Change the Colors of a Chart in Apple’s Numbers

| How-To

You have some terrific, important data to plot. You’ve built a bar chart in Apple’s Numbers. But changing the colors of the chart, indeed the colors of the individual bars, isn’t all that obvious. Here’s how to do it.

The place to start is a button called “Chart Colors” in the Numbers Format Bar. It’s on the far right at the top, and, unfortunately, if you downsize your window, its the first thing to disappear.


Chart Colors is in the Format Bar

By the way, to make sure the format bar is visible, from the Numbers menu, select View -> Show Format Bar.

However, the easiest way to get to the chart color button, especially with smaller windows, is with the Inspector. That’s activated with the blue and white “i” on the upper right side of the Numbers window, Click it, and then select the chart tab near the middle. (Shown in red below.)

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Click the Inspector button to see…

Numbers -2bThe Chart Tool

Here’s how one could set up some work on a chart. The actual table of data cells has scrolled off the top.

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Sample working set

Next, click on “Chart Colors…” button. A new window will open with two popups at the top. You can explore those buttons to see what kind of chart you want. For example, I’ve selected “2D Color Fills” and “Spectrum” in the screen shot below.

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Clicking on Chart Colors brings up this pallete

1. To change the colors of all the bars.

  • Select the entire chart.
  • Drag one of the colors you like from the pallete to the chart.

In fact, if you hover over one of the colors, you’ll see a prompt “Drag to Fill a Chart series.” Here’s how it looks, in sequence:

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 Put your mouse over the color you want

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Drag it to the whole chart and let go

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Voila!  The whole chart changes color

2. To change the colors of the individual bars.

  • Scroll back to the spreadsheet data cells.
  • Note the three small i’s at the top of your data selection (shown in the red circle below).
  • Click on them.
  • A pallete of colors will appear next to each data point.
  • Scroll back to your chart and tools pallete.
  • Drag the desired color from the color pallete to the specific bar of interest.
  • Repeat as necessary.

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Click on the three little “i”s


Here’s how it looks in sequence:


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Put your mouse over the color you want

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Drag it to the bar of interest and let go


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Voila!  Just that bar changes color

There are of course, many variations here. You may want a different kind of chart. 3D charts can look really cool, for example, “3D Texture Fills” + “Etched Metal.” To change your chart type, right click it. You’ll see a contextual menu popup that contains “Chart Type.” Click that to see your chart options.

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Right-click the chart to see the available types

There is, of course, much to explore with Apple’s Numbers. The technique of coloring your charts is just a tiny subset of the capabilities of this app. But once you see how to change the chart colors, you’ll have a valuable tool for presenting your work with style and clarity. And Numbers, with its built-in defaults, won’t seem like such a mystery.

For an example of how our Bryan Chaffin (who contributed to this article) used this technique in one of his articles, see: “Apple Beat Microsoft in Revenue and Profit.”

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