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How to Use Color in Graphs and Charts

I’ve written several articles on chart design up until now. Here are a few listed below.

I mention these articles because one of the ideas I like to explore is the use of color within the chart itself.

All that to say – I will focus specifically on the use of chart color in today’s article!

More Often Than Not, Stick to One Color

Probably the most important takeaway from this article is to stick to one color whenever possible.

Take a look at the chart below.

Each bar is a different color, but the various colors take away from the graph more than they add to it. The different colors might cause the reader to question if each color means something.

Furthermore, each bar already has its own distinct label. The labels are enough to distinguish the bars.

If you make each bar the same color, then two things happen.

  1. The graph feels a lot more uniform and less cluttered.
  2. There is no potential confusion about the meaning of various colors.

Of course, there are times when using more than one color is unavoidable. For example, Pie Graphs are notorious for requiring the use of several colors.

Another example, is when you are comparing two sets of data. Then the use of color is necessary to distinguish the two groups.

However, if you have the option of using only one color, stick to one color.

When to Use a Pop of Color

There is a specific circumstance when using another color is a good idea.

Whenever you want to highlight or point out a specific piece of data, then using another color is a great idea.

Take a look at the graph below.

This graph uses one color throughout, which is excellent. But let’s say the goal is to focus the reader’s attention on the North region.

You can use an extra color to segment the North region from the rest, and this will draw the reader’s focus exactly where you want it.

Color is fun, and it is powerful. Take care when you use various colors, and do your best to use color intentionally in your graphs.

This practice will go a long way in making your chart design better.

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