Background color in Outlook 2013 can be changed! We just need to figure out how... RRS feed

  • Question

  • The blinding white background of Outlook 2013 is causing trouble with some of my end users. The options in Outlook only change parts of the window, but the message list and preview pane are still bright white. In my own research, I have found that when the Windows theme is changed to High Contrast Black, it changes Outlook as well. I have tried to isolate the registry settings that affect this change, but have only been successful in changing the "window" color, which still leaves the message list as white, no matter what color I change the window color to, it only changes the preview pane.

    So, to spare millions of Outlook 2013 users from the headache of bright white message lists, who can identify what changing the theme to High Contrast Black does that directly affects Outlook's Message list color so Outlook 2013 users can enjoy it without the headache? I have used registry monitoring tools to attempt to identify a registry change that does it, but it doesn't stick out.

    Thursday, September 5, 2013 2:27 PM

All replies

  • We've encountered a lot of the Office 2013 display issue recently. Please firstly update your display adapther to the latest version to have a try.

    Please also try to "Disable hardware graphics acceleration" under Outlook File > Options > Advanced tab > Display section to check if the problem still persists. Thanks.

    Tony Chen
    Forum Support
    Come back and mark the replies as answers if they help and unmark them if they provide no help.
    If you have any feedback on our support, please contact

    • Proposed as answer by jmscriptguy Friday, February 5, 2016 4:23 AM
    • Unproposed as answer by jmscriptguy Friday, February 5, 2016 4:23 AM
    Friday, September 6, 2013 3:12 PM
  • Made absolutely no difference. With all due respect, I think you only skimmed over my post and offered a generic response. This behavior can be reproduced on any computer running Outlook 2013. The settings under Control Panel > Appearance and Personalization > Personalization > Window Color > Advanced appearance settings. Select the "Window" item, and change it to any color, the message list still stays white. However when you change the theme to High Contrast Black under Control Panel > Appearance and Personalization > Personalization, it changes it to black along with every other white spot, as shown in my pictures. Again, you can do this all on your own computer with little impact. With all due respect, please don't ask me to try something that you didn't already do on your computer to reproduce the issue and correct it. Not only does that waste my time, but it will waste the time of the thousands of people who find this post in the future looking for a solution to this blinding white work area.
    Friday, September 6, 2013 3:27 PM
  • Sorry for inconvenience brings to you.

    I would involve someone who is more familiar with this kind of issue to deal with this problem.

    Tony Chen
    Forum Support
    Come back and mark the replies as answers if they help and unmark them if they provide no help.
    If you have any feedback on our support, please contact
    Sunday, September 8, 2013 5:51 AM
  • I didn't have time to solve this myself but I guess I'm going to have to since no one from MS familiar with Outlook wants to even respond.
    Wednesday, September 11, 2013 8:07 PM
  • Hi,

    This color is hard coded in outlook and there is no way to change this color. We have received many requests with regards to the same and Microsoft PG is aware of the same . However we do not have any information regarding if this would be changed or not.

    At this point of time there is no fix for it.

    Hope this helps


    Wednesday, September 11, 2013 10:11 PM
  • What about the color change when the Windows theme is set to High Contrast Black as shown in the second picture?
    Wednesday, September 11, 2013 10:16 PM
  • So if there is lots of requests for it, why doesn't this company respond to the marketplace?

    Don't Retire TechNet

    Thursday, September 12, 2013 12:07 AM
  • So if there is lots of requests for it, why doesn't this company respond to the marketplace?

    IMHO, the company cares more about an image it is trying to project, led by little geeks that think gray is a wonderful color for a computer and bright white is oh so keen and nifty. It doesn't matter to the little geeks that our eyes are taking a royal beating.

    Me, I want to add white to the background color choice in calendar view so my daily calendars aren't shaded. Every prior version of Outlook was able to print plain white on a daily page. Now I'm stuck with the lightes shade of a color wheel the doesn't include white. STUPID IDEA MICROSOFT! That shading shows up when I print and when I scan or copy my daily calendar. DUMB!

    • Edited by way too much stuff Monday, October 7, 2013 12:37 AM
    • Proposed as answer by mmaatt Friday, January 3, 2014 4:33 PM
    Monday, October 7, 2013 12:37 AM
  • High Contrast Black, why didn't I think of that. :-)

    My outlook now looks like it was created by a hack back in the 90's, but at least that horrible grey is gone. My disgust with Microsoft & their approach to consumer choice has encouraged me to start looking at alternatives to Office in general... We need more options, because for what I use Office for I've come to realise, there really isn't any choices for us Exchange Users.

    Microsoft, please add the ability to have a little colour/color in our Office life. I spend 3 hours+ per day around this program & I don't need the bland interface that you've 'graced' us with.

    • Edited by Monday, October 7, 2013 6:40 AM
    Monday, October 7, 2013 6:40 AM
  • If it is hard coded, then why did changing the Windows theme change the color?
    Monday, October 7, 2013 12:00 PM
  • Just another pat answer I'd guess.

    I don't understand why in this century Microsoft doesn't release products with full color configurability. The F12 Developer Tools in Internet Explorer is worse.

    Decades ago X11 provided such capability...

    Wednesday, April 9, 2014 1:39 PM
  • This is absolutely unconscionable. I have been in this business of software devleopment for 40+ years and never seen anything so rigidly pretensious. Seriously, there must be a good reason for this 'hard coded color' thing. What is it?
    Tuesday, May 27, 2014 5:41 PM
  • They want the on premises versions of Outlook to match OWA is my best guess.

    Unfortunately TechNet subscriptions aren't coming back, sorry folks :-(

    Tuesday, May 27, 2014 5:45 PM
  • I'd be excited just to have the existing MS Outlook 2013 themes work! Windows AND MS office 2013 are current. I've changed the theme settings and even tried disabling the hardware accelerator as 1 poster suggested.  Nothing works!  I just get this awful pure white background in all my Outlook panels!  :(
    Tuesday, June 10, 2014 1:27 AM
  • I have the same issue. Please Microsoft Office Development Team come up with a way to allow for MS Office Application Theme color changes before people start going blind!
    Wednesday, September 3, 2014 6:20 PM
  • Same Issue..
    Monday, September 15, 2014 9:26 PM
  • Continuing this.  Who's idea was this anyway and when can they be fired really?  Because they are the cause of Microsoft's future problems to compete in a world where every person is unique and wants to interact and display different sides to themselves in color!  It is simple yet a crucial design flaw.  For Microsoft to liken their "image" to communist China is really typical actually of what Microsoft does.  Let's make everyone wear grey - luv it!  Nothing surprises me anymore about this company.  Windows 8.1.  Windows 10 technical preview.  They are still not getting it!  
    Wednesday, October 8, 2014 6:22 PM
  • Zap,

    Yes, MS likes everyone to be uniform. They are easier to control that way!

    Apart from that I have an idea for those who cannot handle the white background in Office. Albeit a poor solution it can work: Install a second screen and dim it. Drag all Office programs to that screen and use the other for "normal" work.

    Wednesday, October 8, 2014 6:38 PM
  • Agreed - The contrast in office 2013 is horrendous.  How do people at Microsoft accept such awful design changes as good ideas?  Even the High Contrast theme offers minimal contrast.

    Researching this issue for a coworker who has vision problems, I came across this link.  The only workable way to make this disgusting interface have enough contrast is to go into one of Windows High Contrast monitor modes , as the original poster noted. Playing around with that, I found a way that might help some users. Once you're in that High Contrast mode, a "Window Color" button at the bottom of the Personalization/Theme dialog allows you to change dialog colors the way you could in the old days before Aero.  These color changes affect Outlook 2013.  Unfortunately, they affect every app, even ones that have nice interfaces.  So while it can make Outlook's interface usable, it may negatively impact other applications.

    (Tried to upload an image, but my account needs to be "verified" first, whatever that means.  I've "confirmed" my email address; guess that's enough.)

    • Edited by CT__ Tuesday, October 14, 2014 3:48 PM
    Tuesday, October 14, 2014 3:43 PM
  • Same issue.
    Wednesday, October 22, 2014 7:01 PM
  • Hey guys, This is Vishal from great land India. i am able to resolve this issue. Hope it works for you guys as well.

    Go to File-->Options--> Mail--->'Stationery and Fonts' --> There is a option called 'Theme' where you can change that white to some other colour.  After you set your theme click on Ok. its done. Now just click on 'New Email' you can see that boring white background disappears.  It worked for me. 

    Let me know guys.

    Best Regards,

    Vishal T


    Monday, November 3, 2014 5:51 AM
  • Hi Vishal T., my goal was to change the colour of the e-mail list, not a specific message.  Do you have any ideas about how to do this?
    Monday, November 3, 2014 1:43 PM
  • Here we are in 2015 and Microsoft has done nothing to address this accessibility and usability issue. Why would Microsoft's accessibility and usability teams accept the extremely limited option of blinding white and two shades of gray?  

    Who knows how many thousands of users with light sensitivity issues and color blindness, and power users who use Office apps 6+ hours a day are affected by this junk of a color scheme!  I sit in front of my computer for hours, working in Outlook, Word, Excel, and have to dim my display to try to curb eye strain when using these apps. 

    Everything else I use  gives me the option of a color scheme more eye friendly than this Office 2013 mess...

    As an IT professional who has to support over 300 people, I am making it very clear to my staff and coworkers that this is a limitation with no acceptable solution and that Microsoft has done nothing to address this issue in over two years.  As we have Volume Licensing with SA, we have the option of sticking with 2010, and most do.

    So Office 2010 will continue being the choice until hopefully Office 2016 makes it right.

    Friday, January 2, 2015 3:02 AM
  • I agree with the vast majority of people here with the monstrosity colour scheme that is Office 2013.

    I spend 10 hours a day using Microsoft products, and have resisted using 2013, even though I have it installed.

    For years, Microsoft have been giving us the flexibility to change options, colours, icons etc to suit various needs.  Now it seems some Apple people have migrated into the MS camp and enforcing the 'one size fits all' policy that Apple adopt.

    To add further insult by dictating the stupid colour schemes that everyone must conform to, they also change the icons.  After years of improving the quality and colours from 16bit, to millions, they take a 15 year step backwards and just give us flat icons.  Why?  something to do?  Why not make it optional?????

    MS had to back down big time with Windows, when they gave us the ridiculous one-size-fits-all Windows 8, and then backpeddled with 8.1, by which time most people had already been pissed off enough to look at other options.  This after adamantly insisting the start button would never come back.

    I took a look at Windows 10, and it doesnt seem much better. The tile platform and desktop should be two seperate product lines.  MS were able to do that with all of their previous products by giving a enterprise, developer, standard etc etc - so why not now?  At least make it optional on installation.

    MS have had a huge part to play for the so called demise of the PC, and most people are opting to use the Android/IOS OS. They will continue to lose sales with this unconfigurable crap they insist on rolling out.  How many professional businesses have adopted Windows 8?  None that I know - because Windows 8 like the rest of the products tries to force you to start using the products in a totally alien way to the ones you have come to learn in the last 15 years.  Its a bit like taking the steering wheel away in your car and asking people to steer with the accelerator and gear stick.

    Come on MS, Balmer balls'd it up, but Nadal should know better

    • Edited by Ammo999 Friday, March 6, 2015 3:39 PM
    Friday, March 6, 2015 3:38 PM
  • Non the less, it can be changed if you know which library to edit, look around Google and you'll find it.


    This color is hard coded in outlook and there is no way to change this color. We have received many requests with regards to the same and Microsoft PG is aware of the same . However we do not have any information regarding if this would be changed or not.

    At this point of time there is no fix for it.

    Hope this helps


    Wednesday, March 18, 2015 2:14 AM
  • Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! I've been searching for so long for a way to make Outlook less horribly bright and white, and this workaround fixed it and everything else by giving me nice dark windows to work with. I am so grateful, it's such a simple, elegant solution. I can't understand what is up with the comments below by anyone claiming to have issues with or not understand this. Are they trolls or did they not understand the simple instructions?? High contract black theme, simple!
    Thursday, April 30, 2015 5:13 PM
  • I completely understand what you are going through and what you have tried to fix it.  Unfortunately, Microsoft only allows the themes of White, Light and Dark Gray.  All of them are horrible and cause severe eye strain.  I have two solutions, one of which is a step back in time a good 30 years, and the other is a semi-workaround. 

    • First, the archaic solution:  Adjust the brightness and contrast of your monitor.  This may seem like a joke (but in reality the Microsoft Developers are the jokers), however I have found this is the best, workable solution for me. Unfortunately, I spend 90% of my time not only in Outlook 2013 but the entire Office 365 Suite, all of which have the same blinding glare problem.
    • Here's the second, semi-workaround:  As someone else mentioned, you can change the theme of your stationery and fonts and stationery (File Options Mail then [Stationery and Fonts]).  Some of the themes are horrific, yet there are a couple that are soothing, such as Concrete, Sky and Soft Blue.  Within my section, we have all changed to one of these themes, because the majority of the email we read is from each other.  This is only a semi-workaround because you cannot control the background of email you receive from outside your workgroup, plus the other panes on the screen are still that blinding white.

    It's embarrassing that Microsoft would have so horribly failed a basic feature such as this.  My employer recently upgraded to O365 and for the first few days I went home with killer migraine headaches.  I finally figured out it was the glare from the look of the new software applications.  Really, Microsoft, you should be ashamed of yourselves!  I am tempted to send you the bill for the pricy migraine medication refill that I needed because of your poorly designed software!

    If Microsoft is reading this (doubtful), I just want to let them know that for YEARS I defended them against Apple.  But finally about a year ago I had enough and switched over all Apple products for my personal use.  I absolutely detest Microsoft but am forced to use it at work, although I do have a request in to replace my PC with a Mac when we do a hardware refresh in the next few months.

    Sadly, Microsoft continues to blindside its customers, literally in this particular case.  Perhaps the ADA-related complaints and lawsuits will become a large enough liability for them to fix this issue sooner rather than later.


    • Proposed as answer by Bachelor_SC Thursday, March 10, 2016 2:33 AM
    Thursday, June 11, 2015 10:13 PM
  • The topic of background color options in Microsoft Office 2013, or more appropriately the lack thereof, has been an ongoing end user concern for 2 years. I am befuddled by Microsoft's pat answers and overall lack of concern over this. I would have expected an upgrade or patch by now! Unfortunately, I recently had a hard drive failure requiring a Windows system recovery. While awaiting the warranty repair, I was "forced" to us a Mac with Outlook 2011 for Mac installed. The colors and contrast are awesome on the Mac. It was really difficult to go back to the Windows 2013 version on my Windows PC. So, here is yet another request to fix what has been a real issue for many.

    Saturday, June 13, 2015 3:48 PM
  • Make no mistake about this design decision.  Microsoft on with the rest of the cloud backers is loosing the campaign to get people to embrace the cloud voluntarily and so they've switched tactics so as to forcibly move users to the cloud via stealth and deception.  Outlooks color scheme change is part of this covert cloud move.  By forcing all users to a common look/GUI that matches the cloud based version Microsoft will be able to query move users to the cloud without there realizing it.  one day you'll go from a festooned based version of Office 2013 to the cloud based version and you want realize it because everything will look,feel and act the same as before.  Unless you're a lawyer who reads and understood those changes made to use agreements you'll have no idea that you've been moved to the cloud.

    Friday, July 24, 2015 8:33 PM
  • You can go to File --> Options --> General --> Office Theme and choose Gray.  Hope this helps.
    Monday, October 5, 2015 10:40 AM
  • This does not help. This is just a another hideous, poorly thought out, low contrast option.  For people with vision problems, it can be unusable.   Please review the above posts for details of the problems this poor design causes.
    Tuesday, October 6, 2015 1:45 PM
  • So no one has found a way to modify the message list and body colors?
    Thursday, October 15, 2015 1:48 PM
  • Right, no ones posted a way to change the message list and body background colors..  Nothing in the Windows 7 Color and Appearances menu worked.
    Thursday, October 15, 2015 2:23 PM
  • I advocate for a RETURN (I emphase "RETURN") to more user configurability via the Windows Control Panel

    I remember the transition from MS-DOS / PC-DOS to early versions of Windows, when consistent user configurability was a major selling point for Windows (and OS/2).

    It's been almost ten years since Microsoft's own programs (notably, MS Office) began to disregard Control Panel settings (gray and white, yuck), and for years now Microsoft has been slowly removing color and font configuration options from the Control Panel itself.  I've always used "Windows Classic" instead of Aero due to Aero's lack of configuration options (and the inability to remove all distracting animations).

    Even under "Windows Classic", options have been reduced.  I'm still using Windows 7 for the moment until I see how many drivers are discontinued in Windows 10 (for example, the Microsoft Intellimouse series is already discontinued, and I have an older DesignJet printer).

    I used to set the Window "font size" separately, but for the last year or more (it was a secret update, so I don't know exactly when), the Windows font size has become tied to the "display percentage".

    This last change causes problems because some programs only work properly at "100%" (Some parts of TFS, Windows Resource Monitor), while the Windows font itself becomes tiny at "100%" on some displays (even 125% isn't big enough in some cases).

    Hasn't Microsoft or somebody released add-ins for Microsoft Office themes?

    Wayne Erfling (aka Cornan The Iowan)

    Sunday, October 18, 2015 3:31 PM
  • Yup, i fell you, the black contrast looks terrible, like it was taken out of the movie hackers.  
    Wednesday, January 20, 2016 8:28 AM
  • I have low vision and use computers 8+ hours a day.

    Is there not one person that works at Microsoft that has low vision?  Ask around the Accessibility department.  Just ask "Who has a headache?", that's probably the guy.

    With the lack of personalized settings built into Office 2013 I'm beginning to think Microsoft farmed the programming out to Apple.

    Friday, January 22, 2016 1:20 PM
  • Only works for one message at a time.  It does not change the look of the program window.
    Monday, February 22, 2016 6:06 PM
  • How about this kind of solution ? Ok it's a hack but at least there is something.



    Wednesday, February 24, 2016 10:41 AM
  • The Reading pane color is not hard coded in Outlook 2013. It is defined by, in my instance, a Windows 7 based color setting. In short, this solution will change the reading pane color in Outlook 2013 as well as various other areas of the OS. Here is the registry setting prior to the change.

    HKCU\Control Panel\Colors\ 

    "Window"="255 255 255"

    I changed mine to 224 224 224 for a light grey. Below is a link to a site that you can use to pick your RGB Value.

    Friday, April 15, 2016 4:52 PM
  • Oh so close on this one. This registry edit changed the color of the search box and background of the start menu but no effect on the reading pane itself in Outlook 2013. 
    Wednesday, June 1, 2016 9:25 PM
  • Rookie answer!
    Friday, June 17, 2016 5:13 PM
  • The High Contrast theme is required to change apps on the desktop by law, for the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act), so Outlook code is smart enough to look for that and change accordingly.
    Monday, June 20, 2016 6:11 PM
  • Changing Stationery is horrible! Microsoft should respect its user-base enough to provide a remedy. They used to do that when Bill Gates was still there. Unfortunately they don't anymore.
    Monday, June 20, 2016 6:13 PM
  • Once I made these changes and rebooted, my reading pane did change to light grey. Not sure what the difference is between our computers. I implemented this change for one of our users and it worked on his machine as well.

    • Edited by Bartman8584 Thursday, June 23, 2016 5:23 PM
    Thursday, June 23, 2016 5:23 PM
  • I am so frustrated I actually started a petition.
    Friday, June 24, 2016 11:24 PM
  • is it that you want to know to stop eyes-burning ??!! :

    • Edited by Ly.35 Tuesday, September 27, 2016 8:21 AM
    Tuesday, September 27, 2016 8:20 AM
  • 2017 And still nothing... Oh well this seems to be the way with MS these days..

    Reminds me of the whole multiple signin usernames.. 2 years and still no fix to that.. why do I need so many MS logins?

    They'd rather give you new services you never asked or wanted that they can make you pay for than actually fix existing issues for applications they have already released..

    One day soon a competitor is going to come along and destroy MS as they have become so unable to understand customers needs.

    I did sign the petition on the hope it might jog them on a bit.

    Monday, June 5, 2017 12:14 PM
  • Hi,

    This color is hard coded in outlook and there is no way to change this color. We have received many requests with regards to the same and Microsoft PG is aware of the same . However we do not have any information regarding if this would be changed or not.

    At this point of time there is no fix for it.

    Hope this helps


    Is it 'hard coded' in the registry or in the .exe or a .dll somewhere?  I'm not opposed to hex editing a color in there manually and re-signing the file.
    Friday, June 23, 2017 4:05 PM
  • Because they don't give a rat's butt what their customers want any more. They stopped being a customer-centric company with the introduction of Windows 8 and have steadily gotten worse since then. This is obvious from everything they sell now. It's what they want it to look and smell like and it doesn't matter to them if we don't like it.
    Saturday, October 21, 2017 5:52 PM
  • Try this theme for Windows, it`s better than high contrast settings. It does the job for Outlook.
    Friday, November 10, 2017 12:45 PM
  • Necro-ing this thread because it is fun!

    I really want to say if you don't like it don't use it. But that is not a good answer to us protectors of the holy realm that is business IT.

    The themes are bland, flat and fugly. This is COMPLETELY inline with microsofts wonderful converged experience of pc and tablet. It fails on so many levels but why should they care? They don't. Viva la skeuomorphism!

    I am tired of the M$ bloat. Daily I see users complain how crap it is, and daily I say use any number of open platform mail clients. But they can't abort this demon spawn of microsofts for what-ever business reason.

    And since this thread started, we have seen w10 take over this themed abomination that is flat UI. A far king novela unto itself in every "design" aspect than for one to actually get work done.

    Bloat is not the word for this anymore, it is pure malware in it's most evil form.

    Friday, April 6, 2018 3:06 AM
  • "I can't understand what is up with the comments below by anyone claiming to have issues with or not understand this.." because you didn't bother to read and understand the issue.
    FIRST) Unless you have the Microsoft365 program, there is NO "high contrast black" theme available in your drop-down list.
    For instance, we have MS-Office2016-business.
    There are ONLY three "theme" options:
    A) "Colorful" which forces dialogue trim nasty light blue and everything else bright white, flat, with no decent borders between windows, no shading, UNREADABLE, eye-hurting, etc.
    B) Dark Gray: slightly easier on the eyes, but now much of the text itself is some idiots gray idea of fuzzy-on-white background, so even though you replace the blueish with gray and have some borders around windows, the text is UNREADABLE, etc.
    C) White: seriously? UNUSABLE OPTION.
    For most users, there is no "Black" option available.

    SECOND)MICROSOFT, YOUR OPTIONS SUCK AND YOU ARE IRRESPONSIBLE, not allowing full colorization option choices BY USERS.
    Friday, January 4, 2019 6:31 PM
  • This worked. 



    Thursday, April 18, 2019 8:41 PM