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Understanding Themes in Microsoft Office (At Last!)

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Faithe Wempen, author of Word 2013 In Depth, shows you how to crack open the mystery of the Themes feature in Office and use themes to apply consistent color, font, and graphic effect formatting across documents and applications.
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Microsoft introduced themes back in Office 2007, but sad to say, most people don’t understand themes today any better than they did back then. They could tell you that a theme has something to do with styles, formatting, and colors, but if you press them for details, you get averted eyes and foot-shuffling. Is a theme built into a document, or is it a separate file? Is a theme the same thing as a template? How do you share themes between applications? In this article, I hope to clear up some of the persistent confusion around what exactly a theme is and how it does its magic.

What is a Theme?

A theme is a named group of settings that you can apply to a document to change its appearance. At a minimum, it includes three elements: colors, fonts, and effects. (In PowerPoint, your choice of theme also affects a couple of other aspects of the presentation, such as background image and variants.) Themes have names, such as Facet, Integral, and Ion; these names are the same across Word, Excel, and PowerPoint, so you can use the same theme in each application for consistency.

A theme is not the same as a template. A template is an entire document file (or workbook, or presentation), but with a different extension to designate it a template rather than a regular document. It’s a full-fledged reusable sample. A theme, on the other hand, is just a collection of settings that can be applied to a document.

Is a theme a separate file? Well, it depends on what you mean by theme. The word can refer to the current theme settings in a Word, Excel, or PowerPoint document file, and in that sense, a theme is contained within the document to which it is applied. But theme can also refer to a file with a .thmx extension that stores theme settings independently of any data file.

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