Excel: Format SmartArt

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Problem: SmartArt always starts out as a boring blue diagram. What formatting options are available?

Strategy: You can use two galleries on the Design tab of the ribbon to quickly add color and effects to a graphic: The Change Colors gallery and the SmartArt Styles gallery.

The Change Colors dropdown offers more than three dozen color styles. The Colorful row offers five combinations of the six accent colors in the current theme. The Primary Theme Colors offer two light style and one dark basic style. The remaining six rows offer variations on each of the six accent colors.

  1. Add color to SmartArt by using the Colorful row choices.

    Gotcha: Each of the accent rows offer Outline, Colored Fill, Gradient Range, Gradient Loop, and Transparent Gradient Range columns. Of these five columns, only the first two seem to make any sense. For example, see the figure below. It shows five horizontal SmartArt graphics. Each row is formatted with a different accent color scheme. The Outline and Fill graphics look okay. In the third row, the Gradient Range graphic goes from dark to light, making it appear as if the company will be fading away by the final shape. In the fourth row, the Gradient Loop graphic is worse. Shapes alternate from dark to medium to light to medium to dark. This makes me think that somehow the 2014 and 2016 shapes are supposed to be related. In the fifth row, the Transparent Gradient Range graphic suffers the same problem as in row 3.

  2. Only Outline and Colored Fill graphics look okay.

    Additional Details: You can easily add effects by choosing one of the 14 styles from the SmartArt Styles gallery. The first five styles are 2-D styles and labeled as "œBest Match for Document." The remaining nine styles are 3-D styles.

  3. The first few 3-D styles create nice effects.

    The 14 graphics below demonstrate the styles available. I use the second 3-D style most of the time. It creates a nice effect but is still readable.

  4. Examples of the 14 layouts.

    Gotcha: If you move far into the 3-D styles, many of them are unreadable. Perhaps Microsoft is doing us a favor. For example, perhaps the ninth style, known as Birds Eye Scene, is designed for messages in which you need to deliver bad news. You can say that you showed the information, but no one will really be able to read it. This figure shows the original message and the message rendered in Birds Eye Scene.

  5. Apply a little Birds Eye Scene to bad news.

    Additional Details: If you change the theme on the Page Layout tab, you will have new colors available in the Colorful row, but you will also inherit new effects that change the options available in the SmartArt Styles gallery. If you only want new colors, you can use the Colors dropdown on the Page Layout tab instead.

    Additional Details: If you are using a layout that includes picture placeholders, click the placeholder to browse for a photo.

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