Last reviewed on April 26, 2015   —  25 Comments

Applies to Microsoft Outlook 2013, Outlook 2010, Outlook 2007

After upgrading to Outlook 2007 or above, you need to convert categories to color categories to add them to the master categories list.

Do this by right clicking on the top level folder (where Outlook Today is) and choose Data File Properties from the menu.

Data File Properties

If using Outlook 2007, the command is called Properties.

It should be the last command, as seen in the screenshot, but may not be the very last item if you have add-ins installed that add commands to this menu.

In the Properties dialog, click the button to Upgrade to Color Categories. This will convert the categories and add any not already on your master color category list, to it.

If you have more than one account in your profile that uses an existing data file, you need repeat these steps for each account.


To share color categories with other users, see the Tools below.


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


Categories Administrator for Outlook/Exchange

Categories Administrator was specifically designed for users to easily administer Master and Individual Contact Categories in Outlook/Exchange/BCM. Add, rename, merge, remove, delete, import, and create categories in Outlook/Exchange/BCM. Create a query and then map it to the selected contacts.

Category Importer

Want the same Master Category List in Outlook on different PCs? This free utility, Category Importer for Outlook, exports your Master Category List (MCL) to a text file that you can easily import on another PC.

CodeTwo CatMan

CodeTwo CatMan allows sharing of Outlook categories with other users on the local network. Centralized management using a shared configuration file. Version 3.0.1

Exchange Category Exporter

For Mac users. Export contacts from a specific category in Outlook 2011 or Entourage.

Exchange Category Manager

Exchange Category Manager is a plug-in for Exchange 2010. It enables you to manage the Outlook categories and colors that are available in Outlook 2007 and up. Define an unlimited number of groups with different users. Each group can have it's own set of categories and colors that the user can choose from. You can add categories to the existing list that a user has in Outlook or replace everything with the predefined list. As it integrates with Exchange server directly, the users do not have to do, their category list is automatically managed.

ReliefJet Essentials for Outlook

The updated version of ReliefJet Essentials for Outlook adds many new features including importing, exporting, and converting auto-complete lists. All utilities can be integrated with Outlook Rules. A command line tool for Outlook professionals and administrators is also provided. More than 70 tools and utilities are included. New utilities and features as well as performance enhancements. Improved compatibility with Outlook 2013, Office 365, and Windows 8.1.

Discuss in our community


  1. Camil says

    when i open my outlook contacts and try to open the contact category that i had modified, sometimes i only see th default categories that came with the software, and not the ones that I added on

    this started when I tried synchronizing outlook to gmail, so I can synch it with my android

    please advise

    • Diane Poremsky says

      What version of Outlook and are all updates installed? This sounds similar to a problem introduced into Outlook 2007 by an update and fixed bu a later one. It's possible another update broke it.

  2. Jan Churchill says

    I have just had outllok 2010 downloaded on to my computer,
    I am trying to relabel the categories to match what we are used to for Available Appointments for differant services offered by Southern Health.
    I can't do this.
    I have looked and read from the web but do not still understand what I have to do.
    Could some one explain in simpke terms please.
    Forever Greatful

    • Diane Poremsky says

      You can change the names of the categories in Outlook 2010 too., Expand the Category button on an open message or in the Outlook window. Click all Categories from the bottom of the menu. Select a category and click the Rename button.

  3. Jan Churchill says

    I am not sure what we had orgiginally but I could change the names to the categoes then they match my appointments.
    No I just have the 4 colours and I can't change them

  4. Jans P says

    Before I received this response, I changed the categories to match my old ones in XP and added my old ones and all of the contacts automatically updated. I am pleased I don't have to go in one by one.

  5. Cynthia Page says

    I can't get categories to be available in the folders that aren't under the main heading. When I set up Outlook it automatically set a separate group of folders for my email address that is not the same as the "Outlook Data File" set of folders. Now I can only use the categories if I transfer an email into the Outlook files then transfer it back to my email address files.

    Is there any way to get categories to show up in my other data files?

  6. Shala says

    I am having similar issues. We share a calendar with 65 people. And we use the color categories, but only the main person and my self can see the colors added to the calendar. The rest of the staff can not. How can we fix that so that all employees see the same colors?

    • Diane Poremsky says

      Everyone needs the same category list - the easiest way to do this is with one of the utilities listed in the tools section.

  7. T says

    Hi There,

    I currently have full delegate access to my managers calendar.We are using Microsoft Outlook, I use 2007 he has 2010. I have full access to his calendar, read write etc and I use the categories which I have edited to my liking with colur etc. I colour categorize any meetings in his calendar for travel etc except he cannot see the colour, he can see the meeting etc but not the colur category associated to it - How do I get him to also be able to view the colour in his calendar?

    • Diane Poremsky says

      You need to set the colors categories up on his mailbox - color categories are per user so he can't see the colors you added while viewing his mailbox. They need to be added from his account. Some of the Tools on this page can make it easier to share color categories too.

    • T says

      Hi Diane,

      The color categories are standard in Outlook, all Ive done is rename some of them, when I add the category to the meeting invite, the colour reflects in my calendar but not his - How do I get the colour cateogry to also show on his? Do I have to change his categories to be the same as mine?

    • Diane Poremsky says

      You both need to have the same categories and colors - color categories are per mailbox and user, not shared.

  8. Marc says

    One of our users also lost all his category colors when upgrading from Office 2010 to 2013. I tried the first suggestion to "Upgrade to Color Categories" on his main data file as shown at the top of this page, but nothing has changed. The colors are still missing. Anything else I can try?

    • Diane Poremsky says

      How did you upgrade? I haven't seen problems with categories with simple in-place upgrades. Are the items with the categories in this data file? Categories are per data file, not per profile.

  9. coelacanth97 says

    When I deployed Office 2013 around the office, some simply did an install-over-top of 2010, but others first required me to uninstall Office 2010 Standard before installing 2013, due to 32/64-bit discrepancy. I can't remember if I had to uninstall 2010 first for this user. He's the only one that uses category colors anyway.

    Anyway, I can confirm that clicking any folder within his archive folder (PST file), the color boxes appear. They don't appear anymore anywhere within the main mailbox, and I can confirm on a computer still running Office 2010 that the color boxes DO appear within the main mailbox.

    As I mentioned, I already tried right-clicking the main mailbox > Data file properties > Upgrade to color categories, this did not replace the color boxes within the main mailbox.

    If I categorize a message anywhere within the main mailbox, the color block doesn't appear as it does within the personal folder.

    • Diane Poremsky says

      Color categories are per mailbox. Assign all of the categories in the archive pst to 1 item, move or copy it to the other data file and run upgrade to color categories.

  10. Elaine says

    I use coloured categories for my boss' emails. When an email requires action, I choose the category (i.e., meeting) and choose the category "action" which is red. As of yesterday, if I choose the category "meeting" it automatically adds the category "action". Help!!!!

    • Diane Poremsky says

      I can honestly say I've never seen (heard that happen before). did you make sure the category name wasn't changed to include both names? Are you applying the category directly or using a Quick Step?

  11. vanitylicenseplate says

    Microsoft should go belly up for leaving crap like this to third party developers. Its not like outlook is a free program. More and more they just leave stuff out that use to work great, then replace it with half-a$$ garbage that have never been tested.

  12. John says

    I'm using outlook 2013 with three email accounts (all with pop3 protocol - all in different folders). Today I noticed that my colour categories have gone back to the default names (yellow category etc). When I scroll down my inbox I can still (sometimes) see the colour categories that I have previously assigned but when I click on an email the category box under the reading view window appears with the assigned name but with no colour. When I open the colour categories window my assigned categories appear as "not in Master Category list" and yet they appear only after i have clicked on an email with the corresponding category.
    What I eventually noticed is that apparently my colour categories are still working for two of my inboxes. They just reset to default in one of them (the one where I use them most by the way).
    I did not upgrade, or transfer, or anything else... It looks like outlook just decided to mess with my categories.
    Any suggestions?

    • Diane PoremskyDiane Poremsky says

      Run the upgrade to color categories function (right click on the root of the mailbox and choose properties, then click the upgrade button.) I don't know why they would have been erased - they are stored in the data file. Oh, if you changed the default data file, it could affect the master list.

  13. Penny Rutishauser says

    How do you get the COLOR of an email's assigned category to display under the Category field/column instead of the name/text of the category?

    • Diane PoremskyDiane Poremsky says

      Are you using the single line message list view, with the reading pane off or on the bottom? The category color should be in the category block, but the wide list view will include the category names. "Text" is the only field format available when you aren't using the compact message list.

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