Last reviewed on May 8, 2014   —  24 Comments

Many people want to be able to color-code their Outlook calendars to distinguish between business and personal appointments, for example. Having been on the wish list for years, this feature finally arrives in Outlook 2002 in the form of Labels and Outlook 2007 adds colors to categories.

See Understanding Outlook’s Calendar patchwork colors for display issues when using color categories in Outlook 2007 and Outlook 2010.

Outlook 2002/2003 | Earlier Versions | Notes | Other Tools | More Information

Outlook 2007/2010

Outlook 2007 and 2010 use Color Categories to color appointments, not labels. If you upgraded from Outlook 2002/2003 and used labels, the appointments are color coded with the color if there is not a category assigned.

The label field is not removed from the items. If you open the mailbox in Outlook 2003, you’ll see the label and label color.

When you use categories and custom views with automatic (conditional) formatting, the color assigned to the category is used, not the conditional formatting color.

See Outlook’s Patchwork Calendar for display issues when using color categories.

Outlook 2002/2003

Color labels in older OutlookIn response to user requests, Microsoft has added on-the-fly color-coding to the Outlook 2002 calendar folder. In any day/week/month view, you can apply one of 10 available colors by right-clicking the appointment and choosing Label from the pop-up menu, as shown to the right.

In table views, Outlook 2002 supports the same automatic formatting feature as in Outlook 98 and 2000.

The Edit Labels command lets you change the text associated with each color. (You cannot change the available colors.) For example, I’ve changed “Must Attend” to “Deadline” on the list pictured here.

More tips for using the color labels:

  • If you use the Edit Labels feature to change the text for a label, be sure to keep a list of the original label text and the new text. You’ll need the original text if you want to filter or group by the Label field.
  • Outlook 2002 extends the automatic formatting feature to the Day/Week/Month view using the color labels. Right-click anywhere in a day/week/month view calendar, and choose Automatic Formatting. For example, you can use automatic formatting to create a rule that looks for every appointment where the subject contains “birthday” and set those appointments to use the purple Birthday color.
  • To apply labels in bulk to existing appointment items without using automatic formatting, create a new table view and set it to group by the Label property. You can then drag items from the Label:None group to the group whose label you want to apply to those items. Remember that table views use the built-in label names and ignore the names you may have customized, so keep that list of your customizations handy.

Earlier Versions

Microsoft Outlook 98 and Outlook 2000 support color-coding, but only in Table views. (Choose View | Current View | Customize Current View | Automatic Formatting.)

While you can’t add color coding to Outlook’s Day/Week/Month view of the Calendar folder, you can create a calendar in Word that color codes your Outlook appointments and events. Get the My Outlook Calendar template.


For Outlook 2002 (and later) developers, the Label property is not exposed in the Outlook model, but you can access it via CDO. Values can be 0 to 9. Code samples:

  • Set color label on appointment
  • Now-retired Outlook MVP Randy Byrne posted some sample code to return the color code index from the currently selected item in the Calendar folder.

The user’s customizations of the label text are stored in the 0x36DC0102 property tag on the calendar folder itself. This is a binary property whose structure is not documented. Each calendar folder can have its own list of labels.

If you group by the Label property, Outlook displays the original label names, not your customized names.

There is a known incompatibility with Outlook 2000, but also a post-SP3 hotfix to resolve it. See OL2000 Cannot Locate the Recurrence Information… Error Message When You Open a Recurring Meeting, Appointment, or Event.


Tools in the Spotlight

Category Manager

Category Manager allows sharing of color categories; it adds a sidebar to the folder view as well as opened items, in which you can group your categories and assign them lightning fast; and it adds a reminder, which optionally prompts you if you forget to assign a category. Version 3



Clock display that shows your upcoming Outlook appointments as a color-coded spiral. Free.


  1. Andrew says

    Can you colour code based on appointment type?
    i.e. if you set up an appointment it is coloured purple.
    All day events are blue
    Meetings are green etc.
    Otherwise it seems I hvae to categories all calendar events individually.

  2. Barb Blow says

    An associate has created a color calendar giving each room a specific color. When she shared this calendar the staff, the colors didn't show up.

    Any suggestions please?

    • Diane Poremsky says

      This is one calendar with appointments for each room assigned a category color? Colors are per-user, so each user needs to add the category to their Outlook and set the color. You have two options: use VBA or a utility

  3. Nate Homayouni says

    Microsoft should allow you to color code a single appointment in a series of appointments without requiring that the entire series be color coded. Is there a way to work around this?

    • Diane Poremsky says

      No, it's not possible, unfortunately. Color categories take precedence over automatic formatting views - that would be the only other way to color items. It annoys me that colors aren't separate from categoeis and that we don't have a true 'no color' category that would work with autoformatting.

  4. Neil Sams says

    New to Outlook VBA.
    Is it possible to assign a category to an appointment based on the content of the Subject field.
    I have tried searching but I don't understand which calendar items to use???

  5. Michelle Yard says

    I am trying to create an index of colour coding to show permanently along the top of a calendar. Basically what I want to do is to give different people a colour and then input meetings into the calandar which their specific colour. Can you help me please?
    Thank you Michelle

    • Diane Poremsky says

      What version of Outlook? If you are color coding with color categories, you'd need to use VBA to show each category as a button - and that would be the only way to create an index.

      You could also use conditional formatting in views and use a keyword to identify the messages - most people use the subject "whatever [person]" - and would filter for the [person] text. (This doesn't work if you also assign categories - category colors override conditional formatting.)

  6. Geraldine Ysselstein says

    Is it possible to colour code events in your calendar and then pull those same colours out into another calendar?

    For example, if you have one master calendar that lists everything that you are doing in a week-work (coloured in blue) and home (coloured in green). Is it then possible to "pull" a work calendar from your master calendar based on the colour? And is it possible to "pull" a home calendar from your master calendar based on its colour?

    I would like to be able to see everything in one calendar, but if I share my calendar, I would like to be able to able to give someone just my work calendar or just my home calendar.

    Thank you!

    • Diane Poremsky says

      No, not without using VBA. You can hide private appointments but can't share by category. It would be better to use 2 calendars and overlay them, that way you can share either calendar.

  7. sharon says

    Is it possible to color calendar a network appointment? For example, I keep the calendar for my office, and my boss wants all his appointments in a certain color, so as I make the appointment I color code it, but when he accepts the invite, it doesn't show up in color on his computer. Can I fix this?

  8. Delta says

    I am using Outlook 2010 and I would like to color code the days according to a 2-2-3 schedule so that I know what dates certain shifts are working. Is this possible? It would make my life so much easier if it is.

    • Diane Poremsky says

      Yes and No. Outlook doesn't have any specific way to color code, other than by setting the Work week and work hours in File, Options, Calendar. This will shade the non-working days (and hours) and the Work Week button in the calendar will hide the non-working days. However, this only works if the days and shifts are always the same. If they aren't you'd need to change the setting constantly. (PITA)

      For rotating shifts, you can assign a color category to the shifts. You can use color coded all day events to mark the working days and appointments to mark the hours.

  9. Dan says

    Most of my meetings are set up so that I invite an individual to a meeting. Simultaneously, I set up an identical meeting to another individual. Both are outside of my organization. I would like to change the color of the meeting once they accept the invitation. Looking at my calendar if I see two "green" meetings side by side, I would know that both parties have accepted. If one is still the default color I'd know I need to follow up to ensure they're going to attend. (I'm an "outside" recruiter and don't get paid if our client and consultant connect w/o my participation) Do you know of a way to do this?

  10. Dan says

    Thanks! Works perfectly!! I'm going to see if I can modify it to give me a different color for declined meetings at the same time. I would assume I could use an
    If... ElseIf... construct and be off to the races. Really not necessary as a no reply or a declined reply requires the same action on my part (contact someone and sort it out)

    Thanks again

  11. Sharon says

    Is there a way to change the default colours in Outlook 2013 so that Free/Busy/Out of Office are different eg yellow/blue/purple rather than the default which are hard to distinguish?

  12. Sharon says

    Actually, worked it out,using instructions I had for 2007. I was looking for Free as an option under All Appointment Fieds rather than looking for Show time as and then Free as the option. So all good now, thanks.

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