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Getting More from Document Themes in the 2007 Office System with Office Open XML

Office 2007

Summary: Explore how document themes straddle the power user environment and developer environment and how they can be an ideal way for you to start using Office Open XML. (3 printed pages)

Stephanie Krieger,, Microsoft Office MVP

March 2009

Applies to: Microsoft Office for Mac 2008,Microsoft Office Excel 2007, Microsoft Office PowerPoint 2007, Microsoft Office Word 2007, Microsoft Office for Mac 2008.


When I first started using the 2007 Microsoft Office system, document themes quickly became one of my favorite features. I create documents and templates for others to use, so I love the idea of formatting tools that help keep your Microsoft Office Word 2007, Microsoft Office PowerPoint 2007, and Microsoft Office Excel 2007 documents looking consistent and professional.

But then, the more I used themes and saw how much they could do, the more frustrated I became with the theme elements that can't be customized (such as theme effects). Of course, there are 20 built-in themes that you can mix and match and that works well for many purposes. But when creating truly custom content, that just isn't always enough. Even hundreds of built-in theme effects sets wouldn't always be enough, because sometimes I need to control all of the formatting in my documents and templates (such as when implementing a company's branding, as discussed later in this article).

If you have similar experience with themes or you are a Microsoft Office power user who wants to learn more about the benefits of themes, I have good news. You absolutely can customize every element of a theme (including creating custom theme effects and slide background gallery styles), just not from with the Microsoft Office Fluent user interface (UI) of the 2007 Office system.

If you are not a programmer, you might wonder why I consider that good news. Well, if you are an advanced user of the 2007 Office system and you have been reluctant to explore the Open XML Formats, this is your perfect opportunity. A professional developer knows their way around code. But, you know your way around creating content and you use the features of the 2007 Office system every day to create documents.

Because themes are a formatting tool for building great documents, advanced users can understand them easily; probably more easily than someone who knows XML fluently but never creates documents. So, when you venture into the Open XML Formats to customize a theme, you already know much more than you may expect.

Creating custom themes using the 2007 Office system and Open XML both expands on what you can do with themes and can help you discover even more that Open XML can do for your documents.


In addition to the 20 built-in themes available in the 2007 Office system, 28 themes are currently available to download from Office Online. Additionally, if you are not ready to venture into the Open XML Formats, but you would like to learn more about themes, you can find a lot of help for theme basics on Office Online. One good place to start is with Customize and Save a Theme in PowerPoint 2007.

Before jumping off into developer territory, let's start with a quick review of what themes are and how they can be used.

  • A theme is a set of coordinated fonts, colors, and graphic effects which you can apply to a document in Word 2007, Excel 2007, or PowerPoint 2007 with one click. Thereafter, new content you add to that document automatically takes on the theme formatting as well. Additionally, in PowerPoint, a theme stores all of the formatting for your slide master, slide layouts, and slide background gallery.

  • One of the most important benefits of themes is that the same themes (both built-in themes and those you create) can be used in Word 2007, Excel 2007, or PowerPoint 2007. So, you can effortlessly apply a consistent appearance to all of your documents.

Any user can easily mix and match theme elements—fonts, colors, and effects—to provide a wide range of combinations for easy document customization in just a few clicks. Because themes are so easy to use and because they incorporate key visual elements used by all document types, you can also use themes to help implement your visual brand identity (branding).

Most larger companies have branding that incorporates the colors, fonts, logo, layout, and design for all printed and electronic content that the company distributes. From letterhead to business cards, presentations, and Web sites, companies want to protect themselves as a consistent, professional, recognizable brand. In fact, whether your company is large, small, or even a one-person show, creating your own visual brand identity helps you make a professional impression and set yourself apart.

When a document or template uses a theme, the branding is built-in. New content automatically takes on the correct fonts and colors. And new graphics not only take on the correct formatting by default, the theme automatically provides a gallery of customization options (such as Chart Styles and SmartArt styles) that all coordinate with your look. So, retaining the look of the brand, even when you need something unique in a document, is simple for every user to do.

If you are creating your own visual brand identity, you may want to mix and match from the built-in theme elements to easily find a look that works for you. But, chances are, if the formatting you wanted was already available, you wouldn't be reading this article. When you already know how to use all of the built-in elements of themes and you want to get more creative (or when you need to implement very specific formatting effects, such as for a company's existing brand design), that's where power user meets developer, and the Open XML Formats just might become your best friend.

To create your own custom theme, the best place to start is in PowerPoint. Just like creating a document or template, creating a theme is about both good construction and good design. So, because PowerPoint uses the fonts, colors, and graphic effects in a theme but is the only program that also stores additional elements in the theme (slide master, layouts, and background styles), starting in PowerPoint gives you the most complete picture of how your finished theme will look.

You can format your slide master and layouts, create custom layouts if needed, and create your custom theme color set and theme font set. Note that you may also want to start customizing your master and layouts from an existing theme that has a background styles gallery similar to the background style options that you want in your theme. And, you might want to save time later by applying an existing set of theme effects that's similar to the options that you want to include in your theme.

Then, save your work as a custom theme that you can then edit further in the XML. Theme effects and the slide backgrounds styles gallery can only be customized using Open XML, but you may be thrilled to discover how creative the XML enables you to be.

Additionally, if you create documents and templates for international use, you can specify up to three font pairs from with the UI (for Latin, East Asian, and Complex Script fonts) depending on your enabled editing languages, but when you venture into the XML, you can also specify scripts for individual languages.

So, are you ready to get to it? Here are some options for next steps and how-to's:

  • If you are already comfortable with the basics of editing Open XML and you're ready to start creating custom themes now, jump right in with the article Creating Document Themes with the Office Open XML Formats. That article contains instructions on how to create all elements of a custom theme, including a walkthrough of the theme1.xml document part (which stores theme fonts, colors, effects, and slide background styles) and recommended step-by-step best practices for using PowerPoint and Open XML together to create your complete custom theme. And, in what's sure to be very welcome news, the article also introduces you to a free tool from members of the Office 2007 product team (called the Open XML Theme Builder) that can write most of the theme1.xml markup for you.

  • Or, if you'd like to wade into the water instead, start with the article Using Office Open XML to Customize Office 2007 Document Formatting in the 2007 Office System. That article focuses primarily on formatting graphics and theme-ready formatting in your documents and includes basics on how to read and edit formatting in Open XML. Much of the XML markup that you'll learn about in that article is the same as what you will encounter when customizing themes, just provided in bite-size pieces.

Regardless of where you're starting from, you can also explore the additional resources that follow for the right tools to get you from here to exactly the custom theme you want.

Stephanie Krieger is a Microsoft Office System MVP and the author of two books, Advanced Microsoft Office Documents 2007 Edition Inside Out and Microsoft Office Document Designer. As a professional document consultant, Stephanie helps many global companies develop enterprise solutions for Microsoft Office on both platforms. She also frequently writes, presents, and creates content for Microsoft. You can reach Stephanie through her blog,