Changing the color theme for Outlook 2013

If you’ve upgraded to Outlook 2013 and are struggling with the new softer look, and missing the older higher contrast look in the reading view, you may be wondering about changing the themes. Outlook does have a few themes that can be changed, however they really only change the perimeter, and don’t change the email list.

I’m told to give the new themes some time, and they will grow on you, and perhaps they will, and perhaps I’ll give them a try, but for now, I’ve got way too much email, and I feel like I’m straining to read and find relevant content. so, here’s an quick way to at least get a higher contrast, black on white email list:

 Outlook 2013 Default Theme (Blue on white)  Modified View to Black on White

 To Change the email:

  1. In the Ribbon, select View
  2. Within the View tab, select Change View
  3. In the Manage All Views dialog, select <Current view settings>, then select [Modify…]
  4. Select [Conditional Formatting…] 
  5. Notice the [Font…] configuration, with the nice soft blue font color
  6. Simply select Color and change from Custom to Black 
  7. Apply the view to all folders
    1. From the same  view menu, select Change View
    2. Select Apply Current View to Other Mail Folders…
  8. Simply select the folders you wish to update, and check the Apply view to subfolders checkbox if you’d like as well.

While this doesn’t change all the elements back to the 2010 theme, like the folder icons in the navigation, it at least provides a little more contrast to view way too much email.


Comments (224)

  1. Karen says:

    With your suggestions, I was able to change my view to be a slight bit better. After hours of playing with themes and searching on the internet, your suggestions worked the best. Thank you!

  2. kr says:

    Thank you for this tip, it helps somewhat. Hopefully some themes get released soon.

  3. Lajollajule says:

    Thanks.  This helped me make changes and  improve my Outlook view!

  4. COLIN says:

    THANKS FOR THAT it was driving me mad I hated the new colour

  5. Tony says:

    Thanks. I wish there're more changes to the themes, because all that white color is blinding!

  6. Liz says:

    Thanks, this was the most helpful of all the online advice I found – changed a little so at least can see new emails more easily (I went for bold red!)

  7. Ranger says:

    Thanks for the tips! Easy to change with your directions.

  8. Walter says:

    Thank you. I also did not like the custom color.

  9. Jabu - Pretoria South Africa says:

    I think one should just roll back. The person who designed the new look and feel of the outlook part of the new office was depressed. Working whole day on emails is now such a boring experience…

  10. Dave says:

    A nice step towards making Outlook 2013 more bearable. I still miss my Blue Theme dearly – is there really no way to create new themes, like for VS2012?

  11. Frank says:

    My bet is 'they' will eventually provide more options and improve this functionality?    I am certain  this  light on light dumb and basic rule breaking setting will not grow on me or many others.  Thank for the useful tutorial !  FC

  12. Dan says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you!  I want contrasts and I want BOLD!  What were they thinking?  I have no problem with them making their "custom" view one of a set of options, just so I can customize the way I want it to look.  I paid a lot of money for this software and, at the very least, I should be able to customize the colors.

  13. Stella says:

    Thank you!!!!

  14. TG says:


  15. old reader says:

    The person who designed this must be under 30 because anyone older than that can't read a thing without contrast. Changing the font and color really does very little once you've read the emails, goes back to black.

  16. Din_Kar says:

    This has really helped. Before I read this, viewing mails in outlook 2013 had become a nightmare!!

  17. Bob Millington says:

    Wow, this will be an easy fix for an install base of a 1000 users.  Managing IT is hard enough, now we have a new version that puts us back 10 years.  This is great.  Thanks Microsoft….your UI is horrible.

  18. TMc says:

    Thanks!!!!  This worked wonders!!!!

  19. Charley Yancey says:

    thanks for tip, and thanks to all the other human beans who had the same reaction i did: wtf?

    i guess too many muddle managers and programmers have to justify their existence by changing *something*, even if it is for the worse…

    case in point: *besides* the overall bleached out look which makes recognition of icons, etc problematic, they changed some icons which had meaning to be icons with no meaning: when i saw a small 'A', i knew that made text smaller (whoa!  that is deep), and when i saw the big 'A', i knew that made text bigger!  (WOW!)  and -this is really genius- when i saw the 'A' that had color, i knew that was what changed my font color ! ! !

    now? 'A's of the same size with a barely detectable, teeny, tiny have-to-put-my-nose-on-the-screen arrowhead to see which icon is 'smaller' and which is 'bigger'…

    proving once again, that i (and you) are smarter than everyone combined at microsoft…

    …just not as rich

  20. Scott Weible says:

    What a bunch of blithering idiots at MicroSoft.


    Stupendous, vile, inconsiderate and remarkably dense, idiots.

  21. Andres says:

    Thank god for this fix.  I rarely use the word Hate… but i'd have to say I come close to hating this outlook UI.  i hope i don't go blind.  Thanks again for this quick solution.  Hopefully something will be done soon to fix the bleach-view

  22. Timothy says:

    You Sir, saved my life.

    thank you for uploading this quick solution

  23. Lori Hahn says:

    Thank you!  This made my life much simpler.  It was maddening and now it's not quite as crazy-making!

  24. Joe Smoe says:

    good fix… MS once again trashes a nice product Office 2010 which I loved compared to the rest… now I have a partially readable setup with ALL CAPS in the TABS…

    if I did not have to support this POS,  i would go back to 2010, but with MS, 2 steps forward 3 steps back….

  25. Ricardo says:

    The 2013 format is absolutely awful!  The Microsoft designers should all be fired.  This is a cruel joke on us all.

  26. Daniele Kirylo says:

    I don't understand in Microsoft who approves their software, it seems that in this company, in the last years, there is some Joker who like to make fun of people.

    This new office themes are a total crap, I spend lots of hours in front of a computer reading mails, and all this WHITE in my eyes is making me blind! I will sue you for this Microsoft.

  27. BillG says:

    I agree with you completely. I've given 2013 a pretty long time, and I would switch back to 2010 in a heartbeat based purely on the appearance. The "softer" look is actually much harder on the vision. Not being able to modify the "skin" is a huge step backwards for Office.

  28. Vin says:

    Thanks Steve, it was really a good suggestion.

    Its really frustrating when microsoft does make such sort of changes.

  29. Bill says:

    The new themes grow on you like cancer – it does not get better with time! Eye strain is prevalent with our office on the new stuff. I've been asked to repurchase old software to relieve the eyes. These suggestions are good but unfortunately MS has messed up. The person who came up with this should be fired or given a job in the basement shoveling coal into the furnace to keep real workers comfortable.

  30. FRSU_Guru says:

    Go to "Files" then click "Office Account". You can change the background theme and the background color. I chose Dark Grey but I used Steve's method above for changing the font.

  31. HappyIndyWoman says:

    Thank you for providing a simple, easy to follow solution to my eye strain.  When I opened Outlook for the first time after the change, I was definitely unhappy but now I'm able to deal with the new format much better!

  32. Eric says:

    That is about as close as we are going to get!  Thanks a lot for this.  Even the minor change is much easier on the eyes

  33. michelle says:

    You can also go to the More Commands Tab, click on General and change the Office Theme to a darger Gray instead of white. It seemed to help with the contrasting of the Bold fonts.

  34. Pete says:

    Thanks for that, and I will put my vote in on yes, I don't like the colors or the ability to change them, the contrast is NOT good.

  35. Camarones says:

    I really don't know what all these people are complaining about. It really is not that bad. The simplistic UI design is the trend almost all companies, including Apple and Google are using. The 3D button with drop shadows look is a thing of the past. It is slow and and wastes resources.

  36. K says:

    THANK YOU!!!..   I couldnt stand the soft blue look, the emails were not standing out

  37. Leslie says:

    You saved the day!  I followed your directions setting all to black.  Then I went back and set only the unread messages to black, bold.  Wow.  So much better.  Who at microsoft is making these decisions?  Did they test 2013 at all?  It's bizarre.  Between Windows 8 and this, the future doesn't look bright.  (Or bold!?  LOL)  Thanks again.

  38. Matt says:

    Being colour blind i struggled to determine which messages were read / unread… Thank you so much.

  39. Toy says:

    Thanks for the info, it is great. Especially for a 67 year old like me. Seems like the kids at Redmond doesn't realize what us elders have to contend with. Hey, kids wake up!

  40. Thanks. The new Outlook is horrible. This blue sucks. I should go back to 2010.

  41. APdidy says:

    Thanks for this post, it helped. One more useful change is to the Office Theme, which can be found at File->Options->General->Office Theme. Changing this to Dark Gray really helped improve the contrast.

  42. PBall says:

    Thanks for the tip. APdidy gave the other good advice for breaking up the white noise.

  43. eatbat3 says:

    Thank you, so much! I'm not sure how anyone could get used to the new washed-out default view. It's terrible and very stressful on the eye!

  44. Hema says:

    Thanks a lot………

  45. RJG says:

    I am still with Windows Outlook 2010 and staying due to colors of 2013

  46. Ali says:

    Shame on you microsoft. We pay you to blind us

  47. Peter says:

    Thanks for this, our entire department is relieved (both emotionally and ocularly) by this solution!

  48. Rick says:

    After establishing the changes about a month ago, i cant get past the fact that I absolutely hate this look.   Hate it!  This was an install of new software, not an upgrade.  Is there any way to downgrade this to 2010?  Really, it is just that awful.  Apparently they did no focus groups.  The functionality is good but the viewing is atrocious.  

  49. Nadia says:

    General speaking , this version is not good at all . and we all we will end up to be blind very soon

  50. Barbara Gunn says:

    Thank you Mr. Lasker; my anxiety is cured now….many sleepless nights about this.

  51. Microsoft has lost their mind says:

    Microsoft has lost their mind! The changes they are making are pathetic and short sighted. They spend their time revamping what they have and there is no real product innovation. I mean Outlook was just fine…if they wanted to improve it, make the changes work with tablet versions only…Getting rid of the Start Menu…that ought to make a few million users happy!

  52. Greta says:

    Thanks for trying to help us.  This is the worst version ever!  I am switching to Thunderbird and Open Office!

  53. Bill says:

    It really needs some darker color selections.  Does anyone from MS like to comment?

  54. Rob says:

    Thank you! That soft blue was driving me nuts. greatly appreciated.

  55. Jon says:

    Windows 8 is craaaaaaaP.  MS have ruined this software all in the name of making it work on mobile devices I presume.

    Got a new work laptop with win8 and outlook 2013( don't get me started on that piece of software dogsh**e) and it is un- useable. Luckily we have the option of Remote Desktop which runs Office Server 2008. It's bad news when software that is 6 years old is better than new stuff. Never use the laptop for anything other than getting on remote now.

    MS I wish you would bugger off and leave things alone .

    IF IT AINT BROKE DONT F iing FIX IT !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  56. Kaye says:

    Thanks for the help.  Good grief Microsoft you can do better than this!!

  57. Gary says:

    Just can't look at it any longer.  Going to sell my copy of 2013 and go back to 2010…

  58. William says:

    Finally….I tried using the new theme thinking I would get accustomed to it, but I just could not get to where I liked it at all. This helps tremendously. Thank you.

  59. Joe says:

    Thanks! Your suggestions worked well. Still dumbfounded  by what Microsoft was thinking with the changes to Outlook and the removal of contrast settings.

  60. Karthik says:

    Thank you. Got what I was expecting…

  61. Sue says:

    Thank you, very helpful!

  62. Harsono says:

    yeahh!! now is prettier . but it isn't help anything on productivity.

    just another useless feature

  63. DJ says:

    Appreciate the modification which helped, but like most of the people here, it is not close to the pleasing views of past.    Why mess with something that is not broke!?    I will impatiently wait for the patch to provide more options as it looks like many are unsatisfied.  

  64. AA550 says:

    Wow!  Way better than it was before.  Thank you!

  65. Mark says:

    Great tip.  thank you!

  66. Tania says:

    Thank you so much – it was driving me nuts!!

  67. You Saved My Life says:

    Thank you so much

  68. Rob says:

    Thank you !!!!

  69. Neil Stander says:

    Thanks for the comment helped a bit but still highly irritated with this stupid new view and lack of flexibility in the software to change it

  70. Leon says:

    Glad that I found this tutorial. Thank you.

  71. Pavlos Metaxas says:

    Thank you so much. Back to Business!!

  72. Adi says:

    Many Thanks !

  73. Vijay says:

    Thanks ….!!!!

  74. Lori says:

    Thank you, Thank you, Thank you…

  75. Kefa says:

    Thanks for this helpful article. MS are you listening?

  76. Homero says:

    GREATEST HELP EVER!!! you rock!

  77. Chris says:

    A year after you posted this and still helping hundreds!! Thank you for this.

  78. Mary says:

    Thanks for the note, likely very helpful for most. Sadly, I already had a bunch of colors setup for different email senders and this procedure wiped out all my previously setup formatting ๐Ÿ™

    Oh well.

    – Mary

  79. Mike says:

    when will MS finally realize that the familiarity that we have with their products is their intellectual property – like a brand-  and that in many cases it is the ONLY thing that keeps us with MS in the  first place.  If I have to start re-learning a program from scratch every time, wasting precious time and effort, then I might as well learn it on Thunderbird or another free (customizable) mail server application that will continue to be supported by the next OS version. Honestly, at the moment there is simply no reason to buy MS products  any more!

    I hate this version- you would think that they would at least give the same amount of customzability as the previous version (or for that matter since the very first version)? At this stage, it might be worthwhile finding the very first version of Outlook, which was s damn sight smaller and quicker and customizable, and running it on Ubuntu.

  80. LWB says:


  81. Charlie says:

    Thanks for the tips- They helped a little; I figure it's as good as it's going to get.  I've been living with the eyestrain from the Outlook color scheme for months now, and it hasn't "grown on me".  I'm 32 with perfect vision; I create applications for a startup in San Mateo- I'm familiar with innovation… this isn't innovation.

    All the complaints I found about the same lack of contrast issues in Outlook going back to 2012…  The Office group, or whoever is refusing to add UI options to this abomination have stopped listening.  There's a difference between fresh and new… and change for change's sake.  Someone, in their arrogance, has decided that we all "just don't get it".

    Here's a good tag line for what this company has become:  

    "We're Microsoft- We know that when you're locked in, it doesn't really matter what you want, now does it."


  82. RAK says:

    Believe I agree w/ everything above in spades.   Really dumb to make all these "softer" changes and not permit folks who have been using windows products for the last 20 years to select the colors and contrast that best suit them and their ability to stare at the screen day in and day out.   To the good folks at Microsoft, please get your collective heads out of the sand.

  83. Murat Tamer says:

    Thank you for the help! It worked and i am a little bit more comfortable. – Murat Tamer from Turkey

  84. Richie says:

    Just demoing Office 2013 – and I know my boss'en will not like the look.

    Guess I have to wait for a template with a less distracting color palette to arrive before I can

    make a move from Office 2007. I can't imagine how I will have to deploy color changes to our

    user base, if we are going to Office 365. That will be a hat trick.

    Someone commented that this is just in line with the work of other developers, for example Apple iOS 7. But just because it is a trend doesn't mean it is of value. I have not met anyone who likes the graphics in iOS 7. And that means we aren't getting security updates, etc.

    Bad developer! Go back to your crate!

  85. blonder says:

    thanks! I so hate these default settings in the new office and windows 8 as a whole, oh why did they discard XP!

  86. Alex says:

    Wow to all the comments and people with the exact same impression. I had Office 2013 for all of half a day before wanting to change it. First hit was this page so HUGE thank you to original poster.

  87. skridler says:

    The mandatory white background for the message list makes it very hard to read. This is a real problem for me and many in my workplace.

  88. VL says:

    Thanks Steve. Very helpful instructions. Now I don't have to squint to read my emails.

    Microsoft UI team – you need to reevaluate your UI choices and decisions. Very obnoxious.

  89. Stephanie Robbins says:

    Thank you so much!! My eyes feel so much better already!

  90. K. Lorenz says:

    Thanks for the suggestions. It somewhat helped.  But I still hate the new Outlook with a purple passion. It all blends together…

  91. Mike Maxwell says:

    Maybe it's already in the comments above, but I'll add this: it's impossible to tell whether Outlook (or, I suppose, any other MsOffice app) is in focus any more.  It was hard enough with Office 2010.  The only way I can tell is to switch to some non-Office app (Firefox, for instance), then back.  What a deprovement!

  92. Dave says:

    Thanks for the help, new outlook stinks, old was so much easier to read and manage, now if I could just figure out a way to separate everything from the white background.

  93. Khurram says:

    Thank you for the step-by-step instructions.

  94. John says:

    What a relief! It's still not as easy on the eye as Office 2010 but much better than the default view of Office 2013. Is there no way of communicating directly with Microsoft Office and getting come feedback from them?

  95. AR says:

    Thank-you for the help!!!  Boo Hiss on Outlook 2013.  White on White?  Really?  It's like being snowblind when you are trying to look at email. Who thought this was a good idea?  

  96. Per-Ola says:

    Thanks for this tip. Baby step in getting better contrast, but it truly sucks having these "pastel colors" and soft hues.

    Outlook 2003 (yes, I REALLY liked that layout and color scheme) had great contrast, and sometimes it feels like Outlook 2013 only have taken steps backwards – part from actually allowing better options for pasting (specifically in html formatted mail – where Outlook 2003 royally sucked).

    Tips to MSFT: Never bad to improve or add functionality, but do not change designs just for the heck of it. I'd rather spend money on new SW when I know there is true and functional upgrades added, but could care less if it is just for "design".

    And it is not only MSFT. Apple was no better in the jump from iOS6 to iOS7. Same "softer" color scheme when all you really need on a mobile device is contrast, sharp definition, and great usability of a of the small screen interface. Not "pretty" colors…

  97. Kermit the Frog says:

    MUCH better! Thanks

  98. Linda, AIA says:

    Thank you! It is looking better and your clear directions lead me to figure out how to change the font for read vs. unread messages so they would be more distinct.

  99. Roland says:

    Thank you very much!

  100. Vikas says:

    Like you mentioned I used the rather simpler way. Meets my immediate needs. Thank you

  101. Lesley Long says:

    What a relief I thought it was just me being a dits and not finding the colour on / off switch…. will try your suggestions soonest.

  102. Susan in Alabama :) says:

    I'm so glad others are having difficulty reading this washed out smailler font too!  I thought it was just my age – makes me feel somewhat better!!  BTW this was an awesome suggestion, thank you!!!

  103. Adi says:

    Fire the guy who designed this theme and the PM who approved it. Eyes are going blind after staring at outlook for couple of hrs.

  104. Kimm says:

    Thank you sooooo much for this post. That blue was killing me!  I cannot believe this 'upgrade' only has basic colors! I agree… fire the guy who took us back in time!!

  105. MMS says:

    Thanks for the tips.. I say no more than the comments that has already been made… your tips helped alot.. Well done!!!!

  106. Mayank says:

    Thanks a lot

  107. Andre says:

    Perfect! Thanks!

  108. VJA says:

    The blandness of Outlook 2013 was shockingly tough to look at. I just upgraded from Office 2007 to 365 today on one computer. I use two PC's with 24" widescreen monitors. Going to see if I can stomach looking at this all day before I upgrade the other. Thank you so very much for your post!! Great to have an easy to read & follow step-by-step fix. It helps a little to sharpen up the font, but I sure miss being able to change color themes. The bland gray/white of Outlook 2013 makes it hard to focus… it's all a blur. ๐Ÿ™ I wonder if we will get more options… very disappointed.

  109. Michael Gofman says:

    Thanks! Very helpful.

  110. Candi says:

    Thank you so much for this information… it was nightmare before, trying to easily see what was read v. unread.  This VASTLY improves that.  I agree with a lot of the comments… the new 'bleached out' appearance (as someone commented) is horrible… I really hope to have the blue theme back soon.

  111. Lou says:

    I think I just fell in Love with the new interface.

    I made the change above and was happier. Then I went back and increased the font size. What a great change for my 52 year old eyes! The white background is still a bit much, but this is far better. Yes, I could have changed the resolution for the entire computer, but it is really only the email that was hard to read.

    Try this:

    Change views

    Manage views


    Conditional formatting

    keep everything checked


    click big

    Don't forget to apply to other folders like the original instructions

  112. josh says:

    This doesn't fix anything. The problem is not the font.  Its the stupid flatness where its hard tell where one pane begins and another ends.  This product is a piece of junk.

  113. josh says:

    Tell the developers to open up changing the color for the background and the panel stuff, where the "chrome" used to be.

  114. Rob says:

    Thank you!  Very helpful!

  115. Ash says:

    Says a lot that it's been nearly 2 years since your post, and we're all still thanking you for this!!  I'm with the many above who said, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it!"

  116. amar says:

    Thanks ๐Ÿ™‚

  117. AV says:

    I hate the new look and equally upset that a themes cannot be selected…the tips here were useful – thanks

  118. KP says:

    I also hate the all-white or grey options – AWFUL!!!!

    This contrast thing helps only a little, but a little is helpful.

    MS you need to see the different personality and perception-types of humans out here: a lot of us like contrast and soft colors in our lives. I am going to have to keep my Outlook very minimized on my desktop I hate this so much. And in the past I have always had it open and have been very responsive to emails…

  119. Mad as hades in California says:

    IMPOSSIBLE TO READ!  What in the (*%@#& was ms thinking??  This is a horrible screen, impossible for us older execs to read, absolutely not worth the powder to blow it up… we just got suckerpunched with it platform-wide, and I can't even read my stinking email – not enough contrast.

    I know some 23 year old IT school grad thought this was the next best thing to absinthe, but it's awful horrible sucky…  if it's been like this for a year, I am so totally borked over it.  And knoing we're stuck with it – I may have to take early retirement now because I CAN'T READ OUR CORPORATE EMAIL ANY MORE.

    NOT user friendly, and DEFINITELY not ADA compliant.

  120. Mirza says:

    much much better.  thank you

  121. LMMFH says:

    This was helpful, but I also found that I could change the look through adjusting the theme.  Go to File, then office account, Change office theme from drop down to light gray or dark gray( I liked dark gray best.). You can also select an office background which is cute if nothing else.   Still not the pleasant view of Office 2007 0r 2010, but better than the default settings. Thanks again for your help.

  122. oweng says:

    just a WOW!!  it really helps!! thank you

  123. KP says:

    Thank you so much for this!  The new 2013 format was driving me crazy!

  124. Richard says:

    Thanks so much! Crises over ๐Ÿ™‚

  125. Thanks says:

    Thank you, this helped.

  126. Anon says:

    "I'm told to give the new themes some time, and they will grow on you"

    For me, this is one of the most consistently offensive kinds of statements from Microsoft. It is the kind of thing Jensen Harris would say.

  127. david says:

    Thanks this is better, why the hell does MS not allow you to use the old theme.  So not user friendly.  Well done MS well done.

  128. Ed says:

    I would disagree about growing on you.  I would suggest next time you get a focus group with older participants as well as the young ones.  I am by no means ancient but as you age your "contrast sensitivity" decreases and the new softer look is not helping.  Search the internet for contrast sensitivity and aging.

  129. J says:

    I don't think it has anything to do with age.  I am a very visual person and the inability to change priorities of certain e-mails is difficult.  Your change to B&W helped.  Thanks

  130. Drew says:

    I'm only 30 and I find it hard to distinguish the different sections!! ….. Particularly when using the laptop outside……Stupid!!! ….. Surely a quick fix would be to enable us to right click on the different ribbons and scroll bars in order to select a different background colour……

  131. dave day says:

    This new look and feel stinks!

  132. MH says:

    I can't tell people how bad the Outlook 2013 color scheme is. Thank you for your suggestions it really helps the eyes.

    I read on another Blog from a MSMVP that she was going to sell her stock in Microsoft if this was the direction MS is headed in, frankly I agree. The lack of visual ques, makes for a long day of eye squinting and headaches.

  133. IvanK says:

    "I'm told to give the new themes some time, and they will grow on you." Translation: "Prepare to be assimilated. Resistance is futile."

  134. Ellen says:

    Thanks so much for these tips. They are a God send! At least now I can somewhat read emails without having to squint ALL the time. The new 2013 look was obviously designed by folks under 30 for folks under 30. This is SO hard to read and my work involves reading emails and working on documents ALL day. For the first time, I am feeling absolutely ancient (in addition to feeling totally frustrated)!

  135. Pam says:

    Seriously, this saved me.  I'm a consultant and just switched from Google Aps to Microsoft 365 once I started reading that it was working well for people like me.  I was so excited to escape G-mail — though I had it syncing with MS Outlook I still had to use the web access from time to time.  And then I got this new inbox I couldn't process without studying it for five minutes.  I think this is less of an age thing (I'm in my late 40s, so older but not ancient) but more about what your profession and life requires and how you prefer to work.  I need to stay on top of my inbox for both personal and professional e-mails; I need to be able to get through it quickly and keep it organized.   It's not social media for me.  

  136. Brian says:

    Thank you so much! The "new and improved"  colour scheme was driving me boners until I read your article.

  137. Steve says:


  138. satya says:

    Thank you very much. This helped a lot.

  139. SG says:

    Thanks a lot, really good input, Helped a lot

  140. Matt says:

    At home I actually tried Office 2013 for about one hour, but got so pissed off about the METRO style that I uninstalled it and went back to Office 2010.

    How dare a software not respect the native OS theme!  I can't stand that!  Ironically, it's Microsoft who is the biggest offender at violating their own OS theme.  Why do they think people like METRO on a desktop????!?!?!?

    Recently my work forced us all to "upgrade" to Office 2013.  Now I HAVE to use this POS, and the worst part is MS actually got paid for these copies.  That's horrifying because the MS design team apparently only listens to $ales; not actual end-user feedback.

    Anyways, thanks for this tutorial…  It helps somewhat; although these tweaks do NOT give a reprieve to MS for shipping such an ugly METRO POS without any option to go back to the native Windows 7-style window borders.

  141. Siva says:

    Thanks Steve!!!!

    You made my day ๐Ÿ™‚

    I spend majority of my time on email and the light colors in outlook 2013 were not at all helping. I just cannot

    tell you how much appreciative I am about this suggestion.

  142. Andy Pennell says:

    Here we are, in 2015, and there is still no easier way to fix this. Thank you!

  143. Willy says:

    I succeeded in changing the background color of the inbox message list. At last!

    I started from a high contrast theme in Control PanelAppearance and PersonalizationPersonalization and modified the settings you find under 'Window Color'. (Windows7)

    It has some side effects, which in fact please me: my browser's background, folder list in Windows explorer, log on screen, everything is now the defined color in the 'Window' item in the above mentioned location.

    See screenshot, feel free to try the provided theme:



  144. Willy says:

    Well, some other side effect does not please me. Websites background pictures are not show but replaced by the defined color. Probably other side effects will come up the next days.

    Time for Microsoft to solve this issue; let the outlook background by default follow the above described setting and make it on top of that configurable in Outlook settings.  

  145. Harold Peck says:

    People like you amaze me… taking time to help people… even the little things make life better. Thx for making life better!

  146. Paige says:

    Thank you so much – I can't describe how much this helps!

  147. Jay says:

    Thanks a lot.

    Btw any possibility to change the theme other than the 3. For sample light blue or some thing

  148. Rudy says:

    they have stepped back 20 years with piece of crap 2013

  149. James says:

    Thanks for your help.  This does help some, but the folks at Microsoft should be subject the the headaches that  the new color scheme is causing me even with these changes.

  150. Mark says:

    super directions, worked a treat, thanks so much

  151. Dani says:

    Big help! Thank you ๐Ÿ™‚

  152. Tony says:

    This was exactly what I needed to know!

    Wish this was more clear that I could do this in 2013 before now!!!

  153. Tracie D. says:

    Thank you so much!!!!  Microsoft should really pay attention and offer more colors/themes.  I am an Engineer and looking at the screen is awful to me!  My company decided to upgrade everyone to Office 365 and right now, I am  not a fan.

  154. Sandeep Shenoy says:

    Absolutely SUPERB !

  155. John F says:

    Not a fan so far, like everyone else on here, the lack of colors are killing my eyes.  I've adjusted the limited setting to a better view, but still not like my older 2007 Outlook.

  156. Erick says:

    I'm only 26 with a 20/20 sight and my eyes are strained when I look into the HORRIBLE look of office 2013. "The 3D button is a thing of the past" how so??? It's really stupid to force users to use this stupid "simplistic" view, even when changing the "theme" from "depressing suicidal flat white" to "depressing dark gray" (two of the NUMEROUS options MS give you in the "themes" list (yes, I was being sarcastic about the number of options) the UI looks terrible, lacks contrast and imagination from this so-called "designers". Absolute crap that I will never like, I only use it because my company pre-installs this software and there is no way to downgrade to Office 2010 which was MUCH BETTER. What a stupid way to go back in time 30 years just to annoy the majority of the loyal users, plain idiocy. To the MS "designers", yes, your UI looks "modern", for the year 1990!!!

  157. Erick says:

    Forgot to tell, apart from user-unfriendly it's got LOTS of bugs and bogus behavior. I came into this blog precisely because the stupid office 2013 FORGETS the "dark gray" theme setting and goes back to "suicidal eye-killer white". Thanks so much!!

  158. Trudy says:

    Glad I wasn't the only one! Thanks.

  159. Jim says:

    I absolutly hate the new look. IT IS BLINDING! I hope Microsoft is listening. I can't belive you cannot select a contrast and background that works best for you.

  160. Mary says:

    One of the worst unfriendly outlook ever, it tooks me 2 hours to make it look a bit better that it was.. this awfull white its realy annoying when you use that for 8-10 hours every day, if it was at my hand i will removed asap from my computer.

  161. Unknown says:

    Terrible, I want to go back to 2010 version this one is too complex

  162. Smitaa says:

    Thank you for this tip – worked like a treat!

  163. Robert says:

    It is ridiculous how out of touch and actually arrogant MS with providing 3 feeble themes for such a huge number of (potential) customers.

    The colour theme of Outlook is an amazing few steps backwards compared to the old  2003 etc. versions.

    Can only shake my head and accumulate more incentive to migrate to other Office S/W in the future.

  164. Suli says:


  165. Vee, Durham, UK says:

    I've just moved from  2003 to 2013 and gone BACKWARDS!  I cannot cope with the new soft look so thank you for the tips.  I'd like to change it all to the familiar 2003 which was so easy to use, lol!

  166. Emre, TR says:

    Thank you for your great tip !

  167. Andy - Northern CA says:

    Awesome suggestions. Thanks for the heads-up.

  168. Malcolm Hamilton says:

    I hope Microsoft are seeing this feedback. I hate the new view – its a strain on the eyes. Thanks for these tips – its an improvement but still far from ideal

  169. Andrea says:

    At last a useful tip to make email writing more agreeable on Outlook 2013.

    A big THANK-YOU!

  170. Brenda says:

    Thank you a million times over!  The new view was causing too much eye strain.

  171. Laura says:


    This was a life saver.

  172. aziz says:

    I can't enjoy my outlook any more, I can't even read very well. please upgrade the them.

  173. Scott says:

    Thank you for the tips and I agree this does make it look as good as possible given the current options, however Outlook still looks horrible!  The choices in background between white, gray, and dark gray is ridiculous.  Why not be able to pick from the full color palette?  I get the best readability with dark gray and the black font, however it is so depressing to look at.  And the themes, what is up with that?  Those look like their kids kindergarten doodles, scanned them in black and white and then sold to them msft.  It would be great if they would release a 2010 skin to give me the old look.  Or at least give me downgrade rights through Office365.  

  174. Bob says:

    For Office 2016, Microsoft and their aesthetic designer disciple lemmings of "flat-design" will soon be bringing back the monochrome phosphorous green screen of 80×25 character MS-DOS.


    At least the green and black phosphorus screen was more high contrast and easier on the eyes than the current Outlook 2013.

    Although I am an attorney and engineer who spends time much of his time with legal and tecnical documents and emails, I also use command line scripts, VB scripts to manipulate and automate Office, and function-key navigation quite frequently.  I recently was forced to upgrade to Office 2013 by an IT department, and I hate it for the designers' stylistic decisions.  I adjusted the contrast and theme settings, but the colors don't offer enough contrast with light gray on darker gray.

    I generally only care about function and don't give a dang about style.  That is the problem with the minimal color schemes.  Under Office 2013 reviewing documents and doing the normal functions of my job now tires my eyes more quickly each day than with the previous version of Office.  Such a drop in functionality and productivity is the problem with the silly focus on artistic, stylistic look instead of functional design of software that performs utilitarian functions (including the function of a user's eyes consuming textual content in documents).

    The problem in Office 2013 is not color for stylistic reasons as I am a typical color-blind male.  (10% of males are color-blind in some form.)  The problem with Office 2013 is the lack of color contrast for functional reasons.

    When using command line entry of scripts in a terminal window, I choose a high contrast very bright color (e.g., white or yellow) on a dark color (black or dark blue).  Similarly, in Word I use solid black on white, and in Excel I often use alternating (conditional formatting) of yellow and white like the old green-and-white line-printer computer paper.  The point of these color choices is entirely functional, namely to be allow me to read and process information more quickly and with less eye strain.

    I may have 20 to 30 or more different multitasking windows open across my three computer screens.  Under Office 2013, now figuring out which one of the Office 2013 windows has current focus of keyboard and mouse input becomes almost a trial and error search instead of a nearly effortless quick glance at the window state (or rotating through alt-tab).

    On various web sites, I see that the complaints about Office 2013 have been on-going for 3 years with no correction.  Please fix this!  (In addition, please stop this foolish focus on stylistic, artistic elements of user-interfaces with "flat-design" while destroying the software's functional usability and negatively impacting user efficiency in operating the software products to accomplish a user's daily tasks.)

  175. Bob says:

    Is it just me, or did these Microsoft design clowns also waste more space on the status bars, menus, worksheet tabs and ribbon in Excel in order to use the "Flat-Design" elements?  In my opinion, I seem to be able to display about 10% less rows of data on the same screen real estate in Office 2013 as I did in Office 2010.  (I already use 8-pt. Microsoft Sans Serif font to display as many rows as possible at the smallest legible size on my 3 monitors.)

    The point of the spreadsheet is to display rows of data, as many as can legibly fit on the screen (preferably with alternating row colors or color groups from conditional formatting to ease identifications of rows of related data).  Wasting extra screen real estate on "Flat-Design" status bars, menus, worksheet tabs (due to removal of colors that allow easier selection and differentiation of smaller real-estate, active-menu items) makes the spreadsheet program less useful and less valuable.  (I.e., I would pay less for such a program that wastes screen real estate.)

    Maybe the designers made this larger menu selection change to allow easier touch screen selection of larger menu selection items.  However, who in the hell opens a spreadsheet with 5,000 to 10,000 rows on a cell phone?  Microsoft has made absolutely ridiculous design/usability decisions for their Office applications in trying to make the programs conform to "Flat-Design" and an interface that works on cell phones.  In effect, Microsoft's obviously inexperienced, kid designers must not have had to use Office for serious day-to-day business work, but instead spend their time playing games on cell phones.

    Microsoft makes money by selling Office programs to businesses, which certainly are willing to pay more for usable Office Suite programs than people are willing to pay for cell phone apps.

  176. Bob says:

    In my opinion, two functions that Microsoft missed badly in the user-interface design of Office 2013 are 1)efficient use and minimal waste of screen real estate for the user interface and 2) color-contrast schemes to minimize eye strain when the computer screen will be used for 8, 10, or more hours per day.

    It has been a long time since computers were limited to no more than 8-bit (256) color.  The large color palettes and shading can be used to both more readily separate user interface elements (while minimizing screen real estate use for and between the interface elements) and also to reduce eye strain in long sessions of uninterrupted work in front of computer screens.

  177. Becky says:

    Thanks! The first thing I wanted to do when I saw the new layout was to figure out how to get more contract.

    I was forced to upgrade by IT, and find my eyes straining to read the gray. I agree with everyone that it was a dumb decision, sacrificing functionality. I'm an Admin, and my job is collection and disseminating information, and any limits to my speed in getting this done is both frustrating and time consuming — time I would agree for everyone here is at a premium.

  178. Kris says:

    Thanks for this helpful tutorial. I, too, am hoping that new themes (with more user-friendly contrast options) are added soon. MS can now say that they have created the worst UI ever.

  179. NIKI MIK says:

    I think MS Development figured a UI devoid of depth, color, and texture would go unnoticed since a majority of users are still looking for the Start Menu….

  180. Radhia says:

    Thanks a lot for the tip,that was very helpfull.

  181. Sanjay says:

    Thanks for the tip.. It worked!!

  182. Fatimah says:

    Thank you, this is really helpful.

  183. Erica says:

    Brilliant – have had it less than 24 hours and it was driving me mad already! This has really helped – thanks.

  184. Karthik says:

    Your suggestion is the best!!!

  185. Erno says:

    Thank you very much, it really helps a lot. I'm still searching for a solution to change the marvelous light blue letters on white background in the reader pane.

    I understand that the trend is to write in tiny light grey letters on brigth white background all over the internet but Outlook is a tool that many people must use all day long every day. Where did all those guys dissapeared who knew what the word ergonomy means?

  186. jt says:

    Thank you!  My company just upgraded Outlook on my computer & I felt like I needed a new prescription for mt glasses. Changing the color of the font (to black) & the background color (to dark gray) make the display much less of a strain to see.

  187. Rich says:

    WHY are you guy making your GUIs uglier and uglier with each release? It's like you're going back to Windows 1.0 (not a good thing). If I wasn't forced to use it at work, I'd never touch it.

  188. Ahmad Al-Tayyeb says:

    Many thanks for making my eyes more healthy while using Outlook 2013 !

  189. student 02138 says:


    I just got forced upgraded to Outlook 2013. This did wonders, THANK YOU!

    I hate Outlook 2013

  190. Ashish says:

    Much Better….. Thank you So much………..

  191. Chris says:

    I truly wish Microsoft would stop trying to help us (without asking). It really hard to adjust to menus and colors after a few years of getting used to what we have been working with. I am all about progress, just not reverse progress

  192. AJ says:

    Wow, just upgraded to outlook 2013,  love it…NOT…typical arrogance from Microsoft, did they never consider themes, accessibility or basic UX design???,    we use outlook at work,  in my personal life, I do not use Microsoft products for these kind of reasons…they force these changes on us with no consideration for the user. I can barely see my outlook screen…great job Microsoft.  

    Thank you to the write of this post,  at least I can now see Outlook a little better.  

  193. Dave Z. says:

    Thank you, that definitely helps.


  194. TC says:

    Guys, the article here helps, but what you also need is to change the background of Outlook 2013 via the Office theme from File>Options>General>Office Theme – I changed mine to Dark Gray and life is much better.  Here is the link:…/changing-background-colors-in-outlook-2007-2010-and-2013

    The contrast is much improved, I don't feel like I need glasses anymore.

  195. Madhawa says:

    Great ! Thank you and one headeche is over.

  196. ec says:

    Thanks… this help.

  197. TSR says:

    Thanks for the solution but still the overall layout is very sick and boring. The folder pane especially doesn't have a proper separation.

  198. Jr says:

    Of course you do know that Microsoft knows what's best for us don't you.

    They have become so powerful, they do not need our input any longer.

    Its our own fault.

    We allowed HAL to be built for our own convenience and now we are forced to live with the consequences.

    Take a Valium, smoke a joint. It'll all be OK………………………

  199. Jenn says:

    Frustrating that there are limitations to but this helped enough so thank you.  You'd think with the advances in technology, Microsoft would at least be able to provide more viewing options.  My eyes are bad enough :-0

  200. Radi says:

    Thank you so much! It was so important for me and my job to change the color of the new items.Now it is ok!

  201. Mats Lindroos says:

    Hi, I found out that it doesnยดt look the same on Outlook 2016 for Mac. I donยดt find any of the possibilities to change View or style. Very frustrating to not be able to change colour on my lines in the inbox.

  202. WilcoxMC says:

    +1 on the thanks. Very helpful. Glad I found this before spending a lot of time chasing theme changes.

  203. Sven says:

    Why is Microsoft forcing everyone to use low contrast fonts on all their products. The low contrast color schemes for plots in Excel are particularly bad. Plots need dense, fundamental colors, not pastel Martha Stewart decorative colors!

    Microsoft – you *stink*

  204. LocTeam says:

    Thank you for this tip….very helpfull…..
    Obrigado from Brazil!

  205. Olu says:

    Amazing! Thank you so much!! This was extremely helpful.

  206. margarita says:

    Outlook 2013 look depressing. Please, add some colors to the color theme.

  207. margarita says:

    Outlook 2013 looks depressing. Please, add some colors to the color theme.

  208. LocTeam says:

    Thank you!

  209. Pat says:

    Thank you so much, at least all the font lettering is black. Is there anyway to also change the blue numbers to bold black that are next to the folders that show unread emails? Gosh I hate baby blue in an email client…

  210. LocTeam says:

    Thank you for posting this. Much improved. WTH was MS thinking?

  211. LocTeam says:

    Thank you. Much improved. WTH was MS thinking.

  212. LocTeam says:


  213. LocTeam says:

    Thank you! When I first opened 2013 I thought I was in safe mode. Apparently Satan himself has transitioned from designing lawn watering systems to Microsoft products.

  214. LocTeam says:

    With the new color (all three options are pretty much white and more white) and with new LED displays my eyes are killing me. This is really bad news. Hate the colors and it makes my day much more difficult.

  215. LocTeam says:

    Thanks for the help. Does Microsoft actually poll people anymore? Would it have killed them to have the old color option as one of their themes. This strategy of continually ignoring their users keeps depressing their market share. For all of the development time at Microsoft, this would have taken them about 30 minutes (and almost zero space) to just include as one of the theme options. It may grow on me? the fact is it is harder to read period, much more straining on my eyes, and although maybe a half-dozen people like it, the majority look at it as one more reason to migrate AWAY from Microsoft instead of embracing it.

  216. LocTeam says:

    Thanks for the help. Does Microsoft actually poll people anymore? Would it have killed them to have the old color option as one of their themes. This strategy of continually ignoring their users keeps depressing their market share. For all of the development time at Microsoft, this would have taken them about 30 minutes (and almost zero space) to just include as one of the theme options. It may grow on me? the fact is it is harder to read period, much more straining on my eyes, and although maybe a half-dozen people like it, the majority look at it as one more reason to migrate AWAY from Microsoft instead of embracing it.

  217. Chris Coy says:

    Thank you for this –

  218. LocTeam says:

    Thank you so much! You really just saved my sanity!!

  219. LocTeam says:

    Thank you so much! Its much better now. ๐Ÿ™‚

  220. LocTeam says:

    This was excellent. Thank you.

  221. LocTeam says:

    Very nice. Thank you Steve.

  222. LocTeam says:

    Excellent. Thank you for your help

  223. Eric says:

    Years later, this is still helping us corporate folk who were just forced to upgrade. I’m not a luddite but man I needed some contrast!

    Thank you!