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  1. PowerPoint Tutorials
  2. Presentation Design
  3. How to Create a Custom PowerPoint Theme

How to Create a Custom PowerPoint Theme

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At some point in your presentation design career, you will want to move beyond the default Office themes and create your own. This article is built to assist you in that process.

What is a PowerPoint theme?

Whether you're building an entire custom PowerPoint template, or just want to change the theme, understanding how a theme works will make your life easier.

To learn more about this, read our thorough article on PowerPoint themes.

Note: A theme is different from a template or a slide master. A theme does not include any content, and it works across PowerPoint, Word and Excel. To learn more about the differences, read this section on the differences between a template, a theme, and a slide master.

How to change the default color palette

Colors in PowerPoint may seem simple to use, but they can actually be quite confusing at times – especially when creating your own custom ones.

For now, let’s look at how to select and change the default colors for your presentation, so you don’t have to change them manually each time you add a shape to your slides.

Changing the default color palette

When you open a blank PowerPoint presentation, your theme will be set to the default Office theme, and therefore, the color palette will be set to the default Office theme colors.

To see the color palette that your presentation is using you can go to either of two places:

  • In the Normal View, go to the Design tab, find the ‘Variants’ area and select the bottom-facing ‘More’ arrow. There, hover your mouse over ‘Colors.’
  • In the Slide Master View, go to the Slide Master tab and click on the ‘Colors’ dropdown.

With the dropdown menu open, simply choose one of the available options by selecting it.

You’ll notice that as you hover over color palettes, you get a preview of the new colors on your slide:

Creating your own custom color palette

The important thing to understand before you start customizing your color palette is what the different colors represent and how they’re used.

The first set of four colors defines the colors of the slide backgrounds and of the text, and the second set (the six accent colors) defines the colors for shapes, tables, charts, SmartArt, etc.

When you’re creating a new color palette, you want to make sure that you stick to the color types indicated in the palette, because this is how PowerPoint will assign colors to your presentation.

That means that you want to make sure that colors 1 and 3 are light, and colors 2 and 4 are dark, and the accent colors reflect the colors you want to assign to objects. The order is important.

As Johanna Rehnvall of Presentitude says, “most organizations set their main brand color as the Accent 1 color. However, when you use SmartArt, for some reason the Accent 1 color is not used. So if you do a lot of SmartArt and want the main brand color to be used, avoid setting it to Accent 1. Custom shapes and lines are automatically using the Accent 1 color.”

One suggestion for this, is to make Accent 1 and Accent 2 be the same brand color.

Pro Tip: How to choose nice color palettes

For tips on what colors to pick and how to make a color palette, check out the following resources:

Now that you know what types of colors should be assigned to each space, here’s how to make those changes:

  1. Navigate to the color palettes dropdown
  2. Select “Customize Colors”
  1. To change a color, click on it and you’ll get three options:
    1. Select an existing color or a standard color down below
    2. Choose ‘More Colors’ and you’ll get more standard color options
    3. Create your own color by clicking on the ‘Custom’ tab

Once you’ve set all the colors for your color palette, give it a name and hit ‘Save.’

And you’re all set!

How to change the default fonts

Fonts in PowerPoint are fairly simple to customize. However, there are a few things to keep in mind, especially if you are choosing custom fonts (ones that don’t appear in the default font list), and if your presentation will be used on both PCs and Macs.

For now, let’s look at how to select and set the default fonts for your presentation, so you don’t have to change them manually each time you add text to your slides.

Changing the default fonts

To change the fonts that your placeholders will start with, you can go to either of two places:

  • In the Normal View, go to the Design tab, find the ‘Variants’ area and select the bottom-facing ‘More’ arrow. There, hover your mouse over ‘Fonts.’
  • In the Slide Master View, go to the Slide Master tab and click on the ‘Fonts’ dropdown.

Simply choose one of the available options by selecting it; or, create your own custom font pairing.

Warning: Not all fonts work on a Mac

While Microsoft is working hard to make the PC and Mac versions of its Office software as similar and compatible as possible, there are still a number of issues between the two systems with regards to fonts…even with the default fonts you get in PowerPoint.

Best practice is to always test the fonts on as many versions (older versions of PowerPoint, Mac, etc.) as possible to make sure that you don’t get any bad surprises.

Customizing the default fonts

To choose a unique combination of fonts (including default fonts and/or custom fonts), simply follow the steps above and choose ‘Customize Fonts.’

In this dialog box, you will be given a choice of heading font and body font, as well as sample text to see what the combination would look like, and a place to enter a name for the new font combination.

Make your selections for Heading font and Body font. You can use the standard fonts from Office, or any custom fonts that you have installed on your computer.

Warning: Be careful with using custom fonts in a template

There is a very big risk when you use custom fonts in a template that the resulting presentations that are created from the template will not function properly on another person’s computer.

Learn more about this in our YouTube tutorial, about the best fonts for PowerPoint, and which fonts you should avoid.

Unless you know EXACTLY who else is going to use the template and know for a fact that they have the same custom fonts installed on their computer, I would avoid custom fonts entirely.

There’s nothing more embarrassing and frustrating than having a beautifully made template completely warp out on you…and you’re stuck with fixing it or settling for ugly slides.

And while it is possible to embed custom fonts into your presentation, doing so comes with a few problems, so I rarely recommend it.

Once you’ve set your fonts, type in a name for that specific combination (best practice is to be as descriptive as possible), and then click ‘Save.’

Now your presentation’s fonts are set according to your customization.

Note: The theme fonts only control the text that is inserting in a placeholder (set in the template). If you insert a shape or text box onto your slide, it will have whatever formatting you set for your default shapes.

Go to this article to see how to set your default shapes to carry the formatting you want.

How to customize the effect styles

The next thing to determine is the kinds of effects you want to have automatically appear on various objects.

The effect theme in your template will specify the fills (such as gradients and textures), lines, shadows, and bevels for your shapes, lines, SmartArt graphics, tables and charts.

The effect theme chosen not only tells what style to assign to the object in the presentation, but it determines what options users have in the presets within the Shape Styles, the SmartArt Styles and Table Styles.

In 2016, your (only) pre-set options are:

  • Office
  • Office 2007 – 2010
  • Subtle Solid
  • Banded Edge
  • Smokey
  • Glow Edge
  • Grunge Texture
  • Frosted Glass
  • Top Shadow
  • Inset
  • Milk Glass
  • Riblet
  • Reflection
  • Extreme Shadow
  • Glossy

Warning: Keep it simple

There’s a trend of moving away from effects (PowerPoint 2010 had 40 of them, whereas 2016 only has 15). This is a hint to avoid going crazy with effects.

Also, as Echo Swinford points out, “some intense effects make fills lighter, which can make text harder to read. Also, when all the graphics in a presentation include extreme special effects (glows, bevels, shadows, textures, and so on), the results can be visually overwhelming and distracting from the content […]. When in doubt, test the theme effects on a wide range of slides with different types of content.”

How to customize the slide background

A common thing people like to do with their slides is to format the slide background. You can format a single slide, a single Slide Master layout, or an entire Slide Master (the parent slide layout).

You can customize the slide background by adding one of the following:

  • A solid color
  • A gradient
  • A picture or texture
  • A pattern

These are all managed by the ‘Format Background’ task pane.

To change the background of just one slide, in the Normal View, you can get to the Format Background task pane two ways:

  • Go to Design > Format Background
  • Right-click your slide > Format Background

To change the background of a Slide Master layout, in the Slide Master View, go to that layout and either:

  • Go to the Ribbon > Background Styles > Format Background
  • Right-click your slide > Format Background

To change the background of the entire Slide Master, do the same as above, but make sure you scroll up to the parent slide first.

Once you’ve opened this task pane, you can choose how you want to format your background. Here you can:

  • Set the fill type (solid color, gradient, picture or texture, or pattern)
  • Hide any design elements you’ve put in the background of the Slide Master
  • Add a transparency to any background
  • Set that background to apply to all of your slides
  • Reset the background to the default

But before you do this, it’s important to note that there is a difference between selecting the background style and simply changing the background color.

The difference between the Background Styles and formatting your background

The Background Styles are what define the light/dark elements of your presentation.

Notice above, how the color of the text changes, based on the lightness/darkness of the background style.

That means that if you are going to have a dark background color, you want to select a dark background style, so that the text and other elements on your slide adjust accordingly and are legible. And vice versa if you are going to have a light background.

The same goes for if you set a dark image as a slide background. While the example below is hideous (please don’t build a slide like this!), it illustrates the point that you want to make sure that your background styles are properly set.

Note: Make sure you set your Background Style first, as changing it will null and void any custom slide background you’ve set. For example: If you set a pattern fill as one slide’s background and then change the background style of that slide from one style to another, your background fill will be removed.

How to save a PowerPoint theme

Okay, you now have your own customized PowerPoint theme. Now all you have to do is save it.

To save it, simply go to the theme dropdown (either in the Design tab of the Normal View or in the Slide Master View), and click on ‘Save Current Theme.’

Then, choose a name and hit ‘Save.’

Note: You want to make sure that you save your theme files in this exact location. If you save it or move it elsewhere, PowerPoint will not know how to retrieve it.

How to share a PowerPoint theme

Once you’ve created your color palette, you can share either as part of the theme, or just on its own.

Where to find your theme files:

  • In Windows XP: C:Documents and Settings%USERPROFILE%Application DataMicrosoftTemplatesDocument Themes
  • In Windows Vista, and Windows 7 and later: C:Users%USERPROFILE%AppDataRoamingMicrosoftTemplatesDocument Themes
  • On a Mac (2011): ~/Library/Application Support/Microsoft/Office/User Templates/My Templates
  • On a Mac (2016): ~/Library/Group Containers/UBF8T346G9.Office/User Content/Themes/Theme Colors

Note: If you can’t find your theme folder, simply save your theme and copy the address up in the file explorer.

In this folder, you’ll find all the elements of your theme. You can simply save them to a hard drive or attach them to an email.

After someone receives one of these file, she will need to save it in the proper location (as mentioned above) on her computer.

Note: Keep in mind that when you share your presentation with someone who doesn’t have your custom theme saved on their local computer, when they open the colors dropdown, they may not see your custom color palette there.

It’s definitely there, as you can see in the shapes on the slide, as well as the shape fill options:

What this means is that you can use the color palette; it’s just not visible in the dropdown menu. You can save the color palette to your computer by customizing the color palette and saving the name:

Pro Tip: Learn more about themes

For more tips and advice on how to build your own custom themes, check out the following resources:

What's next?

Updated on October 5, 2018

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