Modus themes 1.3.0 for GNU Emacs

Just published version 1.3.0 of the Modus themes. The detailed release notes are reproduced below. For any questions pertaining to this publication feel welcome to contact me.

My immediate task now is to prepare patches for upstream Emacs (Emacs28). GNU ELPA syncs directly from emacs.git, so expect an update shortly thereafter.

Modus themes version 1.3.0

By Protesilaos Stavrou on 2021-04-17

This entry records the changes introduced to the project since the publication of version 1.2.0 (2021-03-04). There have been around 100 commits in the meantime, as is the norm with all releases hitherto.

Every colour-related modification documented herein conforms with the overarching accessibility objective of the themes for a minimum contrast ratio of 7:1 between background and foreground values in their given combination (the WCAG AAA standard).

As the official manual is referenced several times throughout this log, make sure to store its URL: Or read it from Emacs’ Info reader by evaluating this form:

(info "(modus-themes) Top")

If you are coming from older versions, please consult the change log entry for version 1.0.0 with regard to the breaking changes that were introduced.

Remember that the themes are built into Emacs28, and are available on GNU ELPA, as well as other archives.

Customisation options

  • The old modus-themes-intense-hl-line boolean variable has been replaced by modus-themes-hl-line, which provides several options for how to style the current line of hl-line-mode. To retain the old effect, one must do this:

    ;; Replacement for (setq modus-themes-intense-hl-line t)
    (setq modus-themes-hl-line 'intense-background)

    The list of possible values:

    1. nil (default)
    2. intense-background
    3. accented-background
    4. underline-neutral
    5. underline-accented
    6. underline-only-neutral
    7. underline-only-accented

    The doc string of modus-themes-hl-line as well as the manual describe the specifics. Thanks to Manuel Uberti for the feedback in commit b020592:

  • The modus-themes-mode-line variable now accepts three new “accented” styles that complement the existing set:

    1. nil (default)
    2. 3d
    3. moody
    4. borderless
    5. borderless-3d
    6. borderless-moody
    7. accented
    8. accented-3d
    9. accented-moody
  • The modus-themes-region is extended with two new options of an “accent” background:

    1. nil (default)
    2. no-extend
    3. bg-only
    4. bg-only-no-extend
    5. accent
    6. accent-no-extend
  • The default value of modus-themes-headings for per-level styles can now be set to nil. This fixes an inconsistency between the fallback value, which accepted nil, and the per-level styles which did not. Thanks to Mauro Aranda for reporting this in issue 163:

    Please read the manual for the specifics of this variable, as it is an alist that accepts several possible combinations.

Updates to the manual

  • Rewrote the sections that cover the aforementioned customisation options.

  • Rephrased the GNU Free Documentation License quote to match the style of other manuals that are also built into Emacs.

  • Documented org-mode variables that affect the looks of various fontification styles.

  • Simplified the kbd macro that is declared in to allow GNU ELPA’s build system to parse the file for Emacs 26.

  • Documented existing support for tab-bar-mode and tab-line-mode.

  • Wrote a note on how to configure the dimmer.el library by Neil Okamoto, in order to guarantee consistent results with the themes. The key is to use the RGB colour space instead of CIELAB.

  • Included note on shr.el fonts and how those are used by EWW and Elfeed.

  • Added a “Do-It-Yourself” (DIY) section on how to remap buffer-local faces.

  • Detailed a DIY method to make the buffer-local backdrop of a pdf-tools page use a distinct colour than the default white for Modus Operandi. Extended the same principle to Modus Vivendi and described how to adapt to theme changes (such as via modus-themes-toggle). Thanks to Utkarsh Singh for providing feedback on this topic in issue 175:

  • Elaborated on DIY techniques to programmatically override the saturation of all colours specified by the active Modus theme. Thanks to user pRot0ta1p for the feedback in issue 166:

Support for packages

These are added to the already comprehensive list of explicitly supported packages:

Also added support for the help-key-binding face which is part of Emacs 28.

Changes to already supported faces or face groups

  • Renamed all internal faces that the themes defined from “modus-theme-” to “modus-themes-”.

  • Refashioned all Ediff faces in the process of a major review of this tools’ overall design. The manifold changes are:

    • All inactive diffs respect the underlying fontification (e.g. programming syntax highlighting). Before they would override it with a gray foreground.

    • All inactive diffs have been toned down, as their background is a finer shade of gray than the prominent one that was used before.

    • There no longer is a visual distinction between even and odd inactive diffs (by means of different shades of gray). We are of the opinion that such subtleties, whose utility is marginal at best, have no place in themes that are designed for accessibility.

    • All bespoke gray colour combinations that were only intended for those inactive diffs have thus been removed from each theme’s palette.

    • Active diffs follow the same style as diff-mode, to ensure theme-wide consistency (all diff styles are controlled by the variable modus-themes-diffs).

    This topic was discussed at length (with screenshots) in issue 169: Thanks to peniblec and Nicolas De Jaeghere for their feedback.

  • Made smerge-markers and vdiff-closed-fold-face look like the headings in diff-mode in the interest of consistency, especially while configuring the modus-themes-diffs variable.

  • Ensured consistency between all faces that pertain to key bindings in contexts where the hint to the key is active, in that pressing the key performs the action (e.g. Magit’s transient buffers, which-key,…). The help-key-binding for Emacs 28 is not included in this group, because it applies in cases where the keys are not active, such as in Help buffers.

  • Refined epa-validity-disabled and epa-validity-high faces. The former no longer uses a background, as that was considered an exaggeration. While the latter is cast in a cyan hue instead of green for greater clarity (this relates to the general push to optimise for red-green colour deficiency, which means to only use green where it is absolutely necessary and, in such cases, to provide for a blue-ish alternative, as with the deuteranopia value that can be assigned to modus-themes-diffs).

  • Reworked ace-window, avy, and magit-blame faces to ensure that their overlays do not inherit the face properties of underlying text, such as a different font family or height. Thanks to Nicolas De Jaeghere for the multiple merge requests and the concomitant feedback:

    Also thanks to Damien Cassou for reporting an intermediate problem with avy in issue 177; a problem that was eventually addressed by Nicolas De Jaeghere in merge request 31 (cited above):

  • Optimised the colour combinations used by avy to improve the distinction between consecutive characters.

  • Reduced the brightness of EWW certificate faces, as they would attract disproportionate attention to themselves.

  • Reworked all EWW text field and button faces to look more like what they are supposed to.

  • Removed the slant and distinct foreground from the org-quote face, as they would interfere with emphasis within the quote block. Thanks to Farasha Euker for the feedback in issue 171:

  • Reduced the intensity in colouration of org-code and org-macro in order to avoid exaggerations and prevent their compounding effect in technical documents that include a high concentration of those faces. They still retain their overall character and continue to look like variants of org-verbatim.

  • Extended support for Selectrum’s new selectrum-quick-keys-highlight and selectrum-quick-keys-match.

  • Adjusted a few bongo faces for improved consistency and a more pleasant result overall. Quote from commit 07224cda08:

    Refine bongo faces for consistency
    The previous design was meant to keep the track fields distinct
    from each other.  However the use of yellow was not good
    aesthetically: it does not fit with the rest of the theme.
    Upon further experimentation, I realised that the album field
    (yellow) is only present when the artist and title fields are also
    available: first is the title, then the artist, and finally the
    album.  This is true even with `bongo-join-inserted-tracks` set to
    a non-nil value.  So changing the face from yellow to a neutral
    value is safe.
    The other two faces are adapted to look better in the new context.
  • Made more command prompt faces respond to changes in the variable modus-themes-prompts. This concerns faces from the groups cider, circe, erc, indium, rcirc.

  • Refashioned typescript faces, making them more prominent by default, while also exposing them to the value of modus-themes-syntax.

  • Revised the style of info-colors-ref-item-command. This makes commands look the same as functions, which is technically correct. It also predicates the exact style on the value of the variable modus-themes-syntax.

  • Made all enh-ruby-mode faces adapt to modus-themes-syntax. Same for julia.

  • Reconfigured all ztree faces for stylistic consistency. The ztreep-diff-model-add-face now responds to the deuteranopia value that can be passed to modus-themes-diffs.

  • Appended the :extend t attribute to gnus-summary-cancelled and gnus-summary-selected. These are only noticeable on Emacs 28 following commit 88409b21c2 in emacs.git.

  • Tweaked all faces of highlight-changes-mode to better deliver on the intent of that mode.

  • Opted to unconditionally render all dired-async faces in a bold typographic weight, instead of basing them on a non-nil value for modus-themes-bold-constructs. Also changed dired-async-message to a blue foreground, which further improves the themes’ performance for red-green colour deficiency.

  • Adjusted the colours of some notmuch-crypto-* faces to better convey their meaning.

  • Removed remaining conditional logic for underline styles in some spell- and linter- related faces to ensure that all such cases are controlled by the variable modus-themes-lang-checkers (building on work that had been done in the past).

  • Stopped changing keycast-key to match the modeline style, as that diluted the meaning of the variable modus-themes-mode-line.

  • Tweaked calendar and diary faces for stylistic effect, except for the diary face which has been converted from a green to a blue variant for the purposes of coping with cases of red-green colour deficiency.


  • Clarified the changes in the backward-incompatible transition from version 0.13.0 of the themes to >= 1.0.0. Thanks to Damien Cassou for reporting the absence of easy-to-find information in issue 174:

  • There were three point releases after 1.2.0 which refined certain aspects of the themes’ packaging so that they could work both as built-in themes for Emacs as well as in package format via the likes of GNU ELPA. Those issues were eventually resolved by Basil L. Contovounesios:

  • Rewrote the modus-themes-headings variable’s declaration to improve its presentation in Custom interfaces. Thanks to Mauro Aranda for submitting the patch for commit 1c60927ebd.

  • Applied the :format keyword to all defcustom forms, based on the aforementioned patch. This should make all options look better in the various Custom interfaces. Thanks to Mauro Aranda for the feedback in issue 163:

  • Refined the colour values bg-alt and bg-dim in modus-vivendi to improve their instantiation on Textual User Interfaces. In particular, recalibrated the blue channel of light so that when the TUI cannot render the colour directly, it defaults to a gray value instead of a dark blue.

  • Added a “Last-Modified” meta header to modus-themes.el, with gets updated automatically and uses a timestamp. This helps users who track the themes’ git repo directly. Thanks to Togan Muftuoglu for the feedback in issue 168:

  • Expanded the palette of each theme with accent values that are reserved for use in the tab-bar. Those are used by the newly supported tab-bar-groups package.

  • Recalibrated a few colour combinations to improve their resulting legibility. The changes should not be noticeable to the untrained eye. Interested parties can consult commit 349ea4a943.

  • Tweaked the hueness of the yellow-active colour of modus-operandi.

Thanks once again to everyone involved!