Managing custom stationery and themes for Outlook 2007

The Outlook Help topic "Apply stationery, themes, and backgrounds to e-mail messages" states:

 Note   Outlook stationery or themes cannot be customized.

That is definitely true up to a point. Outlook 2007 itself provides no way to customize existing stationery or customize a theme to add a background image. That does not mean, however, that you can't create and deploy custom stationery and themes with other tools and make them available to Outlook.

Where does Outlook look for stationery and themes? Four different locations:

Themes distributed with Office 2007


    \Program Files\Common Files\Microsoft Shared\THEMES12


Themes customized with Office 2007

.thmx files

%appdata%\Microsoft\Templates\Document Themes


Stationery distributed with Office 2007


\Program Files\Common Files\Microsoft Shared\Stationery


Legacy user-specific themes

.elm files



Legacy user-specific stationery

.htm files



Let's consider the third and last locations first. Even though you can't create or modify stationery inside Outlook, you can copy an .htm file created with any HTML editor to one of these Stationery folders, and Outlook will display it in the list of stationery and themes with (Stationery) after the file name.

I am also happy to report that with the help of Office MVP Bob Buckland and the Microsoft Knowledge Base article WD2000: How to Modify a Theme that Bob pointed out, I can now create a custom theme with a background image that Outlook 2007 can use for new messages.

The problem for many users will be that the method to create a custom theme requires FrontPage 2003. SharePoint Web Designer and Expression Web Designer don't support themes.

Here's the step-by-step how-to:

1.    Open FrontPage 2003 (you don't need to connect to any existing web), and create a new normal page.

2.    Choose Format | Theme to display the Theme task pane.

3.    At the bottom of the Theme task pane, click Create new theme.

4.    Use the Colors and Text buttons to change the colors and fonts for your theme.

5.    To set the background picture, click the Graphics button.

6.    On the Picture tab, under Background Picture, click Browse and select the picture you want to use, and then click Open. Click OK to accept that picture as the background.

7.    When you have finished, click Save or Save As to save the changes to your custom theme. FrontPage will prompt you for a name for the new theme.

You should now be able to use your new theme in Outlook by choosing Actions | New Message Using | More Stationery or can make your new theme the default in Tools | Options | Mail Format | Stationery and Fonts | Theme. FrontPage saves custom themes as .elm files, each theme in their own folder, to the user's %appdata%\Microsoft\Themes folder. According to Bob, you also can copy a saved custom theme's folder to the \Program Files\Common Files\Microsoft Shared\THEMES12 folder; this is a good technique to keep in mind if you need to deploy a custom theme to all your users.

In case you're curious, the themes that users modify and save with Word or Outlook 2007 using the Page Layout | Themes tab are stored as .thmx files and can be modified with PowerPoint 2007, but the background image doesn't show up in a mail message or document. I wonder why that's the case.

UPDATE (9 March 2007): Outlook 2007 does not support background images for either messages as a whole or table cells.

UPDATE (23 Aug 2007): Apparently, to make themes work, you need to have Outlook and Word from the same Office 2007 package. Installing Outlook 2007 standalone along with Word from Office 2007 Home and Student Edition will not make themes available.


Article ID: 36, Created On: 11/14/2008, Modified: 11/1/2013

Feedback (0)