Using Microsoft Office Templates and Themes
Some of the questions I hear most often about creating documents and presentations are about whether and when to use themes vs. templates. So, it seems like a good topic for a long-overdue tip post on this site.
For today's post, I'm starting with a basic Q&A to address some of the most common questions on the subject. Additional resources to learn more across the board are available at the end of the post …
Applies to products: PowerPoint 2010, Word 2010, Excel 2010, PowerPoint for Mac 2011, Word for Mac 2011, Excel for Mac 2011, PowerPoint 2007, Word 2007, and Excel 2007
What is a Microsoft Office theme?
A theme is a coordinated set of colors, fonts, and graphic effects that you can apply to an entire document, presentation, or workbook with a single click. The same themes work in PowerPoint, Word, and Excel (as well as Outlook and, in part, Access).
In PowerPoint, the theme also includes the slide master, set of slide layouts, and a set of slide background styles.
Once a theme is applied to a document or template, new content you add to that file automatically takes on theme formatting as applicable (such as matching fonts for text or matching colors for Office graphics.)
(Side note: you actually get the slide background styles gallery of the theme in Word and Excel as well, but for applying as shape fills.)
What is a Microsoft Office template?
There are several types of Microsoft Office templates but they all share the basic definition in common with most any other type of template you might know: something that you can reuse and customize, rather than starting from scratch.
You might use content templates (containing sample or boilerplate content), layout templates (containing sample layout structure to which you can add or customize content), design templates (those that provide a consistent look and feel to be applied to many different types of content), or a combination.
What is the relationship between themes and templates?
If you are using the current Microsoft Office file formats (the Office Open XML formats – the file formats introduced in Office 2007 that use four-character file extensions) then every PowerPoint, Word, and Excel document or template you create contains a theme – whether you choose to make use of that theme or not.
You can customize the theme within any document or template, and you can save just the theme for a document or template for use in other files.
How do you decide whether you need a theme or a template?
In PowerPoint, you get the design elements (master, layouts, colors, fonts, graphic effects) in both templates and themes, since every template contains a theme. So, you need a template only when you need sample on-slide content.
In Word or Excel, if you need any sample content, layouts, styles, or background graphics at all (any on-page or on-sheet content), you need a template. But your template includes the fonts, colors, and graphic formatting effects for a theme as well.
Why use themes?
Themes are an extremely important, extremely powerful, and easy to use formatting feature. They are fully customizable. They integrate with a tremendous amount of other functionality (such as Word or Excel styles, Word building blocks, and – as previously mentioned – most PowerPoint design elements).
Independent users – such as home users and students – enjoy using themes because it’s fast and easy to swap looks, customize your look, or mix and match different looks.
But one of the most important uses for themes in my experience is that they make it significantly easier for corporate users to implement company branding in documents, presentations, and workbooks . So, it’s easier for content created by people across the company to look consistent and professional.
Do you have to use themes in Microsoft Office documents and templates?
Do you have to use them? The short answer is definitely no. (Didn’t expect that, did you?)
Just because you get a theme in every document doesn’t mean you need it in every document. Like any feature of Office, use themes where they make sense for you – and that means where they save you time and/or improve your results. Yes, they make sense more often than not. But if you really have no use for any element of the theme that’s in your document or template, ignore it. Just be sure you really don’t need the theme before you choose to ignore …
In Word or Excel, if you are certain that you will never want to change fonts, use any color, or include any Microsoft Office graphics like shapes, charts, or SmartArt diagrams, then themes don’t make any difference to you. But, even if you don’t need those things now – if your document (or template) might need these things in the future, then setting up the theme will save you work and give you better results when the time comes.
In PowerPoint, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll often run into cases where you don’t need to care about the theme. If you’re creating just a one or two slide, text-only presentation and will never need to reuse those slides in any way; if that presentation doesn’t need any background design elements that are the same on more than one slide; and if you’ll never need to change fonts, colors, or include graphics - then you can just be on your way and do things manually on each slide.
But if even one of those things is not true and you still choose to ignore the master and other theme elements like colors, fonts, and graphic effects, than you are going to do far more work than necessary and probably not get nearly as good results if you don’t make use of the theme.
Ready to learn more about working with themes and templates,such as how to create or customize them? Check out these additional resources:
• If you have my Office 2010 book - Documents, Presentations, and Workbooks (which also covers Office for Mac 2011 and this topic applies to both), get a detailed tutorial on the basics of themes and how to create/customize them in Chapter 5, learn more about PowerPoint-specific theme elements in Chapter 13, and get a detailed overview of Microsoft Office template types in Chapter 22. Learn more about that book here. And if you click the book thumbnail it will take you to the Amazon.com page, where you can search inside and review the table of contents in detail.
• I definitely recommend a look at PowerPoint MVP Echo Swinford’s blog. She's also published an article on this topic here and you can get more information on her site about her upcoming book on the subject as well.
• If you're a developer or a confident power user and you want to know more about the guts of a theme and how to customize those parts that you can’t customize from within the Office programs, check out a white paper I wrote for the MSDN Office Developer Center … it’s an advanced-level walkthrough on the subject. It was written for Office 2007 but still applies to 2010 (or Mac 2011). (Note that it refers to the free Open XML Theme Builder tool which appears to be unavailable at the link provided at the moment. As soon as I find out if it will be back online and available for download, I’ll update this information.)
Hope this is helpful! Don't forget that you can email your questions to me at the contact link provided below ... and in the meantime ... happy Friday everyone!