Create a SharePoint 2013 Theme using Color Palette Tool

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Since SharePoint 2007, we have been introduced to different “Theme” engines within SharePoint. The idea behind the theming engine is great but is often underused. In other words, whether you are using the out-of-the-box Master Pages or created your own, Power Users can apply “Themes” to the core HTML that is the Master Page and change the look of their sites. In SharePoint 2013, the Theming Engine has been reworked once again, but this time making it much more accessible to everyone. You may find the option under “Change the Look” from the Site Settings.

Change the Look of your SharePoint Site

By now, you may have already heard about the styles or looks available as a gallery for Power Users of a SharePoint site.

Change the look

These available looks come with SharePoint. They are defined by .spcolor files in your Site Gallery under Site Settings. They are also called Composed Looks.

Composed looks

To change the look of your SharePoint Site, you simply click on the “Change the Look” link in your Site Settings under the Look and Feel category (as seen in the screen above towards the top right). This menu will show you the list of all available Composed Looks in your SharePoint 2013 Site. Once you choose one of the available themes, you will be able to cycle between “colors” and fonts.

Site settings

Creating a spcolor file for your SharePoint Site

For the very purpose of this blog, I wanted to be able to take screenshots of a “branded” SharePoint that had the Sharegate colors. If you see my post on “What is SkyDrive Pro in SharePoint 2013? I used screenshots of a Sharegate branded SharePoint. This can of course apply to anyone looking to give a little of their own brand on the default SharePoint look.

But this goes even further, if you create your own company Master Page in SharePoint you can also provide multiple colors to recolor certain parts of your HTML. My goal in this article is to create a new .spcolor file with the right color codes so that we no longer have to look at the default blue.

SharePoint color file

And have something with out brand:

Brand your site

Before we begin, we need to cover some of the basics:

  • Master Page: HTML Structure also called Site Layout, is a page that handles the overall structure of your SharePoint Site.
  • CSS: Cascading Style Sheets allow you to style your HTML, specifically the one in your Master Page.
  • Composed Look: A configuration of a predetermined Master Page, Color Theme, Font and Background Image.
  • SPCOLOR File: A file used by the new SharePoint 2013 Theming Engine to load different colors for specific elements defined in a Themable CSS.

What makes the magic work is actually in the CSS written by Microsoft. But it can be done with your own CSS as well. You can use your CSS to brand the navigation for example, but add a criteria to tell it to use the .spcolor file if there is one. Effectively, you can select the locations in your Master Page where your “Themes” will affect.

The new SharePoint Color Palette Tool

If you’ve ever stopped and looked at the SharePoint 2013 Theme files or spcolor files, you’ll notice that though it is an easy to read XML file, isn’t evident to create your own. Why? Because you really aren’t sure where it is going to get applied.

New SharePoint color palette tool

Thankfully, Microsoft created the SharePoint Color Palette Tool that can help us build this file.

Color palette tool

The tool is very straightforward; you select the “color bucket” from the menu on the left under the category and change the color accordingly. For example, if you are looking to change the way your Suite Bar looks, simply expand Suite Bar. The Suite Bar is that blue first row at the top with the links to SkyDrive, Newsfeed and Sites.

Suite bar

You can even define the colors for when you are hovering over these items.

And if you want to work with a different Master Page, simply add your Preview file in the directory where you installed the Color Palette Tool for SharePoint 2013.

Creating composed looks

For more information on creating Composed Looks, Preview Files or converting an HTML to Master Page, visit my posts on my bniaulin wordpress.

On the right hand side of the tool, you can specify what the preview of the spcolor file will look like. There are 3 Preview Slots, choose the “Color Buckets” you want to use.

Preview your color palette

Once you are finished playing with the colors to get the desired Theme for your SharePoint 2013 Composed Look then save it as an .spcolor file.

You’ll have to use something like SharePoint Designer to upload your new spcolor file under the right directory.

New SharePoint theme

As you noticed above, for each Site Collection upload them to _catalogs/theme/15. I named mine sharegate.spcolor and uploaded it in the directory mentioned above. My new SharePoint Theme is now available as a color.

Setting your SharePoint color files

You’ll notice that my colors still show as white, grey and blue just like the default selection. That’s because when I was in the Color Palette Tool, setting up my spcolor file, I skipped the menu on the right to manage my preview slots. But the result is still the same.

Creating a Composed Look manually with the spcolor file

Managing the color manually can be annoying and not really accessible to all your Power Users. The trick is to create an easy Composed Look with this spcolor or “Theme” already selected to make the choice easier on your users.

To do this, simply go to Site Settings then Composed Looks to create a New Item. What I did was copied one that already existed but changed the link to the .spcolor file.

Composed look manually

This way, it’s much easier for Power Users to select the look you prepared.

Using SharePoint composed looks

Using SharePoint Composed Looks

Though themes have not been exploited in previous versions of SharePoint, I hope to see a lot more with SharePoint 2013. If you are migrating to SharePoint 2013 be sure to consider the use of Composed Looks in the Information Architecture. Some customers have already providing a custom Master Page with available “Looks” so that Power Users in different divisions can have their own “identity” and it has improved the user adoption of these respective projects. The Color Palette Tool is great tool to have to facilitate the creation of your “Theme” files.

Benjamin Niaulin
Benjamin Niaulin @bniaulin

Well known as the SharePoint Geek, Benjamin has been helping people all around the globe reach their goals by simplifying SharePoint solutions. You haven't met Benjamin yet? Look for him at SharePoint conferences and events!