Fonts, sizes and color settings of the Outlook interface

Fonts, Sizes and Colors buttonIf you don’t like the way Outlook looks like by default, you might want to find out how you can change the fonts types, sizes and colors in Outlook to suit your taste better.

Most of them can be changed but the way to do it is scattered between various Windows and Outlook settings and even then they are not in a single location. Some sections can even be modified in multiple ways to reach the same or similar results.

This guide provides an overview how you can change which section of Outlook and if it needs to be done at Outlook level or at Windows level.

Tip!
Are you looking for a method to give Outlook 2013 a more “classic” look? Then see: Making the Outlook 2013 interface less white and bright.


Settings at Windows level

We begin with the settings at Windows since chances are that if you don’t like the general font and color settings in Outlook, you probably don’t like them in other applications either. By modifying the settings at Windows level, you change all the settings for all the applications (that respect the Windows settings) at once so you don’t have to change it for each individual application.

Text size and the general interface

Modifying the size of the general interface, and thus also the font, is quite popular these days with monitors capable of very high resolutions. The higher your resolution settings, the smaller your letters will become. The solution is not to decrease your resolution settings as that will leave you with a less sharper image. Especially TFT/LCD-screens are designed to be ran in their highest resolution. The solution is to change the DPI settings in Windows.

Windows 8 and Windows 8.1

  1. Right click on an empty spot on your Desktop and choose “Screen Resolution”.
  2. Click “Make text and other items larger or smaller”.
  3. You can now directly choose to make the fonts larger. If you prefer a specific font size, you can click on the “Custom sizing options” text link below the presets and type any percentage you like. When you have multiple monitors connected and are using Windows 8.1, then you can select the option “Let me choose one scaling level for all my displays” to set custom DPI settings.

Windows 7

  1. Right click on an empty spot on your Desktop and choose “Screen Resolution”.
  2. Click “Make text and other items larger or smaller”.
  3. You can now directly choose to make the fonts larger. If you prefer a different font size, you can click on the “Set Custom text size (DPI)” on the left and type any percentage you like.

Windows Vista

  1. Right click on an empty spot on your Desktop and choose Personalize.
  2. In the left pane called Tasks there is a task called Adjust font size (DPI). The shield in front of it indicates that you’re going to make a change that affects all users that will log on to this computer. If that’s ok by you, click the “Adjust font size (DPI)” link and press Continue or provide Administrator credentials to confirm making a system wide change.
  3. In the new dialog that pops up you can directly choose “Larger scale (120 DPI)…” to make the fonts bigger. If you prefer a different font size you can click on “Custom DPI…” and type any percentage you like.

Windows XP

  1. Right click on an empty spot on your Desktop and choose Properties.
  2. Select the Settings tab and click the button Advanced.
  3. In the new dialog that pops up you can directly choose “Larger scale (120 DPI)…” in the dropdown list to make the fonts bigger. If you prefer a different font size you can select “Custom DPI…” and type any percentage you like.

DPI settings in Windows Vista
Zoom your interface to a readable size for your screen.

Themes in Windows

Outlook 2003 on Windows XP
For Outlook 2003 on Windows XP the main color of the interface integrates with the “Color Scheme” you have specified when your Theme is set to Windows XP. To change this color;
Right click on an empty spot on your Desktop and choose Properties-> tab Appearance-> drop down list: Color Scheme

Outlook 2003 on Window Vista and Windows 7
If you were to use Outlook 2003 on Windows Vista or Windows 7, the theme of Outlook 2003 would be “Baby blue” and is not sensitive to changes you make in the Aero color settings. In case you don’t like the Baby blue, you can get a classic gray look in the following way;
Right click on the Outlook 2003 shortcut-> Properties-> tab Compatibility-> select: Disable visual themes

When you now start Outlook, it will load in classic mode (the look of Windows 2000 and earlier) without the themes and skinning. You can still further modify this as described in the next section.

Outlook 2007, Outlook 2010 and Outlook 2013
Outlook 2007, 2010 and 2013 come with their own themes independent from Windows, but more about that later. The general Windows theme settings only limitedly affect the appearance of Outlook 2007 and Outlook 2010 and Outlook 2013 even less.

Font type and colors

For Outlook 2003 and previous, changing the font style and color can be done for a big part via Windows settings. For Outlook 2007, this is limited to the font size for most of the settings. For Outlook 2010 and Outlook 2013, only a few elements will be affected by changing the default font settings in Windows.

Windows 8 and Windows 8.1

  1. Right click on an empty spot on your Desktop and choose “Screen Resolution”.
  2. Click “Make text and other items larger or smaller”.
  3. In the bottom section, you can control the font size of various elements. Changing the font size and color is not possible.

Windows 7

  1. Right click on an empty spot on your Desktop and choose Personalize…
  2. Click Window Color.
  3. If you are running the Aero interface, then you additionally need to click “Advanced appearance settings”.

Windows Vista

  1. Right click on an empty spot on your Desktop and choose Personalize…
  2. Click Window Color and Appearance.
  3. If you are running the Aero interface, then you additionally need to click “Open classic appearance properties for more color options” and then the button Advanced…

Windows XP

  1. Right click on an empty spot on your Desktop and choose Properties.
  2. Select the Appearance tab.
  3. Press the Advanced button.

Menu item
You’ll find that most of the fonts will change when you make changes to the “Menu” item settings (again; just the font size for Outlook 2007, Outlook 2010 and Outlook 2013).

Window item
You can also change the “Window” color settings to get rid of a lot of the white in Outlook’s interface. Note that although the background color of your message changes too, the receiver won’t see this color unless you specifically set it when composing.

Note:
The font type of the Navigation Pane cannot be changed in Outlook 2003 and Outlook 2007.
Changing the font color of the Navigation pane cannot be changed in Outlook 2010 via the Menu appearance item but can be set to white when you set your Office theme to Black.

Borders
When running the classic interface of Windows (or running Outlook with the Windows theme turned off), you can also modify the border colors here and even make them smaller by modifying the “Border Padding” size. Note that the Classic Themes are no longer in Windows 8.

Advanced Appearance settings in Windows Vista
Clicking on the elements in the Advanced Appearance dialog
automatically selects the corresponding item in the dropdown list.


Settings at Outlook level

While you can change already quite a bit via the generic settings in Windows, there are also a lot of options within Outlook to make even more changes. Most of them are devoted to only a certain section within Outlook.

Main Interface Theme

Outlook/Office 2007 and 2010 come with 3 skinning themes of their own; Blue, Silver and Black).
Outlook/Office 2013 comes with the themes White, Light Gray and Dark Gray.

To change your Office theme;

  • Outlook 2007
    Start a new message-> press the Office logo at the left top-> Editor Options-> section: Popular-> Color scheme
  • Outlook 2010
    File-> Options-> section: General-> Color scheme
  • Outlook 2013
    File-> Office Account-> Office Theme

Touch Mode

Touch Mode is a new feature in Outlook 2013 which controls the size and spacing of various elements within the Office and Outlook interface. This is mainly intended for use with a touch screen but can be of help in other cases as well.

If you have are using a Touch Screen, then usually this options is already available to you in the Quick Access Toolbar (QAT). If you are not using a Touch Screen or if the option isn’t listed even though you are, you can make it available to you by clicking on the down arrow in the QAT and choose-> Touch/Mouse Mode

When you click on the button, you get the option to switch between Touch and Mouse Mode. This is just an interface optimization; you can control Outlook 2013 via touch or a mouse in either mode.

Optimize Outlook for use with fingers by enabling Touch Mode.
Optimize Outlook for use with fingers by enabling Touch Mode.

Mail Item list

The mail items list is the main overview of all your mails in a folder. You can change the font type, size and color via the View settings in Outlook. These can be different for each folder or the same for all or just some of them. You can also set conditions to make some items stand out by using a larger font or by using a different color. To modify use;

  • Outlook 2010 and Outlook 2013
    tab View-> button View Settings-> button Conditional Formatting…
  • Outlook 2007 and 2003
    View-> Arrange By-> Custom…-> button Automatic Formatting…
  • Outlook 2002/XP and previous
    View-> Current View-> Customize Current View…-> button: Automatic Formatting…

If you used the above method to change the text color of the Navigation Pane, then you can make the mail items list black again via Automatic/Conditional Formatting settings.

For more information about Automatic/Conditional Formatting see this guide.

Automitic Formatting settings in Outlook
Setting your Automatic Formatting color to Black instead of Auto
makes it stop using your default Windows font color.

Reading Pane

The font settings in the Reading Pane can be changed in various ways but which method is best depend on a lot of things.

  • Changing the DPI settings in Windows is the best approach when the font in general is too small to read.
  • If you only have issues with the font size on certain occasions (when people are sending their mail in a font that is too small), then zooming those specific messages would be the way to go (this can be automated via an add-in as well).
  • If you don’t like it that the display of the emails is at the mercy of the sender, then you can opt to have all your emails delivered in Plain Text instead and specify your favorite font, size and color to read and compose your messages in.

A description on how to use all these techniques can be found in the guide: Enlarge font in Reading Pane.

As mentioned previously, in Outlook 2003, Outlook 2007 and Outlook 2013, the Navigation Pane can only be modified via Windows settings.

Only Outlook 2010 has an option to directly modify the Navigation Pane font type and size:
tab View-> button Navigation Pane-> Options…-> button Font

Change font size for Navigation Pane
Changing the font of the Navigation Pane from within Outlook 2010.

Note:
The font color of the Navigation pane cannot be changed directly in Outlook 2010 but can be set to white when you set your Office theme to Black.

Calendar font type and size

To change the font type that is used in your Calendar, right click an empty space in your Calendar (I realize that might be a challenge for some people) and from the context menu choose: Other Settings…

Here you can set different fonts for the Time, general text and your Monthly calendar. Additionally you can set if certain items should show in bold or not.

Other Settings dialog box for the Calendar
Other Settings dialog box for the Calendar.

Calendar background color

To change the background color of the Calendar use;

  • Outlook 2007 and previous
    Tools-> Options…-> button: Calendar Options…
  • Outlook 2010 and Outlook 2013
    tab View-> button Color

Changing the background color of the calendar can also help to have the “Today” mark stand out a bit more for you.

Calendar items background color

  • Outlook 2003 and Outlook 2002/XP
    You can choose from a predefined set of Labels to color code it and item.
  • Outlook 2007, 2010 and 2013
    The background color of an item in the calendar is determined by the color of the last category that got assigned to the item.

In case no Category or Label is assigned in the above mentioned versions of Outlook, you can use Conditional Formatting or Automatic Formatting.

Date Navigator/Side Calendar

There are a couple of places where Outlook shows a small calendar which is officially called the Date Navigator;

  • To-Do Bar in Outlook 2007, Outlook 2010 and Outlook 2013
  • When hovering over the word Calendar at the bottom of your screen in Outlook 2013
  • Calendar Navigation Pane in Outlook 2003, 2007, 2010 and 2013 
  • TaskPad in Outlook 2003 and previous

You can control the font settings (but not the color) for this small calendar by going to;

  • Outlook 2013
    There in no option to change the Date Navigator display in Outlook 2013. It’s size is controlled by Windows DPI settings.
  • Outlook 2010
    File-> Options-> section: Calendar-> option group: Display options-> button Font…
  • Outlook 2007 and Outlook 2003
    Tools-> Options…-> tab Other-> button Advanced Options…-> button Font… next to the option Date Navigator

Note:
Setting this font also increases the font of the week numbers if you have the “Show week numbers” option enabled.

Custom styled Date Navigator in Outlook 2007
Custom styled Date Navigator in Outlook 2007.

Notes fonts and background color

If you are using Notes, you’ve probably found out already that you can change the color of them. You can set the default background color and font settings via;

  • Outlook 2013
    You can’t set a default color but you can control the color of an individual item by assigning a Category to a Note.
  • Outlook 2010
    File-> Options-> section: Notes and Journal
  • Outlook 2007 and previous
    Tools-> Options-> Notes Options…

To-Do Bar

The To-Do Bar in Outlook 2007 and Outlook 2010 actually consists out of 3 components and in Outlook 2013 out of 4. Each is controlled separately by a separate method.

  • Date Navigator
    Via the Date Navigator settings discussed previously here.
  • Appointments
    The background color matches the Category color that is assigned to the item.
    The font cannot be changed although the font color will change to white when the selected main category is one of the darker colors.
  • People (Outlook 2013 only)
    No specific font settings apply other than the default Windows DPI settings. 
  • Task List
    The Task List can be controlled by modifying the Automatic/Conditional Formatting settings as discussed previously. To bring up that screen for the Task List, right click on the “Arranged By” header of the Task List and choose Custom…

Tasks folders and To-Do List

The main color for overdue and completed tasks can be set via:

  • Outlook 2007 and previous
    Tools-> Options…-> button: Task Options…
  • Outlook 2010 and Outlook 2013
    File-> Options-> section Tasks

Additional font settings can be set via Automatic/Conditional Formatting.

Note:
The Tasks folder and the To-Do List can have different settings. In short, the difference between the Tasks folder and the To-Do List is that the To-Do list isn’t an actual folder but is an overview of all the items that have been marked for follow-up. So besides tasks, there could also be emails shown in this overview which you mark differently via Automatic/Conditional Formatting.

Writing emails

The default font settings for new emails, replies and forwards can be found in;

  • Outlook 2010 and Outlook 2013
    File-> Options-> section Mail-> button Stationery and Fonts…
  • Outlook 2007 and previous
    Tools-> Options-> tab Mail Format…

Here you can also make a selection out of available Stationery and Themes which can contain font settings and background settings of their own.

When you have installed a standalone version of Outlook, the "Theme..." button is not available. Not even when you later install Word 2007/2010/2013 as well. You'll need an Office 2007/20102013 Suite which contains Outlook for it to be enabled.
When you have installed a standalone version of Outlook, the “Theme…” button is not available. Not even when you later install Word 2007/2010/2013 as well. You’ll need an Office 2007/20102013 Suite which contains Outlook for it to be enabled.

While writing an email, you can of course still modify the font settings as well; that’s obvious enough. If you cannot make any changes, your cursor is probably not in the message body or you are composing in Plain Text.

If you find the font settings when composing a new mail a bit too small, you might be easily tempted to increase the font size. At this point you should realize that the receiver will also receive it in that same size. If the font size is reasonable for emails already (somewhere between 8pt an 12pt for most fonts), then you might want to change your general DPI settings in Windows instead or change the zoom factor of your email.

Mark my comments with

When you have the “Mark my comments with” option enabled, the font settings that are used are the same as the font settings which you have set for forwards and replies as mentioned above.

Background color for emails

The way the background color can be changed when composing an email depends on your version of Outlook.

  • Outlook 2007, Outlook 2010 and Outlook 2013
    Create a new message-> tab Options-> button: Page Color
  • Previous versions of Outlook
    Create a new message-> Format-> Background-> Color

You can also set a picture to show as a watermark.

Search highlighting

When you use Instant Search in Outlook 2007 2010 or 2013, the words you have used in your search query will be highlighted. To change the highlight color (or to turn this feature off completely) go to;

  • Outlook 2010 and Outlook 2013
    File-> Options-> section Search-> option: Highlight search terms in the results
  • Outlook 2007
    Tools-> Options…-> button: Search Options-> option: Highlight the words that I search for

Fonts used when printing

You can also specify several font settings when printing an email or an overview of your Tasks, Calendar or any other folder.

  • An overview of a folder or list are printed via the Table Style.
  • An individual item will be printed in the Memo Style.
  • An individual item in the HTML format in Outlook 2003 or previous will be printed via the settings of Internet Explorer (allows no additional font settings).
  • The Calendar holds several Printing Styles of its own.

To change these Printing Styles use:

  • Outlook 2010 and Outlook 2013
    File-> Print-> button Print Options-> Define Styles…-> select the Printing Style that you’d like to change-> button Edit…
  • Outlook 2007 and previous
    File-> Page Setup-> Define Printing Styles…-> select the Printing Style that you’d like to change-> button Edit…

Tip!
When using Outlook 2007 or Outlook 2010, additional font settings and other formatting changes can be made when you print your calendar via the Calendar Printing Assistant for Outlook 2007, which is a free tool from Microsoft. Currently, this tool is not yet available for Outlook 2010 64-bit and Outlook 2013 32-bit and 64-bit.