grasping the essence of the data. The best plan of action is to be consistent while choosing the color palettes to bring out various aspects of the chart.