Six Colors
Six Colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Jason Snell

Restyling Numbers charts in Affinity Designer

Note: This story has not been updated since 2021.

Recoloring Numbers chart bars in Affinity Designer.

If you haven’t noticed, I leaned into the name of this site by color-coding all Six Colors charts by Apple product category. iPhones are blue, Macs are green, iPads are yellow, Services are purple, and Wearables are red. (Orange is… reserved, for now.)

Rarely do I directly compare products from different categories, but it happened today with the M1 iPad Pro, for obvious reasons. I use Numbers to generate my charts, mostly because it seems to generate better looking output than Excel or Sheets.

But while Numbers has many virtues, it resists custom coloring of individual bars in the same data set1. So to make the chart in the M1 iPad Pro review do what I want, I added in an additional tool: Affinity Designer.

Here’s the workflow: First, I exported my Numbers spreadsheet to a PDF. If you didn’t know, the beautiful thing about PDFs is that they’re not flattened images of your documents, but resolution-independent objects like you’d generate out of an illustration program… like Designer, for example. (I also use PDF to automatically generate my quarterly financial charts from a single Numbers file.)

Once the PDF was exported and I had removed extraneous pages, I opened the single page containing my M1 iPad Pro chart in Designer and selected the bars that I needed to recolor. While I was at it, I customized a few other things, like italicizing all the names of the products that weren’t the new one I was reviewing. (This was a convention we had back in my old magazine days, and I always liked it—but again, Numbers doesn’t really let me do that easily.)

Could I have jury-rigged something to do all this in Numbers? Sure. I could’ve created multiple charts and overlaid them, and created some custom text fields. (But setting it up would be laborious, and they’d need to be rebuilt every time I made a new chart.) I could’ve generated the chart in two different colors and merged them together in Photoshop—I’ve done that before—but that also was something I hoped to avoid.

Using Affinity Designer was the right answer—at least for the final stage of the process. If I need to customize Numbers charts like this in the future, I think this is the approach I’ll take.

  1. Yes, there’s a workaround – but it requires making a stacked bar chart with results for different platforms in different columnns. It’s a path that I’d prefer not to go down. 

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