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Ef themes 0.7.0 for GNU Emacs

The ef-themes is a collection of light and dark themes for GNU Emacs whose goal is to provide colourful (“pretty”) yet legible options for users who want something with a bit more flair than the modus-themes (also designed by me). Watch the presentation of the original version, which demonstrates the first eight themes in the collection and explains a few technical points: https://protesilaos.com/codelog/2022-08-18-ef-themes-demo/.

Introduced the ef-bio and ef-frost themes

These two new themes bring the total count to 16.

You may have noticed that some themes in this collection have a -dark or -light suffix in their name. This means that they are stylistically close to each other (NOT identical colour mappings though). For example the ef-trio-dark and ef-trio-light follow the same idea of using three main hues across almost all interfaces (magenta, blue, teal). Whereas all other themes are designed to stand on their own and have no obvious counterpart. Nevertheless, one can pick whichever two themes they prefer to switch between. Refer to the user option ef-themes-to-toggle and then invoke the command ef-themes-toggle. Else use the command ef-themes-load-random, optionally with a prefix argument (C-u) to limit the choice to dark or light themes.

Thanks to Sven Seebeck for reminding me to register the ef-frost as part of the collection. I forgot to do it the day I published the theme. This information is shared with permission, as it was done via a private channel.

General refinements

  • Changed the dates in org-agenda buffers to use the same style as headings level 1 instead of 3. This ensures that they are always sufficiently distinct from the title of the agenda structure (there can be many titles for those who use block agendas). In the agenda, the block titles use the equivalent of the Org #+title construct, i.e. heading level 0.

    The style of all heading levels is subject to the user option ef-themes-headings: it affects their height, weight, and whether they have a proportionately spaced font, on a per-level basis.

  • Tweaked the background colour which is used by Org (among others) to highlight the calculated date in its relevant prompts or when rescheduling an item in the agenda. The changes are subtle in most cases, with the intent to make the colour fit better with the rest of the theme.

    This background is also used to highlight in its original context an Org source block that is shown in its own buffer following the use of C-c ' (org-edit-special).

  • Adjusted the style of the filter that is used in the header of Org agenda searches. It now always complements the rest of the text on that line. To understand what I am referring to, do M-x org-agenda, then type s, and search for, say, TODO. In the resulting buffer, the header reads: Search words: TODO. The final part is this filter.

  • Changed the applicable colours of org-agenda-clocking to use a combination of yellow foreground and yellow-tinted background. This face is used to highlight in the agenda the currently clocked in task. The element is easier to spot, without being too intense.

  • Reduced the overall colouration in the vc-dir buffer. It should now look appropriate across all the Ef themes, while remaining usable.

  • Aligned the style of the gnus-summary-low-unread face with that of all the other “low” scoring messages to use italicised fonts (by inheriting from the italic face).

  • Added support for the log-edit-headers-separator (which I added to Emacs 29) and child-frame-border (Emacs 28) faces. They basically add an appropriately coloured border in relevant contexts.

  • Removed the background colour from the line-number-major-tick, line-number-minor-tick faces. These are used by the display-line-numbers-mode with something like:

    (setq display-line-numbers-major-tick 20
          display-line-numbers-minor-tick 5)
  • Wrote a Do-It-Yourself guide to make the style of the mode lines emulate the default of my modus-themes: shades of grey with a border around them.

  • Answered a frequently asked question about the availability of too many options. In short: pick ef-light and/or ef-dark and take it slow.

  • Finally, the most important entry in the list thus far… The new backronym for EF THEMES is: Extremely Fatigued of Themes Having Exaggerated Markings, Embellishments, and Sparkles. 🙃

Changed the email colours of the ef-trio-dark, ef-trio-light

These are two themes that were introduced in the previous version of the project (0.6.0). In message.el buffers, which are used by Gnus, Mu4e, and Notmuch, the quote levels now have colour combinations that are closer in spirit to the rest of the theme’s aesthetic.

The “trio” themes use magenta, blue, and teal hues. The previous design prioritised teal, which broke the established patterns. It was not terrible per se, but it did not feel right when switching through the various contexts.

[ If you think that something “does not feel right” in a given theme, please let me know. I make mistakes and there is always scope for refinements or even the creation of a new theme. ]

Intensified the diff colours of ef-spring

The greens, in particular, were too subtle and could be missed against the green-tinted light background of the theme. The new colour values are consistent with the overall character of the theme, while improving on the usability of the relevant interfaces.

Revised the “rainbow” colours for ef-winter

Each theme’s palette has a subset of colour mappings that apply to constructs such as Org headings. For ef-winter, those were somewhat inconsistent with the theme’s character, in that they had certain hues or sequences thereof that stood out more than they should. The new design has more harmonious colour combinations.

Changes to ef-deuteranopia-dark, ef-deuteranopia-light

  • Revised the subset of each theme’s palette that applies to graphs or related. These are much better than before, in that they account for red-green colour deficiency, but they will never be perfect in practice because whatever mode displays graphs needs to be designed from the outset with deuteranopia in mind. For example, the org-habit graph is BY DESIGN unsuitable for colour blindness because of the colour coding it introduces combined with the way it displays its information. We cannot fix that at the theme level.

  • Tweaked the colour of the backgrounds used in dired marked items, org-modern TODO or DONE keywords, and related. These backgrounds now stand out a bit more, while retaining their original character.


There are lots of other fine tweaks to individual themes and the manual. If you think something is missing or does not look right, please let me know.

Lastly, I copy an excerpt of a discussion on the emacs-devel mailing list with the participation of Philip Kaludercic. It is about my plans with the ef-themes and how maintainable the project is: https://lists.gnu.org/archive/html/emacs-devel/2022-10/msg00060.html.

From: Protesilaos Stavrou <info@protesilaos.com>
To: Philip Kaludercic <philipk@posteo.net>, emacs-devel@gnu.org
Subject: Re: [elpa] externals/ef-themes b6fc326946: Add ef-bio theme
Date: Sun, 02 Oct 2022 15:18:28 +0300

> From: Philip Kaludercic <philipk@posteo.net>
> Date: Sun,  2 Oct 2022 11:50:52 +0000
> ELPA Syncer <elpasync@gnu.org> writes:
>> branch: externals/ef-themes
>> commit b6fc32694646c65adbf1ed6d3d7bfddf55e16273
>> Author: Protesilaos Stavrou <info@protesilaos.com>
>> Commit: Protesilaos Stavrou <info@protesilaos.com>
>>     Add ef-bio theme
>>     Read the announcement, which also includes screen shots:
>>     <https://protesilaos.com/codelog/2022-10-02-ef-themes-bio-theme/>.
>>     Enjoy your new theme :)
> Out of curiosity, what is your long-term plan for ef-themes?  Do you
> plan to add more and more variations, or is there some upper bound you
> plan to approach?  It seems to me that maintenance will become more and
> more difficult, and it would be a shame to see the nice themes
> abandoned, because of it becoming infeasible to properly test all the
> changes.

This is why the principle is to not add customisation options that
introduce colour permutations (e.g. change the intensity of the
'region').  Those will indeed make the project unmaintainable.

Without customisation options, the maintenance is manageable.  It is
basically limited to the occasional tweak to the supported faces.
Granted, now I am still iterating on the individual colour palettes
because we have not yet reached version 1.0.0 (maybe before the end of
the year).

The supported packages are also curated.  Unlike the modus-themes, not
every package is meant to be covered.

In terms of total number of themes, I started working on another light
theme to bring the total number to 16.  I will probably finalise it
tonight or tomorrow.  Then I MIGHT develop two more themes specifically
for tritanopia (blue-yellow colour deficiency), which will be the final

> Also, do you think that splitting up the theme into multiple packages
> would be a good idea?

I am not against it per se, if there is some practical reason to do it
(e.g. to bundle two of the themes with some other project).  Though now
I feel it is easier to keep them all in one package.

I don’t know if the possible tritanopia-optimised themes will be “the final ones”, as there may be scope for more entries. But this is the idea for the time being.