Microsoft Office has a new “Black” theme.

Microsoft Office now has a new “Black” colour theme, as they put it, their darkest theme yet.


OfficeBlack[Image of the new black theme in Microsoft Word – yes that’s one of the new mouse cursors about to be released at: – e-mail me for more info if you read this before the page is updated)]


Personally I really like the new theme.  It provides great contrast on the ribbon and file menu. Office 2007 / 2010 had a similar theme at one point that was maybe a bit lighter so it’s nice to see it back and better than ever.

I’d also like to note some other tips here for those seeking to adjust the colours in Word for better readability.

Firstly some background, Is light text on dark (a-la the new black colour theme in office) better? Or is dark text on light (as per the document itself in say Word) preferable?

There is a lot written on the merits of light text on a dark background or dark text on a light backround, with results landing in both camps:

On the readability of inverted color schemes

One of my favourites is this short but interesting piece which concludes that light text on a dark background is bad based on research that 50% of people have trouble reading it. In fact, that perfectly supports my view that users should ALWAYS have a choice as to which colour scheme works best for them:
Why light text on dark background is a bad idea

So clearly some people prefer one and some prefer the other. Personally I find the extra glare of a white background irritating and hard to read so I prefer a dark theme.

So to select this new theme:
1. Fire up your favourite Office program (Word, Excel, Outlook etc)
2. Go to the file menu (alt+f)
3. Choose “Options” (t)
4. Whack the drop down box next to “Office Theme” (press alt+t, click on it, or tab to it and press the down arrow).
5. Choose “Black”.
6. Click the OK button (or tab to something that isn’t a button and press ENTER)

Now if you’re like me and prefer (for whatever reason) lighter text on a darker background, what else can you do to make Office easier to read?

Change the background!  The theme is great but it only affects the ribbon and background, not your documents which remain black text on white.  You can adjust this by changing the background colour:
1. Jump on over to the Design Ribbon tab (alt, G)
2. Choose the “Page Color” option (PC)
3. Pick a colour.

If you choose a colour from the bottom couple of rows of the black / grey or dark blue columns, it will automatically adjust your text colour to white (rather than black), which is exactly what we want as black on dark grey would be quite hard to read!

One disadvantage to changing background colour, is that the text selection colour (when you hold down SHIFT and press the arrows to select text) becomes nearly invisible. This seems to be worst on the black background where the highlight is grey on black (regular text is white on black). On a slightly lighter dark grey or dark blue the highlight becomes a slightly different shade which is still hard to read but marginally better.

If you do set your document colour to black, you’ll want to make sure (unless you want this) that you have print background colours and images disabled so if you print, it still comes out black text on white paper.  It is off by default but best to double check before you use up all the black ink / toner:

1. Open the File menu (alt+f)
2. Choose Options (t)
3. Go to the “Display” section (control+tab)
4. Press TAB (or move the mouse) to “Print background colors and images”
5. Press SPACEBAR (or click with the mouse) to uncheck this option (it’s unselected if the square next to it is black. If there is a tick in there, it’s checked).

If you want to adjust the size of things on screen, to make them bigger and easier to see, the best way is by adjusting DPI.  Here’s an article I wrote comparing how to do that – it works across your whole computer, not just Office: I would recommend, after adjusting the DPI that you next look at using the magnifier if you still want things larger:

Press WINDOWS+PLUS to turn the magnifier on or make things bigger
Press WINDOWS+MINUS to make things smaller
Press CONTROL+ALT+i to turn invert colours on (note you may prefer this to adjusting the Office theme in the first place – try both and see what works best for you).
Press WINDOWS+ESCAPE to turn the magnifier off (note that you could invert colours then use WINDOWS+MINUS to drop back to no magnification if you want inverted colours without magnification).
Whether or not you use the magnifier, you may also find zooming in or out of your document useful. This adjusts how big your text (and images) look on screen without affecting how they will be printed (if you want 72pt font on paper, you’ll need to set that font size in your document).

The easiest way to adjust the zoom of your document is by holding down CONTROL and using the scroll wheel on your mouse. There is no equivalent fully keyboard shortcut, however offers several solutions (either a macro or adding options to your ribbon).

Several other ways:

ALT, W, Q, E will get you into the zoom percentage and you can then type a value (100 = 100 percent, larger = bigger)


Click on the + or – buttons or the slider at the bottom right of the screen in the status bar with your mouse

Keyboard equivalent of that is F6 gets you to the status bar, you can then left and right arrow to the zoom control and manipulate it with the spacebar and F6 to get back to your document.
Finally, in Word specifically, if you want to get rid of the margins and go back to something which shows your text and not the whitespace around it:

1. Open the View ribbon (alt, w)
2. Choose either web layout (L) or draft layout (e)

Draft layout is what old Office 2003 users will remember as “normal” layout. You can still get to it with CONTROL+ALT+N (note that if you have a program shortcut set to start with CONTROL+ALT+N, eg NVDA, it will launch that, so you’ll need to activate it via the ribbon). You can also still get back to Print layout (the default) via CONTROL+ALT+P (again if you don’t have a program shortcut using that), but I’m not aware of an equivalent to get to Web view.

Draft layout will knock your colours back to black text on white, but web layout will keep it how you’ve set it up.

Interestingly, even when I saved this as my default template in Word, it still came up black on white when I created a new document, although if I then go into web layout, the colours go to white on dark as I’d set – So maybe leave that for now and hopefully Microsoft will fix that bug (I’ve reported it).

When you change fonts in Word there is a button to save as default, but to make more advanced changes (like I was hoping to do with the background), you need to load the normal.dotm file found in C:\Users\USERNAME\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Templates – replace USERNAME with the profile you are logged in as, then make whatever changes to your setup (line spacing, font, etc) and then save the file.


What options do you use in Microsoft Office to make it easier to see or use? Let me know!


2 thoughts on “Microsoft Office has a new “Black” theme.

  1. Maybe I missed it but, what version of office is this new black theme available on? I’m not seeing it on my 2013 at work. Is it available in an update to 2013? Or do you have to have the latest version of Office? Thanks!!!

    • Hi Summer, unfortunately the black theme is only available in Office 2016. There aren’t too many big differences between Office 2013 and 2016, but evidently that is one.

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