Released Modus themes 0.11.0

I just published version 0.11.0 of the Modus themes. These are my highly-accessible themes for GNU Emacs. They conform with the WCAG AAA standard for colour contrast accessibility (a minimum contrast ratio of 7:1 between the foreground and background values). You can find the packages on GNU ELPA, MELPA, MELPA Stable:

  • modus-operandi-theme (light)
  • modus-vivendi-theme (dark)

Below are the release notes.

Modus Operandi and Modus Vivendi version 0.11.0

By Protesilaos Stavrou on 2020-07-31

This entry records the changes since version 0.10.0 (2020-06-24). The present release covers close to 100 commits, some of which introduce far-reaching changes. It is not just the quantity that matters. Sometimes even a minor tweak requires lots of testing and forethought. This release represents another month of intense work and attention to detail.

Palette review of “nuanced” colours

The themes contain a subset of palette variables that have a two-fold utility:

  1. Provide a subtle coloured background that can be combined with all foreground colours that are intended for text/code highlighting.

  2. Produce variegated text in cases where complementary information needs to be displayed alongside some more prominent construct (e.g. Org table formulas).

In early July 2020, these colours went through a comprehensive review to improve their intended use. The complete report is available on my website:

This formed the preparatory work that enabled several of the changes documented herein, most noticeable among which is the “Org blocks” customisation option.

Customisation options

Org blocks

  1. The symbols modus-operandi-theme-distinct-org-blocks and modus-vivendi-theme-distinct-org-blocks are DEPRECATED. They are now REPLACED by the general-purpose modus-operandi-theme-org-blocks and modus-vivendi-theme-org-blocks respectively.

  2. The aforementioned new symbols allow users to configure different styles for Org blocks.

    • Option greyscale (which you must quote like this: ‘greyscale) will apply a subtle grey background to the contents of the block, while it will extend its beginning and end lines to ensure that the area is distinct from the rest of the buffer. This is the style you would normally get with the old customisation options.

    • Option rainbow (again, must be quoted) will instead apply a colour-coded subtle background in the main area of the block. The exact colour depends on the programming language being used. You would need to check the source code for how these are currently mapped (search for “org-src-block-faces”). The basic idea is to have different colours that make it easier for mixing the input/output of multiple programming languages. Users who engage in literate programming may find this particularly useful. Because the block is already quite apparent, the beginning and end lines are not extended to the edge of the window, to avoid exaggerations that could create distractions.

Variable pitch headings (proportionately-spaced headings)

The symbols modus-operandi-theme-proportional-fonts and modus-vivendi-theme-proportional-fonts are DEPRECATED. They are now REPLACED by the more appropriately-named modus-operandi-theme-variable-pitch-headings and modus-vivendi-theme-variable-pitch-headings respectively.

The intended effect is exactly the same as before, namely, to let headings in Org and relevant modes use a proportionately-spaced font regardless of what the default is (typically a monospaced typeface).

Remember that to configure the exact font family for the generic variable-pitch face, you can use something like this:

(set-face-attribute 'variable-pitch nil :family "FiraGO")

Check the README for further details on setting and mixing fonts.

Faint syntax for programming

Users can now enable modus-operandi-theme-faint-syntax or modus-vivendi-theme-faint-syntax. The intended effect is to tone down all syntax highlighting in programming modes, while always respecting the overarching objective of these themes for a minimum contrast ratio of 7:1 (highest accessibility standard for colour contrast—WCAG AAA).

The default is to use more saturated colours.

Intense hl-line

Toggling on modus-operandi-theme-intense-hl-line or modus-vivendi-theme-intense-hl-line will apply a more pronounced grey to the background of faces that highlight the current line. This affects tools such as the built-in hl-line-mode, which is in turn enabled automatically by lots of other packages, like elfeed and mu4e.

The default is to use a subtle grey.

Intense paren-match

Same principle as above. modus-operandi-theme-intense-paren-match and modus-vivendi-theme-intense-paren-match will make the matching parentheses more intense than the default subtle warm background. This concerns modes such as that of the smartparens package as well as the built-in show-paren-mode.

Refactored the use of bold

A major review of the themes now makes it possible to specify the exact weight of what a “bold” typeface is. This is only meaningful for cases where a font family has variants such as “semibold”.

Evaluate this, replacing “semibold” with the one your typeface supports:

(set-face-attribute 'bold nil :weight 'semibold)

The default is to use a standard bold weight.

Packages and face groups

Refine already-supported faces

  • The following packages now use more appropriate colour combinations:

    • diary
    • annotate
    • transient (magit pop-up menu, though also used elsewhere)
    • fountain
    • calendar
    • mu4e
    • markdown-mode
    • outline-minor-faces
  • Other changes:

    • org-agenda has undergone a thoroughgoing review to improve the semantics of colour for scheduled tasks, deadlines, modeline filters, current date etc.

    • org and outline-mode headings have been refined to look better with the “rainbow headings” option that was introduced in an earlier release (check the README).

    • org-quote now works properly with the “Org blocks” option mentioned above.

    • org-checkbox-statistics uses the same foreground colour as org-todo, for the sake of consistency.

    • org-date now always inherits from fixed-pitch, to ensure proper alignment of elements when a mixed fonts setup is used (tools for achieving this effect are documented at length in the README). The relevant patch was contributed by Matthew Stevenson.

    • org-meta-line no longer looks like a comment, which helps denote its special utility (e.g. when evaluating a table’s formula).

    • org-warning now uses a variant of red for its text, which works better in the contexts this face is used (e.g. the agenda or the export dispatcher).

    • We now apply a slightly more accented colour combination for secondary-selection, which is chiefly used by Org and Calendar in various contexts.

    • Gnus group level faces make more considerate use of colour to better denote their significance.

    • Cited text in message buffers has a better sequence of colours.

    • Two new Helm faces are supported.

    • Let keycast use a different border colour when the “3D modeline” option is enabled (refer to the README for that option).

    • Extend hl-todo-keyword-faces with the “bug” keyword.

    • More intense colour for diff-hl-reverted-hunk-highlight.

    • Tone down the focused modeline’s border colour.

    • Define new bespoke faces that the themes use internally.

    • Use more appropriate colours for header-line-highlight.

    • Apply greyscale line highlight for flycheck current line in the diagnostics buffer, instead of the warmer colour combination it had before.

    • Tweak text colour difference between MU4E read and unread messages.

Added support for new packages

  • bongo
  • boon
  • dictionary
  • eshell-fringe-status
  • eshell-git-prompt
  • eshell-prompt-extras
  • highlight-tail
  • hl-defined
  • notmuch
  • tty-menu


  • Expand the README with new documentation and clarify parts of the existing one.

  • Update the Wiki page with screenshots and their descriptions (this in itself is a day’s worth of work):

  • Make the source code of each theme work better with the built-in outline-minor-mode. Check my video if you need a demo on how I use this in tandem with imenu:

Thanks to, in no particular order:

  • Shreyas Ragavan ( for introducing me to the idea that derived the “rainbow” Org blocks and for providing valuable feedback in several issues.

  • Matthew Stevenson ( for contributing the aforementioned patch for the org-date face.

  • Manuel Uberti ( for offering valuable feedback in a number of issues (and special thanks for doing this for several months now).

  • Dinko ( for noticing a not-so-obvious bug in the initial implementation of the “rainbow Org blocks” option.

  • okamsn ( for providing the necessary feedback that allowed me to refactor the use of “bold”, mentioned above.

Refer to the issue tracker (or commit log) for further details: