How To Change Color Scheme in Outlook 2013

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Outlook 2013's default layout and color scheme has almost no contrasting colors to show where the navigation bars and sections are. Whether you want to make your inbox easier to look at or simply want a change of inbox "scenery," it can be very helpful to change Outlook's colors. Here's how to do so in five easy steps.

1. Click File at the top left of the screen to pull up a backstage panel.

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2. Click Options. This opens an Outlook Options window to edit more settings.

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3. Select your preferred background. Under the "Personalize your copy of Microsoft Office" section, look for the field that says Office Background. This changes the small decorative pattern at the top right of your screen. 

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Outlook provides a list of 14 backgrounds for you to choose from. We selected Doodle Diamonds for this example. 

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4. Select Theme. In the Office Theme field below Office Background, choose from White, Light Gray or Dark gray. This decides the color of your navigation bars. For greater contrast, we picked the Dark Gray theme.

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5. Click Ok. You're done. Here's a preview of what those changes will look like.

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You'll see that scrollbars, navigation panels and the left sidebar are now all gray (if you chose gray like we did), making it easier to distinguish one of part of the Outlook window from another.

Author Bio
Cherlynn Low
Cherlynn Low, LAPTOP Staff Writer
Cherlynn joined the Laptopmag team in June 2013 and has since been writing about all things tech and digital with a focus on mobile and Internet software development. She also edits and reports occasionally on video. She graduated with a M.S. in Journalism (Broadcast) from Columbia University in May 2013 and has been designing personal websites since 2001.
Cherlynn Low, LAPTOP Staff Writer on
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41 comments
  • Daniel Says:

    Quick note, I meant to write: change the color to your preferred color that will stand out from your READ emails.

    Basically change your unread font to something bigger, bolder, with color, and leave your other fonts as is so that they don't pop out to your eyes like the unread emails will.

  • Daniel Says:

    Here's how I made this easier on myself after changing the theme to dark gray: hit the view tab in outlook, select View Settings, Conditional Formatting, then click Unread Messages (don't uncheck it), change the font to something bigger/bolder whatever your preference, change the color to your preferred color that will stand out from your unread emails. Click ok and check your results to see if you're satisfied.

  • Jeremey Hustman Says:

    This is so stupid, how do I see what mail is new, with a 3 pixel vertical blue line? I'm going back to Thunderbird.

  • Annonymous Says:

    I agree with all comments. It also is very difficult to notice which is a new email and one that has been read at a glance. Please add more features. 2010 was much better

  • sean d Says:

    I couldn't agree more. These colors are hard to look at. Why would you switch to these horrible colors? The previous version's colors were much better. At least give us better options so that we can change these to something easier to look at.

  • Mary G Says:

    Please add more colors. Grey and white are depressing. Thank you.

  • Sandy Says:

    really? This is so hard on your eyes. can't you add any colors at all??? I loved the previous version, this is awful!

  • nabab khan Says:

    i can't tolerate this stupid color gray any more every day... do something plz

  • Millie Says:

    I am jumping on this band wagon! How dull can you be!
    We just switched from GMail to Outlook. GMail has so many options to make the background so much more enjoyable. Most of the office is very disappointed in the switch. (most of the disappointment is because of the lost of the awesome search option)
    Adding a more appealing background would be an easy fix. You would be making a lot of people enjoy your product a lot more.

  • The Stig Says:

    Thanks, I am so glad to see its just not me thinking this...
    WHY? Why Microsoft?
    And the best, when choosing between the few, tragic options, it does not save it, changes back to default white every time I start outlook....
    Great work!

  • Lynn H. Says:

    What a blunder of EPIC proportions!!! Office 2013 is so depressing! It lacks color, vibrancy, and happiness. This would be perfect for the movie '1984'. It's bad enough that someone at Microsoft designed such a hideous interface, but they don't allow the user to change ANY of the default colors. Why??? This is progress??? The Office 2013 interface is proof that people at Microsoft are color blind, and their inability to respond to the user community proves they are tone deaf as well. I will NEVER go to Windows 8 or Windows 10 simply because of the look-and-feel. - See more at: http://www.laptopmag.com/articles/how-to-change-color-scheme-in-outlook-

  • Mayra Says:

    Im sure the company knows we use this mostly for work. 99 percent of jobs can be boring why make our email software worse than the job.lol. I only like the lunchbox theme. LET US HAVE SOME COLOR!!

  • daniel Says:

    yes this looks like the old text based unix interface from the 80's

  • Todd S Says:

    What a blunder of EPIC proportions!!!

    Office 2013 is so depressing! It lacks color, vibrancy, and happiness. This would be perfect for the movie '1984'.

    It's bad enough that someone at Microsoft designed such a hideous interface, but they don't allow the user to change ANY of the default colors. Why??? This is progress???

    The Office 2013 interface is proof that people at Microsoft are color blind, and their inability to respond to the user community proves they are tone deaf as well.

    I will NEVER go to Windows 8 or Windows 10 simply because of the look-and-feel.

  • xixi_ Says:

    This is really awful!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Richard Says:

    Just changed my computer and bough a office 2013 package, How do i change the colour to something a little less on the eyes as per my 2010 Blue etc?

  • Jimmy Says:

    Need more color schemes in interface option settings. Existing light gray and dark gray choices doesn't look and less readable.

  • Linda Pilgrim Says:

    your gray on gray color scheme is terrible. Whose bright idea was it not to offer any color on this version. Makes it extremely hard to read all day long.

  • Lia Gatherum Says:

    Just Bought 2013 - followed instructions for adding some colour, but no office background button on my one just office theme. Is that normal

  • Nat Says:

    I can't believe that this is it with the colors, how bland, and how depressing to have to look at the Light or dark grey all day, every day. How did this ever get through final stage is beyond me.

  • Jerry Says:

    Another reason to stay a Mac guy, as if I needed one....lol , MS is such a joke, even after all these years.....

  • bd Says:

    isn't there ANY way, in the recurring item setup, in the start date calendar, to make the starting date show up (with more than an ultra-pale blue or gray that can barely be seen even when you're looking for it) nearly as much as today's date (with its white digits in a *-bright-* blue background)??? what moron designed this???!!!!!!

  • No Says:

    The fact I just want to change the main background to a darker, easier on the eyes color and cannot in this day and age is annoying. I freaking Created a nagios filter to do this in around 5 minutes. Surely Microsoft can do the same in outlook...

  • Grant Neeson Says:

    Absolutely hate it too. I've been with Microsoft for over a decade and this is very counter- creative. Please bear with us for an upgrade or else switch to whatever your mothers gave you

  • Andrew Dufficy Says:

    Questions: I am visually impaired and would like much greater contrast in colurs for Outlook layout. How can this be achieved

  • Trisha Gleeson Says:

    I hate the lack of colour options in outlook 2013. Really sucks

    TG

  • Mansoor Says:

    I do not have the office background option. I have outlook 2013.

  • Brooke Says:

    I do not have the office background option. I have outlook 2013. Am I doing something wrong? It says Office Theme and that's it.

  • Nicky Ashfield Says:

    Boring and horrible. An enforced change at work to the horrible Office 2013..what happened to the lovely colour scene. Grey or dark grey or white, obviously not taken into consideration how anyone with a visual disability will cope with this and also it gives you a headache as you cannot split things off. This is awful Microsoft have you gone backwards !!!!

  • AK Says:

    Can they please provide more options, i hate this whitewashed stuff and wish could avoid it

  • Loukas Says:

    There has to be a better option. There are NO colors, everything is so bland. Give me the option of going back to the look of Outlook 2007.

  • Susan Says:

    Thanks so much I was beginning to think it was a mistake to upgrade to Outlook 2013.
    Microsoft needs to add some nicer colours like some blues!!

  • Kirstin Says:

    HATE the 3 'colour' options they give. Where's the bright vibrant colours?? Microsoft needs to step/think out of the box in the future. these colours are very BORING!!!!

  • Drew Says:

    I am so angry about this. How could they leave the color options this way? It is so sterile. I hate it. Is there some way to contact Microsoft to get them to change this? It will surely drive me crazy.

  • Leon Says:

    "Worst customization options EVER!"

  • Howard Sundwall Says:

    Really? My options are white, light gray and dark gray? That's real customization (Microsoft style!). Maybe they're working on.... medium gray?

  • Felipe Camocardi Says:

    Thanks, this tips helped me a lot. Irritating that white layout!

  • Marsh Says:

    Thanks. Not many options but at least dr gray is better then white. In my opinion.

  • Gunnar Lohse Says:

    Terrible look inside Outlook
    no contrast,cant choose background, nothing.

  • Kent Says:

    Bland colors in Outlook. Even the Outlook title bar looks like garbage. I can't believe anyone thought this looked good enough to put their name on it and send it to consumers.

  • Abs Says:

    Thanks a lot, the white was very annoying.

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