Jul 132009

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.

Outlook look for stationery and themes in 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  %appdata%\Microsoft\Themes

Legacy user-specific stationery -  .htm files  %appdata%\Microsoft\Stationery

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.

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.

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