To Add Color Coding to Calendar items

Last reviewed on May 31, 2013

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:

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.


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 3.0.4


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

Written by

Diane Poremsky
A Microsoft Outlook Most Valuable Professional (MVP) since 1999, Diane is the author of several books, including Outlook 2013 Absolute Beginners Book. She also created video training CDs and online training classes for Microsoft Outlook. You can find her helping people online in Outlook Forums as well as in the Microsoft Answers and TechNet forums.

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