Using PowerPoint 2010 to Create a Custom Theme for SharePoint 2010

This post is about my first experience using PowerPoint 2010 to create a theme to be used in a SharePoint 2010 site for a client. 

The goal for the SharePoint theme:  Create simple yet professional-looking branding for our client’s new SharePoint site, avoiding CSS and Master Page edits where possible.  I needed a set of custom colors, to match the customer’s website palette as closely as possible, which is why none of the preinstalled SharePoint themes worked for our needs.

What I liked:  It’s easy to create and apply custom themes.

What I didn’t like:  The limitations of the theme colors (due to reuse of the same color throughout SharePoint), and how many iterations I had to go through in order to get it right.

What’s a Theme?

According to Technet:  “Themes enable lightweight branding of a SharePoint Server 2010 site by allowing a site owner or a user with designer rights to make changes to the colors and fonts of user interface elements of a site. Themes are applied and customized directly in the user interface, and do not require knowledge of cascading style sheets or master pages.”

A common analogy is that themes are like the paint on the walls of your home.  You can browse the predefined SharePoint themes under Site Actions > Site Settings.  Under Galleries, select Themes.


Office 2007 theme files are not compatible with SharePoint 2010.  Only SharePoint 2010 can upload a theme (.thmx) file, generated by PowerPoint 2010, to apply the colors and fonts to a SharePoint site.

Let’s dig into how it’s done.  I’ve divided the process into five major steps:  A through E.

Step A:  Planning for How the Site Should Look

If you’re like me, you know what you like when you see it – but getting to that “Ooh, Yeah, I Like It” point can take more iterations than I’d prefer sometimes.  Whatever pre-planning that can be done ahead of jumping with with both feet should be worth the effort.  Even if you are able to have the RGB # list of complementary colors available beforehand, you can still expect to spend some time on getting the combinations just right.

For this project, I used my SnagIt Editor to detect the RGB #s from our customer’s website, so I had a list of colors to start from.

Step B:  Generating a New Custom Theme in PowerPoint 2010

1.  Launch PowerPoint 2010 and navigate to the Design tab.  Browse around the Themes choices in the middle of the ribbon, and pick the one closest to the palette combination you think you’ll end up with.  If you don’t pick a different theme to use as a starting point, you’ll be using “Office” which is the first theme listed.  Picking a built-in theme that’s somewhat close you what you want would, ideally, save you a bit of time later.

Alternatively, you could choose a theme to start with from the Colors drop-down – if you don’t care about looking closely at the colors in the body of the PPT.

2.  Ensure you have your “starting point” theme selected.  In the following screen shot, I have the “Aspect” theme currently selected. 

If you want to use one of the built-in themes as is, without customizing individual colors, then skip to Step C.  The built-in themes within PowerPoint are different than the predefined themes in SharePoint, so this would be a perfectly valid solution.

If you want to customize the built-in theme:  Click the Colors drop-down, then choose “Create New Theme Colors.”


image3.  From this window you are able to customize 12 colors:  10 theme colors & 2 hyperlinks.  

Theme colors:  The top 4 colors – Dark 1, Light 1, Dark 2, and Light 2 – are used significantly throughout SharePoint, for both text elements & background elements, so these should be selected pretty carefully.  I recommend that you stick to using dark or light colors as it suggests for each name - I tried to invert them in order to accomplish what I wanted with no success.

Name:  This is the name which will be used within PowerPoint.  You’ll see it listed as part of Custom Themes in the Colors drop-down, so you can use it again in the future.

Save button:  This only performs a save action within PowerPoint.  It does not generate the export file you’ll need for SharePoint.

Each time you click the Save button, PPT will append a digit to the end.  If you go through a few iterations you’ll start to see the custom names stack up near the top of the Colors drop-down.  Just right-click the old custom names that you don’t need & delete them.

There’s not an undo function within the “Create New Them Colors” window.

Step C:  Exporting the Custom Theme File out of PowerPoint

1.  When you’re happy with the 12 colors you have selected, it’s time to export.  First, make sure your chosen theme (whether it’s a built-in or a custom you just saved) is the one that’s actively selected under the Colors drop-down.  The active theme is denoted by the orange circle.


2.  Click the “More” down arrow in the Themes area.


3.  Select “Save Current Theme.”


4.  Save the .thmx file. 

File name:  I suggest incorporating the word “custom” somewhere in your naming convention – that’ll help it stick out in the list within SharePoint.

The default file location it uses is C:\Users\<UserName>\AppData\Roaming\Microsoft\Templates\Document Themes\<FileNameYouProvide>.thmx.  You’ll want to note this location, as you’ll need to browse to it from within SharePoint to upload the file.


Step D:  Uploading the Custom Theme File into SharePoint

Requires Contribute, Design, or Full Control permission for this document library in SharePoint.

1.  Go to Site Actions > Site Settings.  Under Galleries, select Themes.


2.  Navigate to the Documents tab.  Choose Upload Document.  Navigate to the custom .thmx file saved in the previous step, and choose OK.


You should now see your custom file listed in the Theme library.  But, you’re not done yet.  At this point it’s available for use only.


Step E:  Applying the New Site Theme

Important!  This step always needs to be done - even if you just uploaded a theme that already existed & replaced an existing file, SharePoint needs this step so it can recognize the new file.

Requires Design, or Full Control, permissions in SharePoint.

1.  Go to Site Actions > Site Settings.  Under Look and Feel, select Site theme.


2.  Find your theme from the list (this is why I find that having “custom” in the theme name is really useful), and then Apply.


3.  Browse around the various SharePoint pages to see how the theme looks.  Chances are you’ll need to go back through Steps B-E a few times to get it right.  I found myself switching colors from Dark 2 to Dark 1, and things like that, to see the effect.

Where the Theme Colors Appear in SharePoint

It took me a while to determine which of the 12 color choices affected which area in SharePoint.  The following sketch is just a start, but it illustrates my point.  See the 4 places where Dark 2 is reused?  A limitation I ran into again and again was the reuse of each color – for example, the “Dark 2” color is used for the strip across the top of the page, and the headings in the Quick Launch, and the primary text in the body of the page.  In my situation I wanted an orange strip across the top – but I sure didn’t want orange text on the page!  A goal was to avoid editing the master page in order to stick with a quick “out of the box” type of solution (because it’ll be easier for our customer to maintain).  For the color combination I wanted, this much reuse was a limitation rather than a convenience – though next time the level of reuse could be terrific with a different set of colors.


If you’re not sure where one of the 12 theme color choices will end up (especially ones like accent 4, 5, and 6), I’d suggest making it darker rather than lighter because of the likelihood that it’s used somewhere in SharePoint for a label.

If someone has seen a complete reference guide as to how the individual 12 colors map to SharePoint areas, I’d really appreciate your leaving me a comment with that information.

Finding More Information

The SharePoint 2010 Branding and User Interface Design book, by Randy Drisgill, et al, is pretty terrific.

A blog entry, How Themes Work in SharePoint 2010, from Chris Beckett takes my discussion into further technical detail.

MSDN:  Themes Overview.