Modus Themes (Modus Operandi and Modus Vivendi)

Accessible themes for GNU Emacs, conforming with the highest standard for colour contrast between background and foreground values (WCAG AAA)

The source code of the themes is available on GitLab, for the time being. A mirror on GitHub is also on offer. The official manual is after the screenshots.

These are the out-of-the-box looks of modus-operandi and modus-vivendi respectively (click to enlarge the images for more accurate results):

Modus Operandi default

Modus Vivendi default

And those are with some options enabled:

Modus Operandi with basic options

Modus Vivendi with basic options

There are lots of customization options on offer, so please read the rest of this page. Also check the page with more screen shots

Official manual

This manual, written by Protesilaos Stavrou, describes the customization options for the modus-operandi and modus-vivendi themes, and provides every other piece of information pertinent to them.

The documentation furnished herein corresponds to stable version 2.0.0, released on 2021-12-24. Any reference to a newer feature which does not yet form part of the latest tagged commit, is explicitly marked as such.

Current development target is 2.1.0-dev.

Table of Contents


Copyright (C) 2020-2022 Free Software Foundation, Inc.

Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.3 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections, with the Front-Cover Texts being “A GNU Manual,” and with the Back-Cover Texts as in (a) below. A copy of the license is included in the section entitled “GNU Free Documentation License.”

(a) The FSF’s Back-Cover Text is: “You have the freedom to copy and modify this GNU manual.”

2. Overview

The Modus themes are designed for accessible readability. They conform with the highest standard for color contrast between any given combination of background and foreground values. This corresponds to the WCAG AAA standard, which specifies a minimum rate of distance in relative luminance of 7:1.

Modus Operandi (modus-operandi) is a light theme, while Modus Vivendi (modus-vivendi) is dark. Each theme’s color palette is designed to meet the needs of the numerous interfaces that are possible in the Emacs computing environment.

The overarching objective of this project is to always offer accessible color combinations. There shall never be a compromise on this principle. If there arises an inescapable trade-off between readability and stylistic considerations, we will always opt for the former.

To ensure that users have a consistently accessible experience, the themes strive to achieve as close to full face coverage as possible (Face coverage).

Furthermore, the themes are designed to empower users with red-green color deficiency (deuteranopia). This is achieved in three ways:

  1. The conformance with the highest legibility standard means that text is always readable no matter the perception of its hue.
  2. Most contexts use colors on the blue-cyan-magenta-purple side of the spectrum. Put differently, green and/or red are seldom used, thus minimizing the potential for confusion.

    Why are colors mostly variants of blue, magenta, cyan?.

  3. In contexts where a red/green color-coding is unavoidable, we provide a universal toggle to customize the themes so that a red/blue scheme is used instead.

    Option for red-green color deficiency or deuteranopia.

Starting with version 0.12.0 and onwards, the themes are built into GNU Emacs.

2.1. How do the themes look like

Check the web page with the screen shots. There are lots of scenarios on display that draw attention to details and important aspects in the design of the themes. They also showcase the numerous customization options.

Customization options.

2.2. Learn about the latest changes

Please refer to the web page with the change log. It is comprehensive and covers everything that goes into every tagged release of the themes.

3. Installation

The Modus themes are distributed with Emacs starting with version 28.1. On older versions of Emacs, they can be installed using Emacs’ package manager or manually from their code repository. There also exist packages for distributions of GNU/Linux.

3.1. Install manually from source

In the following example, we are assuming that your Emacs files are stored in ~/.emacs.d and that you want to place the Modus themes in ~/.emacs.d/modus-themes.

  1. Get the source and store it in the desired path by running the following in the command line shell:
$ git clone ~/.emacs.d/modus-themes
  1. Add that path to your known Elisp libraries’ list, by placing this snippet of Emacs Lisp in your init file (e.g. init.el):
(add-to-list 'load-path "~/.emacs.d/modus-themes")

The themes are now ready to be used: Enable and load.

3.2. Install from the archives

The modus-themes package is available from the GNU ELPA archive, which is configured by default.

Prior to querying any package archive, make sure to have updated the index, with M-x package-refresh-contents. Then all you need to do is type M-x package-install and specify the modus-themes.

Note that older versions of the themes used to be distributed as standalone packages. This practice has been discontinued starting with version 1.0.0 of this project.

Once installed, the themes are ready to be used: Enable and load.

3.3. Install on GNU/Linux

The themes are also available from the archives of some distributions of GNU/Linux. These should correspond to a tagged release rather than building directly from the latest Git commit. It all depends on the distro’s packaging policies.

3.3.1. Debian 11 Bullseye

The themes are part of Debian 11 Bullseye. Get them with:

sudo apt install elpa-modus-themes

They are now ready to be used: Enable and load.

3.3.2. GNU Guix

Users of Guix can get the themes with this command:

guix package -i emacs-modus-themes

They are now ready to be used: Enable and load.

4. Enable and load

Users of the built-in themes can load and automatically enable the theme of their preference by adding either form to their init file:

(load-theme 'modus-operandi)            ; Light theme
(load-theme 'modus-vivendi)             ; Dark theme

This is all one needs.

Users of packaged variants of the themes must add a few more lines to ensure that everything works as intended. First, one has to require the main library before loading either theme:

(require 'modus-themes)

Then it is recommended to load the individual theme files with the helper function modus-themes-load-themes:

;; Load the theme files before enabling a theme (else you get an error).

Once the libraries that define the themes are enabled, one can activate a theme with either of the following expressions:

(modus-themes-load-operandi)            ; Light theme
;; OR
(modus-themes-load-vivendi)             ; Dark theme

Changes to the available customization options must always be evaluated before loading a theme (Customization Options). An exception to this norm is when using the various Custom interfaces or with commands like M-x customize-set-variable, which automatically reload the theme by default (Option for inhibiting theme reload). This is how a basic setup could look like:

(require 'modus-themes)

;; Your customisations here.  For example:
(setq modus-themes-bold-constructs t
      modus-themes-mode-line '3d)

;; Load the theme files before enabling a theme (else you get an error).

;; Enable the theme of your preference:

;; Optionally add a key binding for the toggle between the themes:
(define-key global-map (kbd "<f5>") #'modus-themes-toggle)

Sample configuration with and without use-package.

With those granted, bear in mind a couple of technical points on modus-themes-load-operandi and modus-themes-load-vivendi, as well as modus-themes-toggle which relies on them:

  1. Those functions call load-theme. Some users prefer to opt for enable-theme instead (Differences between loading and enabling).
  2. The functions will run the modus-themes-after-load-theme-hook as their final step. This can be employed for bespoke configurations (Advanced customization). Experienced users may not wish to rely on such a hook and the functions that run it: they may prefer a custom solution (A theme-agnostic hook for theme loading).

4.1. Sample configuration with and without use-package

It is common for Emacs users to rely on use-package for declaring package configurations in their setup. We use this as an example:

(use-package modus-themes
  :ensure                         ; omit this to use the built-in themes
  ;; Add all your customizations prior to loading the themes
  (setq modus-themes-italic-constructs t
        modus-themes-bold-constructs nil
        modus-themes-region '(bg-only no-extend))

  ;; Load the theme files before enabling a theme (else you get an error).
  ;; Load the theme of your choice:
  (modus-themes-load-operandi) ;; OR (modus-themes-load-vivendi)
  :bind ("<f5>" . modus-themes-toggle))

The same without use-package:

(require 'modus-themes)

;; Add all your customizations prior to loading the themes
(setq modus-themes-italic-constructs t
      modus-themes-bold-constructs nil
      modus-themes-region '(bg-only no-extend))

;; Load the theme files before enabling a theme

;; Load the theme of your choice:
(modus-themes-load-operandi) ;; OR (modus-themes-load-vivendi)

(define-key global-map (kbd "<f5>") #'modus-themes-toggle)

Differences between loading and enabling.

Note: make sure not to customize the variable custom-theme-load-path or custom-theme-directory after the themes’ package declaration. That will lead to failures in loading the files. If either or both of those variables need to be changed, their values should be defined before the package declaration of the themes.

4.2. Differences between loading and enabling

The reason we recommend load-theme instead of the other option of enable-theme is that the former does a kind of “reset” on the face specs. It quite literally loads (or reloads) the theme. Whereas the latter simply puts an already loaded theme at the top of the list of enabled items, re-using whatever state was last loaded.

As such, load-theme reads all customizations that may happen during any given Emacs session: even after the initial setup of a theme. Examples are calls to custom-set-faces, as well as new values assigned to the options the Modus themes provide (Customization Options).

Our tests show that enable-theme does not read such variables anew, so it might appear to the unsuspecting user that the themes are somehow broken whenever they try to assign a new value to a customization option or some face.

This “reset” that load-theme conducts does, however, come at the cost of being somewhat slower than enable-theme. Users who have a stable setup and who seldom update their variables during a given Emacs session, are better off using something like this:

(require 'modus-themes)
(load-theme 'modus-operandi t t)
(load-theme 'modus-vivendi t t)

(enable-theme 'modus-operandi) ;; OR (enable-theme 'modus-vivendi)

Sample configuration with and without use-package.

With the above granted, other sections of the manual discuss how to configure custom faces, where load-theme is expected, though enable-theme could still apply in stable setups:

Case-by-case face specs using the themes’ palette.

Face specs at scale using the themes’ palette.

5. Customization Options

The Modus themes are highly configurable, though they should work well without any further tweaks. By default, all customization options are set to nil, unless otherwise noted in this manual.

Remember that all customization options must be evaluated before loading a theme (Enable and load). If the theme is already active, it must be reloaded for changes in user options to come into force.

Below is a summary of what you will learn in the subsequent sections of this manual.

(setq modus-themes-italic-constructs t
      modus-themes-bold-constructs nil
      modus-themes-mixed-fonts nil
      modus-themes-subtle-line-numbers nil
      modus-themes-deuteranopia t
      modus-themes-tabs-accented t
      modus-themes-variable-pitch-ui nil
      modus-themes-inhibit-reload t ; only applies to `customize-set-variable' and related

      modus-themes-fringes nil ; {nil,'subtle,'intense}

      ;; Options for `modus-themes-lang-checkers' are either nil (the
      ;; default), or a list of properties that may include any of those
      ;; symbols: `straight-underline', `text-also', `background',
      ;; `intense' OR `faint'.
      modus-themes-lang-checkers nil

      ;; Options for `modus-themes-mode-line' are either nil, or a list
      ;; that can combine any of `3d' OR `moody', `borderless',
      ;; `accented', and a natural number for extra padding
      modus-themes-mode-line '(4 accented borderless)

      ;; Options for `modus-themes-markup' are either nil, or a list
      ;; that can combine any of `bold', `italic', `background',
      ;; `intense'.
      modus-themes-markup '(background italic)

      ;; Options for `modus-themes-syntax' are either nil (the default),
      ;; or a list of properties that may include any of those symbols:
      ;; `faint', `yellow-comments', `green-strings', `alt-syntax'
      modus-themes-syntax nil

      ;; Options for `modus-themes-hl-line' are either nil (the default),
      ;; or a list of properties that may include any of those symbols:
      ;; `accented', `underline', `intense'
      modus-themes-hl-line '(underline accented)

      ;; Options for `modus-themes-paren-match' are either nil (the
      ;; default), or a list of properties that may include any of those
      ;; symbols: `bold', `intense', `underline'
      modus-themes-paren-match '(bold intense)

      ;; Options for `modus-themes-links' are either nil (the default),
      ;; or a list of properties that may include any of those symbols:
      ;; `neutral-underline' OR `no-underline', `faint' OR `no-color',
      ;; `bold', `italic', `background'
      modus-themes-links '(neutral-underline background)

      ;; Options for `modus-themes-prompts' are either nil (the
      ;; default), or a list of properties that may include any of those
      ;; symbols: `background', `bold', `gray', `intense', `italic'
      modus-themes-prompts '(intense bold)

      modus-themes-completions 'moderate ; {nil,'moderate,'opinionated}

      modus-themes-mail-citations nil ; {nil,'intense,'faint,'monochrome}

      ;; Options for `modus-themes-region' are either nil (the default),
      ;; or a list of properties that may include any of those symbols:
      ;; `no-extend', `bg-only', `accented'
      modus-themes-region '(bg-only no-extend)

      ;; Options for `modus-themes-diffs': nil, 'desaturated, 'bg-only
      modus-themes-diffs 'desaturated

      modus-themes-org-blocks 'gray-background ; {nil,'gray-background,'tinted-background}

      modus-themes-org-agenda ; this is an alist: read the manual or its doc string
      '((header-block . (variable-pitch 1.3))
        (header-date . (grayscale workaholic bold-today 1.1))
        (event . (accented varied))
        (scheduled . uniform)
        (habit . traffic-light))

      modus-themes-headings ; this is an alist: read the manual or its doc string
      '((1 . (overline background variable-pitch 1.3))
        (2 . (rainbow overline 1.1))
        (t . (semibold))))

5.1. Option for inhibiting theme reload

Brief: Toggle reloading of the active theme when an option is changed through the Customize UI.

Symbol: modus-themes-inhibit-reload (boolean type)

Possible values:

  1. nil
  2. t (default)

By default, customizing a theme-related user option through the Custom interfaces or with M-x customize-set-variable will not reload the currently active Modus theme.

Enable this behaviour by setting this variable to nil.

Regardless of this option, the active theme must be reloaded for changes to user options to take effect (Enable and load).

5.2. Option for red-green color deficiency or deuteranopia

Brief: When non-nil use red/blue color-coding instead of red/green, where appropriate.

Symbol: modus-themes-deuteranopia (boolean type)

Possible values:

  1. nil (default)
  2. t

This is to account for red-green color deficiency, also know as deuteranopia and variants. It applies to all contexts where there can be a color-coded distinction between failure or success, a to-do or done state, a mark for deletion versus a mark for selection (e.g. in Dired), current and lazily highlighted search matches, removed lines in diffs as opposed to added ones, and so on.

Note that this does not change all colors throughout the active theme, but only applies to cases that have color-coding significance. For example, regular code syntax highlighting is not affected. There is no such need because of the themes’ overarching commitment to the highest legibility standard, which ensures that text is readable regardless of hue, as well as the predominance of colors on the blue-cyan-magenta-purple side of the spectrum.

Why are colors mostly variants of blue, magenta, cyan?.

5.3. Option for more bold constructs

Brief: Use bold for code syntax highlighting and related.

Symbol: modus-themes-bold-constructs (boolean type)

Possible values:

  1. nil (default)
  2. t

The default is to use a bold typographic weight only when it is required.

With a non-nil value (t) display several syntactic constructs in bold weight. This concerns keywords and other important aspects of code syntax. It also affects certain mode line indicators and command-line prompts.

Advanced users may also want to configure the exact attributes of the bold face.

Configure bold and italic faces.

5.4. Option for more italic constructs

Brief: Use italics for code syntax highlighting and related.

Symbol: modus-themes-italic-constructs (boolean type)

Possible values:

  1. nil (default)
  2. t

The default is to not use slanted text forms (italics) unless it is absolutely necessary.

With a non-nil value (t) choose to render more faces in italics. This typically affects documentation strings and code comments.

Advanced users may also want to configure the exact attributes of the italic face.

Configure bold and italic faces.

5.5. Option for syntax highlighting

Brief: Set the overall style of code syntax highlighting.

Symbol: modus-themes-syntax (choice type, list of properties)

Possible values are expressed as a list of properties (default is nil or an empty list). The list can include any of the following symbols:

  • faint
  • yellow-comments
  • green-strings
  • alt-syntax

The default (a nil value or an empty list) is to use a balanced combination of colors on the cyan-blue-magenta side of the spectrum. There is little to no use of greens, yellows, and reds. Comments are gray, strings are blue colored, doc strings are a shade of cyan, while color combinations are designed to avoid exaggerations.

The property faint fades the saturation of all applicable colors, where that is possible or appropriate.

The property yellow-comments applies a yellow color to comments.

The property green-strings applies a green color to strings and a green tint to doc strings.

The property alt-syntax changes the combination of colors beyond strings and comments, so that the effective palette is broadened to provide greater variety relative to the default.

Combinations of any of those properties are expressed as a list, like in these examples:

(green-strings yellow-comments)
(alt-syntax green-strings yellow-comments)
(faint alt-syntax green-strings yellow-comments)

The order in which the properties are set is not significant.

In user configuration files the form may look like this:

(setq modus-themes-syntax '(faint alt-syntax))

Independent of this variable, users may also control the use of a bold weight or italic text: modus-themes-bold-constructs and modus-themes-italic-constructs.

Option for more bold constructs.

Option for more italic constructs.

5.6. Option for font mixing

Brief: Toggle the use of monospaced fonts for spacing-sensitive constructs (affects font families).

Symbol: modus-themes-mixed-fonts (boolean type)

Possible values:

  1. nil (default)
  2. t

When set to non-nil (t), configure some spacing-sensitive faces like Org tables and code blocks to always inherit from the fixed-pitch face. This is to ensure that certain constructs like code blocks and tables remain monospaced even when users opt for a mode that remaps typeface families, such as the built-in M-x variable-pitch-mode. Otherwise the layout would appear broken, due to how spacing is done.

For a consistent experience, user may need to specify the font family of the fixed-pitch face.

Font configurations for Org and others.

Furthermore, users may prefer to use another package for handling mixed typeface configurations, rather than letting the theme do it, perhaps because a purpose-specific package has extra functionality. Two possible options are org-variable-pitch and mixed-pitch.

5.7. Option for links

Brief: Control the style of links to web pages, files, buffers…

Symbol: modus-themes-links (choice type, list of properties)

Possible values are expressed as a list of properties (default is nil or an empty list). The list can include any of the following symbols:

  • Underline style:
    • neutral-underline
    • no-underline
  • Text coloration:
    • faint
    • no-color
  • bold
  • italic
  • background

The default (a nil value or an empty list) is a prominent text color, typically blue, with an underline of the same color.

For the style of the underline, a neutral-underline property turns the color of the line into a subtle gray, while the no-underline property removes the line altogether. If both of those are set, the latter takes precedence.

For text coloration, a faint property desaturates the color of the text and the underline, unless the underline is affected by the aforementioned properties. While a no-color property removes the color from the text. If both of those are set, the latter takes precedence.

A bold property applies a heavy typographic weight to the text of the link.

An italic property adds a slant to the link’s text (italic or oblique forms, depending on the typeface).

A background property applies a subtle tinted background color.

In case both no-underline and no-color are set, then a subtle gray background is applied to all links. This can still be combined with the bold and italic properties.

Combinations of any of those properties are expressed as a list, like in these examples:

(no-underline faint)
(no-color no-underline bold)
(italic bold background no-color no-underline)

The order in which the properties are set is not significant.

In user configuration files the form may look like this:

(setq modus-themes-links '(neutral-underline background))

The placement of the underline, meaning its proximity to the text, is controlled by x-use-underline-position-properties, x-underline-at-descent-line, underline-minimum-offset. Please refer to their documentation strings.

5.8. Option for command prompt styles

Brief: Control the style of command prompts (e.g. minibuffer, shell, IRC clients).

Symbol: modus-themes-prompts (choice type, list of properties)

Possible values are expressed as a list of properties (default is nil or an empty list). The list can include any of the following symbols:

  • background
  • bold
  • gray
  • intense
  • italic

The default (a nil value or an empty list) means to only use a subtle accented foreground color.

The property background applies a background color to the prompt’s text. By default, this is a subtle accented value.

The property intense makes the foreground color more prominent. If the background property is also set, it amplifies the value of the background as well.

The property gray changes the prompt’s colors to grayscale. This affects the foreground and, if the background property is also set, the background. Its effect is subtle, unless it is combined with the intense property.

The property bold makes the text use a bold typographic weight. Similarly, italic adds a slant to the font’s forms (italic or oblique forms, depending on the typeface).

Combinations of any of those properties are expressed as a list, like in these examples:

(bold intense)
(intense bold gray)
(intense background gray bold)

The order in which the properties are set is not significant.

In user configuration files the form may look like this:

(setq modus-themes-prompts '(background gray))

5.9. Option for mode line presentation

Brief: Control the style of the mode lines.

Symbol: modus-themes-mode-line (choice type, list of properties)

Possible values, which can be expressed as a list of combinations of box effect, color, and border visibility:

  • Overall style:
    • 3d
    • moody
  • accented
  • borderless
  • A natural number > 1 for extra padding

The default (a nil value or an empty list) is a two-dimensional rectangle with a border around it. The active and the inactive mode lines use different shades of grayscale values for the background, foreground, border.

The 3d property applies a three-dimensional effect to the active mode line. The inactive mode lines remain two-dimensional and are toned down a bit, relative to the default style.

The moody property optimizes the mode line for use with the library of the same name (hereinafter referred to as ’Moody’). In practice, it removes the box effect and replaces it with underline and overline properties. It also tones down the inactive mode lines. Despite its intended purpose, this option can also be used without the Moody library (please consult the themes’ manual on this point for more details). If both 3d and moody properties are set, the latter takes precedence.

The borderless property removes the color of the borders. It does not actually remove the borders, but only makes their color the same as the background, effectively creating some padding.

The accented property ensures that the active mode line uses a colored background instead of the standard shade of gray.

A positive integer (natural number or natnum) applies a padding effect of NATNUM pixels at the boundaries of the mode lines. The default value is 1 and does not need to be specified explicitly. The padding has no effect when the moody property is also used, because Moody already applies its own tweaks. To ensure that the underline is placed at the bottom of the mode line, set x-underline-at-descent-line to non-nil (this is not needed when the borderless property is also set). For users on Emacs 29, the x-use-underline-position-properties variable must also be set to nil.

Combinations of any of those properties are expressed as a list, like in these examples:

(borderless 3d)
(moody accented borderless)

The order in which the properties are set is not significant.

In user configuration files the form may look like this:

(setq modus-themes-mode-line '(borderless accented))

Note that Moody does not expose any faces that the themes could style directly. Instead it re-purposes existing ones to render its tabs and ribbons. As such, there may be cases where the contrast ratio falls below the 7:1 target that the themes conform with (WCAG AAA). To hedge against this, we configure a fallback foreground for the moody property, which will come into effect when the background of the mode line changes to something less accessible, such as Moody ribbons (read the doc string of set-face-attribute, specifically :distant-foreground). This fallback is activated when Emacs determines that the background and foreground of the given construct are too close to each other in terms of color distance. In practice, users will need to experiment with the variable face-near-same-color-threshold to trigger the effect. We find that a value of 45000 shall suffice, contrary to the default 30000. Though for the combinations that involve the accented and moody properties, as mentioned above, that should be raised up to 70000. Do not set it too high, because it has the adverse effect of always overriding the default colors (which have been carefully designed to be highly accessible).

Furthermore, because Moody expects an underline and overline instead of a box style, it is strongly advised to set x-underline-at-descent-line to a non-nil value.

Finally, note that various packages which heavily modify the mode line, such as doom-modeline, nano-modeline, powerline, spaceline may not look as intended with all possible combinations of this user option.

5.10. Option for accented background in tab interfaces

Brief: Toggle accent colors for tabbed interfaces.

Symbol: modus-themes-tabs-accented (boolean type)

Possible values:

  • nil (default)
  • t

By default, all tab interfaces use backgrounds which are shades of gray. When this option is set to non-nil, the backgrounds become colorful.

This affects the built-in tab-bar-mode and tab-line-mode, as well as the Centaur tabs package.

5.11. Option for completion framework aesthetics

Brief: Set the overall style of completion framework interfaces.

Symbol: modus-themes-completions (choice type)

Possible values:

  1. nil (default)
  2. moderate
  3. opinionated

This is a special option that has different effects depending on the completion UI. The interfaces can be grouped in two categories, based on their default aesthetics: (i) those that only or mostly use foreground colors for their interaction model, and (ii) those that combine background and foreground values for some of their metaphors. The former category encompasses Icomplete, Ido, Selectrum, Vertico, as well as pattern matching styles like Orderless and Flx. The latter covers Helm and Ivy.

A value of nil (the default) will simply respect the metaphors of each completion framework.

Option moderate applies a combination of background and foreground that is fairly subtle. For Icomplete and friends this constitutes a departure from their default aesthetics, however the difference is small. While Helm, Ivy et al.appear slightly different than their original looks, as they are toned down a bit.

Option opinionated uses color combinations that refashion the completion UI. For the Icomplete camp this means that intense background and foreground combinations are used: in effect their looks emulate those of Helm, Ivy and their original style. Whereas the other group of packages will revert to an even more nuanced aesthetic with some additional changes to the choice of hues.

To appreciate the scope of this customization option, you should spend some time with every one of the nil (default), moderate, and opinionated possibilities.

5.12. Option for mail citations

Brief: Set the overall style of citations/quotes when composing emails.

Symbol: modus-themes-mail-citations (choice type)

Possible values:

  1. nil (default)
  2. intense [ Introduced as part of 2.1.0-dev. ]
  3. faint
  4. monochrome

By default (a nil value) citations are styled with contrasting hues to denote their depth. Colors are easy to tell apart because they complement each other, but they otherwise are not very prominent.

Option intense is similar to the default in terms of using contrasting and complementary hues, but applies more saturated colors.

Option faint maintains the same color-based distinction between citation levels though the colors it uses have subtle differences between them.

Option monochrome turns all quotes into a shade of gray.

Whatever the value assigned to this variable, citations in emails are controlled by typographic elements or indentation, which the themes do not touch.

5.13. Option for fringe visibility

Brief: Control the overall coloration of the fringes.

Symbol: modus-themes-fringes (choice type)

Possible values:

  1. nil (default)
  2. subtle
  3. intense

The default is to use the same color as that of the main background, meaning that the fringes are not obvious though they still occupy the space given to them by fringe-mode.

Options subtle and intense apply a gray background, making the fringes visible. The difference between the two is one of degree, as their names imply.

5.14. Option for language checkers

Brief: Control the style of in-buffer warnings and errors produced by spell checkers, code linters, and the like.

Symbol: modus-themes-lang-checkers (choice type, list of properties)

Possible values are expressed as a list of properties (default is nil or an empty list). The list can include any of the following symbols:

  • straight-underline
  • text-also
  • background
  • Overall coloration:
    • intense
    • faint

The default (a nil value or an empty list) applies a color-coded underline to the affected text, while it leaves the original foreground intact. If the display spec of Emacs has support for it, the underline’s style is that of a wave, otherwise it is a straight line.

The property straight-underline ensures that the underline under the affected text is always drawn as a straight line.

The property text-also applies the same color of the underline to the affected text.

The property background adds a color-coded background.

The property intense amplifies the applicable colors if background and/or text-also are set. If intense is set on its own, then it implies text-also.

The property faint uses nuanced colors for the underline and for the foreground when text-also is included. If both faint and intense are specified, the former takes precedence.

Combinations of any of those properties can be expressed in a list, as in those examples:

(straight-underline intense)
(background text-also straight-underline)

The order in which the properties are set is not significant.

In user configuration files the form may look like this:

(setq modus-themes-lang-checkers '(text-also background))

NOTE: The placement of the straight underline, though not the wave style, is controlled by the built-in variables underline-minimum-offset, x-underline-at-descent-line, x-use-underline-position-properties.

To disable fringe indicators for Flymake or Flycheck, refer to variables flymake-fringe-indicator-position and flycheck-indication-mode, respectively.

5.15. Option for line highlighting

Brief: Control the style of the current line of hl-line-mode.

Symbol: modus-themes-hl-line (choice type, list of properties)

Possible values are expressed as a list of properties (default is nil or an empty list). The list can include any of the following symbols:

  • accented
  • intense
  • underline

The default (a nil value or an empty list) is a subtle gray background color.

The property accented changes the background to a colored variant.

An underline property draws a line below the highlighted area. Its color is similar to the background, so gray by default or an accent color when accented is also set.

An intense property amplifies the colors in use, which may be both the background and the underline.

Combinations of any of those properties are expressed as a list, like in these examples:

(underline intense)
(accented intense underline)

The order in which the properties are set is not significant.

In user configuration files the form may look like this:

(setq modus-themes-hl-line '(underline accented))

Set x-underline-at-descent-line to a non-nil value for better results with underlines.

This style affects several packages that enable hl-line-mode, such as elfeed, notmuch, and mu4e.

5.16. Option for line numbers

Brief: Toggle subtle line numbers.

Symbol: modus-themes-subtle-line-numbers (boolean type)

Possible value:

  1. nil (default)
  2. t

The default style for display-line-numbers-mode and its global variant is to apply a subtle gray background to the line numbers. The current line has a more pronounced background and foreground combination to bring more attention to itself.

Similarly, the faces for display-line-numbers-major-tick and its counterpart display-line-numbers-minor-tick use appropriate styles that involve a bespoke background and foreground combination.

With a non-nil value (t), line numbers have no background of their own. Instead they retain the primary background of the theme, blending with the rest of the buffer. Foreground values for all relevant faces are updated to accommodate this aesthetic.

5.17. Option for markup style in Org and others

[ Introduced as part of 2.1.0-dev. Supersedes the modus-themes-intense-markup toggle. ]

Brief: Choose style of markup in Org, Markdown, and others (affects constructs such as Org’s =verbatim= and ~code~).

Symbol: modus-themes-markup (boolean type)

Possible value:

  1. nil (default)
  2. t

The value is a list of properties, each designated by a symbol. The default (a nil value or an empty list) is a foreground color.

The italic property applies a typographic slant (italics).

The bold property applies a heavier typographic weight.

Configure bold and italic faces.

The background property adds a background color. The background is a subtle gray, unless the intense property is also set.

The intense property amplifies the existing coloration. When background is used, the background color is enhanced as well and becomes tinted instead of being gray.

Combinations of any of those properties are expressed as a list, like in these examples:

(bold italic)
(bold italic intense)
(bold italic intense background)

The order in which the properties are set is not significant.

In user configuration files the form may look like this:

(setq modus-themes-markup '(bold italic))

Also check the variables org-hide-emphasis-markers, org-hide-macro-markers.

5.18. Option for parenthesis matching

Brief: Control the style of matching delimiters produced by show-paren-mode.

Symbol: modus-themes-paren-match (choice type, list of properties)

Possible values are expressed as a list of properties (default is nil or an empty list). The list can include any of the following symbols:

  • bold
  • intense
  • underline

The default (a nil value or an empty list) is a subtle background color.

The bold property adds a bold weight to the characters of the matching delimiters.

The intense property applies a more prominent background color to the delimiters.

The underline property draws a straight line under the affected text.

Combinations of any of those properties are expressed as a list, like in these examples:

(underline intense)
(bold intense underline)

The order in which the properties are set is not significant.

In user configuration files the form may look like this:

(setq modus-themes-paren-match '(bold intense))

This customization variable affects the built-in show-paren-mode and the smartparens package.

5.19. Option for active region

Brief: Control the style of the region.

Symbol: modus-themes-region (choice type, list of properties)

Possible values are expressed as a list of properties (default is nil or an empty list). The list can include any of the following symbols:

  • no-extend
  • bg-only
  • accented

The default (a nil value or an empty list) is a prominent gray background that overrides all foreground colors in the area it encompasses. Its reach extends to the edge of the window.

The no-extend property limits the region to the end of the line, so that it does not reach the edge of the window.

The bg-only property makes the region’s background color more subtle to allow the underlying text to retain its foreground colors.

The accented property applies a more colorful background to the region.

Combinations of any of those properties are expressed as a list, like in these examples:

(bg-only accented)
(accented bg-only no-extend)

The order in which the properties are set is not significant.

In user configuration files the form may look like this:

(setq modus-themes-region '(bg-only no-extend))

5.20. Option for diff buffer looks

Brief: Set the overall style of diffs.

Symbol: modus-themes-diffs (choice type)

Possible values:

  1. nil (default)
  2. desaturated
  3. bg-only

The default (nil) uses fairly intense color combinations for diffs, by applying prominently colored backgrounds, with appropriately tinted foregrounds.

Option desaturated follows the same principles as with the default (nil), though it tones down all relevant colors.

Option bg-only applies a background but does not override the text’s foreground. This makes it suitable for a non-nil value passed to diff-font-lock-syntax (note: Magit does not support syntax highlighting in diffs—last checked on 2021-12-02).

When the user option modus-themes-deuteranopia is non-nil, all diffs will use a red/blue color-coding system instead of the standard red/green. Other stylistic changes are made in the interest of optimizing for such a use-case.

Option for red-green color deficiency or deuteranopia.

In versions before 2.0.0 there was an option for foreground-only diffs. This is no longer supported at the theme level because there are cases where the perceived contrast and overall contextuality were not good enough although the applied colors were technically above the 7:1 contrast threshold.

Diffs with only the foreground.

5.21. Option for org-mode block styles

Brief: Set the overall style of Org code blocks, quotes, and the like.

Symbol: modus-themes-org-blocks (choice type)

Possible values:

  1. nil (default)
  2. gray-background (value grayscale exists for backward compatibility)
  3. tinted-background (value rainbow exists for backward compatibility)

Nil (the default) means that the block has no background of its own: it uses the one that applies to the rest of the buffer. In this case, the delimiter lines have a gray color for their text, making them look exactly like all other Org properties.

Option gray-background applies a subtle gray background to the block’s contents. It also affects the begin and end lines of the block as they get another shade of gray as their background, which differentiates them from the contents of the block. All background colors extend to the edge of the window, giving the area a rectangular, “blocky” presentation.

Option tinted-background uses a slightly colored background for the contents of the block. The exact color will depend on the programming language and is controlled by the variable org-src-block-faces (refer to the theme’s source code for the current association list). For this to take effect, the Org buffer needs to be restarted with org-mode-restart. In this scenario, it may be better to inhibit the extension of the delimiter lines’ background to the edge of the window because Org does not provide a mechanism to update their colors depending on the contents of the block. Disable the extension of such backgrounds by setting org-fontify-whole-block-delimiter-line to nil.

Code blocks use their major mode’s colors only when the variable org-src-fontify-natively is non-nil. While quote/verse blocks require setting org-fontify-quote-and-verse-blocks to a non-nil value.

Update Org block delimiter fontification.

Older versions of the themes provided options grayscale (or greyscale) and rainbow. Those will continue to work as they are aliases for gray-background and tinted-background, respectively.

5.22. Option for Org agenda constructs

Brief: Control the style of the Org agenda. Multiple parameters are available, each with its own options.

Symbol: modus-themes-org-agenda (alist type, multiple styles)

This is an alist that accepts a (key . value) combination. Some values are specified as a list. Here is a sample, followed by a description of all possible combinations:

(setq modus-themes-org-agenda
      '((header-block . (variable-pitch 1.5))
        (header-date . (grayscale workaholic bold-today 1.2))
        (event . (accented italic varied))
        (scheduled . uniform)
        (habit . traffic-light)))

A header-block key applies to elements that concern the headings which demarcate blocks in the structure of the agenda. By default (a nil value) those are rendered in a bold typographic weight, plus a height that is slightly taller than the default font size. Acceptable values come in the form of a list that can include either or both of those properties:

  • variable-pitch to use a proportionately spaced typeface;
  • A number as a floating point (e.g. 1.5) to set the height of the text to that many times the default font height. A float of 1.0 or the symbol no-scale have the same effect of making the font to the same height as the rest of the buffer. When neither a number nor no-scale are present, the default is a small increase in height (a value of 1.15).
  • The symbol of a weight attribute adjusts the font of the heading accordingly, such as light, semibold, etc. Valid symbols are defined in the internal variable modus-themes--heading-weights. The absence of a weight means that bold will be used by virtue of inheriting the bold face.

Configure bold and italic faces.

In case both a number and no-scale are in the list, the latter takes precedence. If two numbers are specified, the first one is applied.

Example usage:

(header-block . nil)
(header-block . (1.5))
(header-block . (no-scale))
(header-block . (variable-pitch 1.5))
(header-block . (variable-pitch 1.5 semibold))

A header-date key covers date headings. Dates use only a foreground color by default (a nil value), with weekdays and weekends having a slight difference in hueness. The current date has an added gray background. This key accepts a list of values that can include any of the following properties:

  • grayscale to make weekdays use the main foreground color and weekends a more subtle gray;
  • workaholic to make weekdays and weekends look the same in terms of color;
  • bold-today to apply a bold typographic weight to the current date;
  • bold-all to render all date headings in a bold weight;
  • underline-today applies an underline to the current date while removing the background it has by default;
  • A number as a floating point (e.g. 1.2) to set the height of the text to that many times the default font height. The default is the same as the base font height (the equivalent of 1.0).

For example:

(header-date . nil)
(header-date . (workaholic))
(header-date . (grayscale bold-all))
(header-date . (grayscale workaholic))
(header-date . (grayscale workaholic bold-today))
(header-date . (grayscale workaholic bold-today scale-heading))

An event key covers (i) headings with a plain time stamp that are shown on the agenda, also known as events, (ii) entries imported from the diary, and (iii) other items that derive from a symbolic expression or sexp (phases of the moon, holidays, etc.). By default all those look the same and have a subtle foreground color (the default is a nil value or an empty list). This key accepts a list of properties. Those are:

  • accented applies an accent value to the event’s foreground, replacing the original gray. It makes all entries stand out more.
  • italic adds a slant to the font’s forms (italic or oblique forms, depending on the typeface).
  • varied differentiates between events with a plain time stamp and entries that are generated from either the diary or a symbolic expression. It generally puts more emphasis on events. When varied is combined with accented, it makes only events use an accent color, while diary/sexp entries retain their original subtle foreground. When varied is used in tandem with italic, it applies a slant only to diary and sexp entries, not events. And when varied is the sole property passed to the event key, it has the same meaning as the list (italic varied). The combination of varied, accented, italic covers all of the aforementioned cases.

For example:

(event . nil)
(event . (italic))
(event . (accented italic))
(event . (accented italic varied))

A scheduled key applies to tasks with a scheduled date. By default (a nil value), those use varying shades of yellow to denote (i) a past or current date and (ii) a future date. Valid values are symbols:

  • nil (default);
  • uniform to make all scheduled dates the same color;
  • rainbow to use contrasting colors for past, present, future scheduled dates.

For example:

(scheduled . nil)
(scheduled . uniform)
(scheduled . rainbow)

A habit key applies to the org-habit graph. All possible value are passed as a symbol. Those are:

  • The default (nil) is meant to conform with the original aesthetic of org-habit. It employs all four color codes that correspond to the org-habit states—clear, ready, alert, and overdue—while distinguishing between their present and future variants. This results in a total of eight colors in use: red, yellow, green, blue, in tinted and shaded versions. They cover the full set of information provided by the org-habit consistency graph.
  • simplified is like the default except that it removes the dichotomy between current and future variants by applying uniform color-coded values. It applies a total of four colors: red, yellow, green, blue. They produce a simplified consistency graph that is more legible (or less busy) than the default. The intent is to shift focus towards the distinction between the four states of a habit task, rather than each state’s present/future outlook.
  • traffic-light further reduces the available colors to red, yellow, and green. As in simplified, present and future variants appear uniformly, but differently from it, the clear state is rendered in a green hue, instead of the original blue. This is meant to capture the use-case where a habit task being too early is less important than it being too late. The difference between ready and clear states is attenuated by painting both of them using shades of green. This option thus highlights the alert and overdue states.
  • When modus-themes-deuteranopia is non-nil the exact style of the habit graph adapts to the needs of users with red-green colour deficiency by substituting every instance of green with blue or cyan (depending on the specifics).

Option for red-green color deficiency or deuteranopia.

For example:

(habit . nil)
(habit . simplified)
(habit . traffic-light)

Putting it all together, the alist can look like this:

'((header-block . (1.5 variable-pitch))
  (header-date . (grayscale workaholic bold-today))
  (event . (accented varied))
  (scheduled . uniform)
  (habit . traffic-light))

;; Or else:
(setq modus-themes-org-agenda
      '((header-block . (1.5 variable-pitch))
        (header-date . (grayscale workaholic bold-today))
        (event . (accented varied))
        (scheduled . uniform)
        (habit . traffic-light)))

5.23. Option for the headings' overall style

Brief: Control the style of headings. This can be particularised for each level of heading (e.g. Org has eight levels).

Symbol: modus-themes-headings (alist type, multiple properties)

This is an alist that accepts a (key . list-of-values) combination. The key is either a number, representing the heading’s level or t, which pertains to the fallback style. The list of values covers symbols that refer to properties, as described below. Here is a sample, followed by a presentation of all available properties:

(setq modus-themes-headings
      '((1 . (background overline variable-pitch 1.5))
        (2 . (overline rainbow 1.3))
        (3 . (overline 1.1))
        (t . (monochrome))))


  • rainbow
  • overline
  • background
  • monochrome
  • A font weight, which must be supported by the underlying typeface:
    • thin
    • ultralight
    • extralight
    • light
    • semilight
    • regular
    • medium
    • semibold
    • bold
    • heavy
    • extrabold
    • ultrabold
  • no-bold (deprecated alias of a regular weight)
  • A floating point as a height multiple of the default

By default (a nil value for this variable), all headings have a bold typographic weight and use a desaturated text color.

A rainbow property makes the text color more saturated.

An overline property draws a line above the area of the heading.

A background property adds a subtle tinted color to the background of the heading.

A monochrome property makes the heading the same as the base color, which is that of the default face’s foreground. When background is also set, monochrome changes its color to gray. If both monochrome and rainbow are set, the former takes precedence.

A variable-pitch property changes the font family of the heading to that of the variable-pitch face (normally a proportionately spaced typeface).

The symbol of a weight attribute adjusts the font of the heading accordingly, such as light, semibold, etc. Valid symbols are defined in the internal variable modus-themes--heading-weights. The absence of a weight means that bold will be used by virtue of inheriting the bold face. For backward compatibility, the no-bold value is accepted, though users are encouraged to specify a regular weight instead.

Configure bold and italic faces.

A number, expressed as a floating point (e.g. 1.5), adjusts the height of the heading to that many times the base font size. The default height is the same as 1.0, though it need not be explicitly stated.

Combinations of any of those properties are expressed as a list, like in these examples:

(rainbow background)
(overline monochrome semibold 1.3)

The order in which the properties are set is not significant.

In user configuration files the form may look like this:

(setq modus-themes-headings
      '((1 . (background overline rainbow 1.5))
        (2 . (background overline 1.3))
        (t . (overline semibold))))

When defining the styles per heading level, it is possible to pass a non-nil value (t) instead of a list of properties. This will retain the original aesthetic for that level. For example:

(setq modus-themes-headings
      '((1 . t)           ; keep the default style
        (2 . (background overline))
        (t . (rainbow)))) ; style for all other headings

(setq modus-themes-headings
      '((1 . (background overline))
        (2 . (rainbow semibold))
        (t . t))) ; default style for all other levels

For Org users, the extent of the heading depends on the variable org-fontify-whole-heading-line. This affects the overline and background properties. Depending on the version of Org, there may be others, such as org-fontify-done-headline.

5.24. Option for variable-pitch font in UI elements

Brief: Toggle the use of proportionately spaced (variable-pitch) fonts in the User Interface.

Symbol: modus-themes-variable-pitch-ui (boolean type)

Possible values:

  1. nil (default)
  2. t

This option concerns User Interface elements that are under the direct control of Emacs. In particular: the mode line, header line, tab bar, and tab line.

The default is to use the same font as the rest of Emacs, which usually is a monospaced family.

With a non-nil value (t) apply a proportionately spaced typeface. This is done by assigning the variable-pitch face to the relevant items.

Font configurations for Org and others.

6. Advanced customization

Unlike the predefined customization options which follow a clear pattern of allowing the user to quickly specify their preference, the themes also provide a more flexible, albeit difficult, mechanism to control things with precision (Customization Options).

This section is of interest only to users who are prepared to maintain their own local tweaks and who are willing to deal with any possible incompatibilities between versioned releases of the themes. As such, they are labelled as “do-it-yourself” or “DIY”.

6.1. Visualize the active Modus theme’s palette

The command modus-themes-list-colors prompts for a choice between modus-operandi and modus-vivendi to produce a help buffer that shows a preview of each variable in the given theme’s color palette. The command modus-themes-list-colors-current skips the prompt, using the current Modus theme.

Each row shows a foreground and background coloration using the underlying value it references. For example a line with #a60000 (a shade of red) will show red text followed by a stripe with that same color as a backdrop.

The name of the buffer describes the given Modus theme. It is thus called *modus-operandi-list-colors* or *modus-vivendi-list-colors*.

6.2. Per-theme customization settings

If you prefer to maintain different customization options between the two themes, it is best you write your own functions that first set those options and then load the relevant theme. The following code does exactly that by simply differentiating the two themes on the choice of bold constructs in code syntax (enabled for one, disabled for the other).

(defun my-demo-modus-operandi ()
  (setq modus-themes-bold-constructs t) ; ENABLE bold

(defun my-demo-modus-vivendi ()
  (setq modus-themes-bold-constructs nil) ; DISABLE bold

(defun my-demo-modus-themes-toggle ()
  (if (eq (car custom-enabled-themes) 'modus-operandi)

Then assign my-demo-modus-themes-toggle to a key instead of the equivalent the themes provide.

For a more elaborate design, it is better to inspect the source code of modus-themes-toggle and relevant functions.

6.3. Case-by-case face specs using the themes’ palette

This section is about tweaking individual faces. If you plan to do things at scale, consult the next section: Set multiple faces.

We already covered in previous sections how to toggle between the themes and how to configure options prior to loading. We also explained that some of the functions made available to users will fire up a hook that can be used to pass tweaks in the post-theme-load phase.

Now assume you wish to change a single face, say, the cursor. And you would like to get the standard “blue” color value of the active Modus theme, whether it is Modus Operandi or Modus Vivendi. To do that, you can use the modus-themes-color function. It accepts a symbol that is associated with a color in modus-themes-operandi-colors and modus-themes-vivendi-colors. Like this:

(modus-themes-color 'blue)

The function always extracts the color value of the active Modus theme.

  (load-theme 'modus-operandi t)
  (modus-themes-color 'blue))           ; "#0031a9" for `modus-operandi'

  (load-theme 'modus-vivendi t)
  (modus-themes-color 'blue))           ; "#2fafff" for `modus-vivendi'

Do C-h v on the aforementioned variables to check all the available symbols that can be passed to this function. Or simply invoke the command modus-themes-list-colors to produce a buffer with a preview of each entry in the palette.

Visualize the active Modus theme’s palette.

With that granted, let us expand the example to actually change the cursor face’s background property. We employ the built-in function of set-face-attribute:

(set-face-attribute 'cursor nil :background (modus-themes-color 'blue))

If you evaluate this form, your cursor will become blue. But if you change themes, such as with modus-themes-toggle, your edits will be lost, because the newly loaded theme will override the :background attribute you had assigned to that face.

For such changes to persist, we need to make them after loading the theme. So we rely on modus-themes-after-load-theme-hook, which gets called from modus-themes-load-operandi, modus-themes-load-vivendi, as well as the command modus-themes-toggle. Here is a sample function that tweaks two faces and then gets added to the hook:

(defun my-modus-themes-custom-faces ()
  (set-face-attribute 'cursor nil :background (modus-themes-color 'blue))
  (set-face-attribute 'font-lock-type-face nil :foreground (modus-themes-color 'magenta-alt)))

(add-hook 'modus-themes-after-load-theme-hook #'my-modus-themes-custom-faces)

A theme-agnostic hook for theme loading.

Using this principle, it is possible to override the styles of faces without having to find color values for each case.

Another application is to control the precise weight for bold constructs. This is particularly useful if your typeface has several variants such as “heavy”, “extrabold”, “semibold”. All you have to do is edit the bold face. For example:

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

Remember to use the custom function and hook combo we demonstrated above. Because the themes do not hard-wire a specific weight, this simple form is enough to change the weight of all bold constructs throughout the interface.

Finally, there are cases where you want to tweak colors though wish to apply different ones to each theme, say, a blue hue for Modus Operandi and a shade of red for Modus Vivendi. To this end, we provide modus-themes-color-alts as a convenience function to save you from the trouble of writing separate wrappers for each theme. It still returns a single value by querying either of modus-themes-operandi-colors and modus-themes-vivendi-colors, only here you pass the two keys you want, first for modus-operandi then modus-vivendi.

Take the previous example with the cursor face:

;; Blue for `modus-operandi' and red for `modus-vivendi'
(set-face-attribute 'cursor nil :background (modus-themes-color-alts 'blue 'red))

6.4. Face specs at scale using the themes’ palette

The examples here are for large scale operations. For simple, one-off tweaks, you may prefer the approach documented in the previous section (Case-by-case face specs using the themes’ palette).

The modus-themes-with-colors macro lets you retrieve multiple color values by employing the backquote/backtick and comma notation. The values are stored in the alists modus-themes-operandi-colors and modus-themes-vivendi-colors, while the macro always queries that of the active Modus theme (preview the current palette with the command modus-themes-list-colors).

Visualize the active Modus theme’s palette.

Here is an abstract example that just returns a list of color values while modus-operandi is enabled:

  (list fg-main
;; =>
;; ("#000000" "#002f88" "#721045" "#5317ac"
;;  "#005a5f" "#093060" "#2544bb" "#752f50"
;;  "#00538b" "#000000" "#104410" "#702f00"
;;  "#003f78" "#5d3026" "#30517f" "#0031a9")

Getting a list of colors may have its applications, though what you are most likely interested in is how to use those variables to configure several faces at once. To do so we can rely on the built-in custom-set-faces function, which sets face specifications for the special user theme. That “theme” gets applied on top of regular themes like modus-operandi and modus-vivendi.

This is how it works:

   `(cursor ((,class :background ,blue)))
   `(mode-line ((,class :background ,yellow-nuanced-bg
                        :foreground ,yellow-nuanced-fg)))
   `(mode-line-inactive ((,class :background ,blue-nuanced-bg
                                 :foreground ,blue-nuanced-fg)))))

The above snippet will immediately refashion the faces it names once it is evaluated. However, if you switch between the Modus themes, say, from modus-operandi to modus-vivendi, the colors will not get updated to match those of the new theme. To make things work across the themes, we need to employ the same technique we discussed in the previous section, namely, to pass our changes at the post-theme-load phase via a hook.

The themes provide the modus-themes-after-load-theme-hook, which gets called from modus-themes-load-operandi, modus-themes-load-vivendi, as well as the command modus-themes-toggle. With this knowledge, you can wrap the macro in a function and then assign that function to the hook. Thus:

(defun my-modus-themes-custom-faces ()
     `(cursor ((,class :background ,blue)))
     `(mode-line ((,class :background ,yellow-nuanced-bg
                          :foreground ,yellow-nuanced-fg)))
     `(mode-line-inactive ((,class :background ,blue-nuanced-bg
                                   :foreground ,blue-nuanced-fg))))))

(add-hook 'modus-themes-after-load-theme-hook #'my-modus-themes-custom-faces)

A theme-agnostic hook for theme loading.

To discover the faces defined by all loaded libraries, you may do M-x list-faces-display. Be warned that when you :inherit a face you are introducing an implicit dependency, so try to avoid doing so for libraries other than the built-in faces.el (or at least understand that things may break if you inherit from a yet-to-be-loaded face).

Also bear in mind that these examples are meant to work with the Modus themes. If you are cycling between multiple themes you may encounter unforeseen issues, such as the colors of the Modus themes being applied to a non-Modus item.

Finally, note that you can still use other functions where those make sense. For example, the modus-themes-color-alts that was discussed in the previous section. Adapt the above example like this:

   `(cursor ((,class :background ,(modus-themes-color-alts 'blue 'green))))

6.5. Remap face with local value

There are cases where we need to change the buffer-local attributes of a face. This might be because we have our own minor mode that re-uses a face for a particular purpose, such as a line selection tool that activates hl-line-mode, but we wish to keep it distinct from other buffers. This is where face-remap-add-relative can be applied and may be combined with modus-themes-with-colors to deliver consistent results.

Face specs at scale using the themes’ palette.

In this example we will write a simple interactive function that adjusts the background color of the region face. This is the sample code:

(defvar my-rainbow-region-colors
    `((red . ,red-subtle-bg)
      (green . ,green-subtle-bg)
      (yellow . ,yellow-subtle-bg)
      (blue . ,blue-subtle-bg)
      (magenta . ,magenta-subtle-bg)
      (cyan . ,cyan-subtle-bg)))
  "Sample list of color values for `my-rainbow-region'.")

(defun my-rainbow-region (color)
  "Remap buffer-local attribute of `region' using COLOR."
    (completing-read "Pick a color: " my-rainbow-region-colors)))
   `( :background ,(alist-get (intern color) my-rainbow-region-colors)
      :foreground ,(face-attribute 'default :foreground))))

When my-rainbow-region is called interactively, it prompts for a color to use. The list of candidates is drawn from the car of each association in my-rainbow-region-colors (so “red”, “green”, etc.).

To extend this principle, we may write wrapper functions that pass a color directly. Those can be useful in tandem with hooks. Consider this example:

(defun my-rainbow-region-magenta ()
  (my-rainbow-region 'magenta))

(add-hook 'diff-mode-hook #'my-rainbow-region-magenta)

Whenever we enter a diff-mode buffer, we now get a magenta-colored region.

Perhaps you may wish to generalise those findings in to a set of functions that also accept an arbitrary face. We shall leave the experimentation up to you.

6.6. Cycle through arbitrary colors

Users may opt to customize individual faces of the themes to accommodate their particular needs. One such case is with the color intensity of comments, specifically the foreground of font-lock-comment-face. The Modus themes set that to a readable value, in accordance with their accessibility objective, though users may prefer to lower the overall contrast on an on-demand basis.

One way to achieve this is to design a command that cycles through three distinct levels of intensity, though the following can be adapted to any kind of cyclic behaviour, such as to switch between red, green, and blue.

In the following example, we employ the modus-themes-color function which reads a symbol that represents an entry in the active theme’s color palette (Case-by-case face specs using the themes’ palette). Those are stored in my-modus-themes-comment-colors.

(defvar my-modus-themes-comment-colors
  ;; We are abusing the palette here, as those colors have their own
  ;; purpose in the palette, so please ignore the semantics of their
  ;; names.
  '((low . bg-region)
    (medium . bg-tab-inactive-alt)
    (high . fg-alt))
  "Alist of levels of intensity mapped to color palette entries.
The entries are found in `modus-themes-operandi-colors' or

(defvar my-modus-themes--adjust-comment-color-state nil
  "The cyclic state of `my-modus-themes-adjust-comment-color'.
For internal use.")

(defun my-modus-themes--comment-foreground (degree state)
  "Set `font-lock-comment-face' foreground.
Use `my-modus-themes-comment-colors' to extract the color value
for each level of intensity.

This is complementary to `my-modus-themes-adjust-comment-color'."
  (let ((palette-colors my-modus-themes-comment-colors))
     (modus-themes-color (alist-get degree palette-colors)))
    (setq my-modus-themes--adjust-comment-color-state state)
    (message "Comments are set to %s contrast" degree)))

(defun my-modus-themes-adjust-comment-color ()
  "Cycle through levels of intensity for comments.
The levels are determined by `my-modus-themes-comment-colors'."
  (pcase my-modus-themes--adjust-comment-color-state
     (my-modus-themes--comment-foreground 'low 1))
     (my-modus-themes--comment-foreground 'medium 2))
     (my-modus-themes--comment-foreground 'high nil))))

With the above, M-x my-modus-themes-adjust-comment-color will cycle through the three levels of intensity that have been specified.

Another approach is to not read from the active theme’s color palette and instead provide explicit color values, either in hexadecimal RGB notation (like #123456) or as the names that are displayed in the output of M-x list-colors-display. In this case, the alist with the colors will have to account for the active theme, so as to set the appropriate colors. While this introduces a bit more complexity, it ultimately offers greater flexibility on the choice of colors for such a niche functionality (so there is no need to abuse the palette of the active Modus theme):

(defvar my-modus-themes-comment-colors
  '((light . ((low . "gray75")
              (medium . "gray50")
              (high . "#505050")))      ; the default for `modus-operandi'

    (dark . ((low . "gray25")
             (medium . "gray50")
             (high . "#a8a8a8"))))      ; the default for `modus-vivendi'
  "Alist of levels of intensity mapped to color values.
For such colors, consult the command `list-colors-display'.  Pass
the name of a color or its hex value.")

(defvar my-modus-themes--adjust-comment-color-state nil
  "The cyclic state of `my-modus-themes-adjust-comment-color'.
For internal use.")

(defun my-modus-themes--comment-foreground (degree state)
    "Set `font-lock-comment-face' foreground.
Use `my-modus-themes-comment-colors' to extract the color value
for each level of intensity.

This is complementary to `my-modus-themes-adjust-comment-color'."
  (let* ((colors my-modus-themes-comment-colors)
         (levels (pcase (car custom-enabled-themes)
                   ('modus-operandi (alist-get 'light colors))
                   ('modus-vivendi (alist-get 'dark colors)))))
     (alist-get degree levels))
    (setq my-modus-themes--adjust-comment-color-state state)
    (message "Comments are set to %s contrast" degree)))

(defun my-modus-themes-adjust-comment-color ()
  "Cycle through levels of intensity for comments.
The levels are determined by `my-modus-themes-comment-colors'."
  (pcase my-modus-themes--adjust-comment-color-state
     (my-modus-themes--comment-foreground 'low 1))
     (my-modus-themes--comment-foreground 'medium 2))
     (my-modus-themes--comment-foreground 'high nil))))

The effect of the above configurations on font-lock-comment-face is global. To make it buffer-local, one must tweak the code to employ the function face-remap-add-relative (Remap face with local value).

So this form in my-modus-themes--comment-foreground:

;; example 1
  (modus-themes-color (alist-get degree palette-colors)))

;; example 2
  (alist-get degree levels))

Must become this:

;; example 1
  `(:foreground ,(modus-themes-color (alist-get degree palette-colors))))

;; example 2
  `(:foreground ,(alist-get degree levels)))

6.7. Override colors

The themes provide a mechanism for overriding their color values. This is controlled by the variables modus-themes-operandi-color-overrides and modus-themes-vivendi-color-overrides, which are alists that should mirror a subset of the associations in modus-themes-operandi-colors and modus-themes-vivendi-colors respectively. As with all customisations, overriding must be done before loading the affected theme.

Visualize the active Modus theme’s palette.

Let us approach the present topic one step at a time. Here is a simplified excerpt of the default palette for Modus Operandi with some basic background values that apply to buffers and the mode line (remember to inspect the actual value to find out all the associations that can be overridden):

(defconst modus-themes-operandi-colors
  '((bg-main . "#ffffff")
    (bg-dim . "#f8f8f8")
    (bg-alt . "#f0f0f0")
    (bg-active . "#d7d7d7")
    (bg-inactive . "#efefef")))

As one can tell, we bind a key to a hexadecimal RGB color value. Now say we wish to override those specific values and have our changes propagate to all faces that use those keys. We could write something like this, which adds a subtle ochre tint:

(setq modus-themes-operandi-color-overrides
      '((bg-main . "#fefcf4")
        (bg-dim . "#faf6ef")
        (bg-alt . "#f7efe5")
        (bg-active . "#e8dfd1")
        (bg-inactive . "#f6ece5")))

Once this is evaluated, any subsequent loading of modus-operandi will use those values instead of the defaults. No further intervention is required.

To reset the changes, we apply this and reload the theme:

(setq modus-themes-operandi-color-overrides nil)

Users who wish to leverage such a mechanism can opt to implement it on-demand by means of a global minor mode. The following snippet covers both themes and expands to some more assosiations in the palette:

(define-minor-mode my-modus-themes-tinted
  "Tweak some Modus themes colors."
  :init-value nil
  :global t
  (if my-modus-themes-tinted
      (setq modus-themes-operandi-color-overrides
            '((bg-main . "#fefcf4")
              (bg-dim . "#faf6ef")
              (bg-alt . "#f7efe5")
              (bg-hl-line . "#f4f0e3")
              (bg-active . "#e8dfd1")
              (bg-inactive . "#f6ece5")
              (bg-region . "#c6bab1")
              (bg-header . "#ede3e0")
              (bg-tab-bar . "#dcd3d3")
              (bg-tab-active . "#fdf6eb")
              (bg-tab-inactive . "#c8bab8")
              (fg-unfocused . "#55556f"))
            '((bg-main . "#100b17")
              (bg-dim . "#161129")
              (bg-alt . "#181732")
              (bg-hl-line . "#191628")
              (bg-active . "#282e46")
              (bg-inactive . "#1a1e39")
              (bg-region . "#393a53")
              (bg-header . "#202037")
              (bg-tab-bar . "#262b41")
              (bg-tab-active . "#120f18")
              (bg-tab-inactive . "#3a3a5a")
              (fg-unfocused . "#9a9aab")))
    (setq modus-themes-operandi-color-overrides nil
          modus-themes-vivendi-color-overrides nil)))

With this in place, one can invoke M-x my-modus-themes-tinted and then load the Modus theme of their choice. The new palette subset will come into effect: subtle ochre tints for Modus Operandi and night sky shades for Modus Vivendi. Switching between the two themes, such as with M-x modus-themes-toggle will also use the overrides.

Given that this is a user-level customisation, one is free to implement whatever color values they desire, even if the possible combinations fall below the minimum 7:1 contrast ratio that governs the design of the themes (the WCAG AAA legibility standard). Alternatively, this can also be done programmatically (Override color saturation).

For manual interventions it is advised to inspect the source code of modus-themes-operandi-colors and modus-themes-vivendi-colors for the inline commentary: it explains what the intended use of each palette subset is.

Furthermore, users may benefit from the modus-themes-contrast function that we provide: test color combinations. It measures the contrast ratio between two color values, so it can help in overriding the palette (or a subset thereof) without making the end result inaccessible.

6.8. Override color saturation

In the previous section we documented how one can override color values manually (Override colors). Here we use a programmatic approach which leverages the built-in color-saturate-name function to adjust the saturation of all color values used by the active Modus theme. Our goal is to prepare a counterpart of the active theme’s palette that holds modified color values, adjusted for a percent change in saturation. A positive number amplifies the effect, while a negative one will move towards a grayscale spectrum.

We start with a function that can be either called from Lisp or invoked interactively. In the former scenario, we pass to it the rate of change we want. While in the latter, a minibuffer prompt asks for a number to apply the desired effect. In either case, we intend to assign anew the value of modus-themes-operandi-color-overrides (light theme) and the same for modus-themes-vivendi-color-overrides (dark theme).

(defun my-modus-themes-saturate (percent)
  "Saturate current Modus theme palette overrides by PERCENT."
   (list (read-number "Saturation by percent: ")))
  (let* ((theme (modus-themes--current-theme))
         (palette (pcase theme
                    ('modus-operandi modus-themes-operandi-colors)
                    ('modus-vivendi modus-themes-vivendi-colors)
                    (_ (error "No Modus theme is active"))))
         (overrides (pcase theme
                      ('modus-operandi 'modus-themes-operandi-color-overrides)
                      ('modus-vivendi 'modus-themes-vivendi-color-overrides)
                      (_ (error "No Modus theme is active")))))
    (let (name cons colors)
      (dolist (cons palette)
        (setq name (color-saturate-name (cdr cons) percent))
        (setq name (format "%s" name))
        (setq cons `(,(car cons) . ,name))
        (push cons colors))
      (set overrides colors))
    (pcase theme
      ('modus-operandi (modus-themes-load-operandi))
      ('modus-vivendi (modus-themes-load-vivendi)))))

;; sample Elisp calls (or call `my-modus-themes-saturate' interactively)
(my-modus-themes-saturate 50)
(my-modus-themes-saturate -75)

Using the above has an immediate effect, as it reloads the active Modus theme.

The my-modus-themes-saturate function stores new color values in the variables modus-themes-operandi-color-overrides and modus-themes-vivendi-color-overrides, meaning that it undoes changes implemented by the user on individual colors. To have both automatic saturation adjustment across the board and retain per-case edits to the palette, some tweaks to the above function are required. For example:

(defvar my-modus-themes-vivendi-extra-color-overrides
  '((fg-main . "#ead0c0")
    (bg-main . "#050515"))
  "My bespoke colors for `modus-vivendi'.")

(defvar my-modus-themes-operandi-extra-color-overrides
  '((fg-main . "#1a1a1a")
    (bg-main . "#fefcf4"))
  "My bespoke colors for `modus-operandi'.")

(defun my-modus-themes-saturate (percent)
  "Saturate current Modus theme palette overrides by PERCENT.
Preserve the color values stored in
   (list (read-number "Saturation by percent: ")))
  (let* ((theme (modus-themes--current-theme))
         (palette (pcase theme
                    ('modus-operandi modus-themes-operandi-colors)
                    ('modus-vivendi modus-themes-vivendi-colors)
                    (_ (error "No Modus theme is active"))))
         (overrides (pcase theme
                      ('modus-operandi 'modus-themes-operandi-color-overrides)
                      ('modus-vivendi 'modus-themes-vivendi-color-overrides)
                      (_ (error "No Modus theme is active"))))
         (extra-overrides (pcase theme
                            ('modus-operandi my-modus-themes-operandi-extra-color-overrides)
                            ('modus-vivendi my-modus-themes-vivendi-extra-color-overrides)
                            (_ (error "No Modus theme is active")))))
    (let (name cons colors)
      (dolist (cons palette)
        (setq name (color-saturate-name (cdr cons) percent))
        (setq name (format "%s" name))
        (setq cons `(,(car cons) . ,name))
        (push cons colors))
      (set overrides (append extra-overrides colors)))
    (pcase theme
      ('modus-operandi (modus-themes-load-operandi))
      ('modus-vivendi (modus-themes-load-vivendi)))))

To disable the effect, one must reset the aforementioned variables of the themes to nil. Or specify a command for it, such as by taking inspiration from the modus-themes-toggle we already provide:

(defun my-modus-themes-revert-overrides ()
  "Reset palette overrides and reload active Modus theme."
  (setq modus-themes-operandi-color-overrides nil
        modus-themes-vivendi-color-overrides nil)
  (pcase (modus-themes--current-theme)
    ('modus-operandi (modus-themes-load-operandi))
    ('modus-vivendi (modus-themes-load-vivendi))))

6.9. Override colors through blending

This is yet another method of overriding color values.

Override colors.

Override color saturation.

Building on ideas and concepts from the previous sections, this method blends the entire palette at once with the chosen colors. The function my-modus-themes-interpolate blends two colors, taking a value from the themes and mixing it with a user-defined color to arrive at a midpoint. This scales to all background and foreground colors with the help of the my-modus-themes-tint-palette function.

(setq my-modus-operandi-bg-blend "#fbf1c7"
      my-modus-operandi-fg-blend "#3a6084"
      my-modus-vivendi-bg-blend "#3a4042"
      my-modus-vivendi-fg-blend "#d7b765")

;; Adapted from the `kurecolor-interpolate' function of kurecolor.el
(defun my-modus-themes-interpolate (color1 color2)
  (cl-destructuring-bind (r g b)
      (mapcar #'(lambda (n) (* (/ n 2) 255.0))
              (cl-mapcar '+ (color-name-to-rgb color1) (color-name-to-rgb color2)))
    (format "#%02X%02X%02X" r g b)))

(defun my-modus-themes-tint-palette (palette bg-blend fg-blend)
  "Modify Modus PALETTE programmatically and return a new palette.
Blend background colors with BG-BLEND and foreground colors with FG-BLEND."
  (let (name cons colors)
    (dolist (cons palette)
      (let ((blend (if (string-match "bg" (symbol-name (car cons)))
        (setq name (my-modus-themes-interpolate (cdr cons) blend)))
      (setq name (format "%s" name))
      (setq cons `(,(car cons) . ,name))
      (push cons colors))

(define-minor-mode modus-themes-tinted-mode
  "Tweak some Modus themes colors."
  :init-value nil
  :global t
  (if modus-themes-tinted-mode
      (setq modus-themes-operandi-color-overrides
            (my-modus-themes-tint-palette modus-themes-operandi-colors
            (my-modus-themes-tint-palette modus-themes-vivendi-colors
    (setq modus-themes-operandi-color-overrides nil
          modus-themes-vivendi-color-overrides nil)))

(modus-themes-tinted-mode 1)

6.10. Font configurations for Org and others

The themes are designed to optionally cope well with mixed font configurations. This mostly concerns org-mode and markdown-mode, though expect to find it elsewhere like in Info-mode.

Option for font mixing.

In practice it means that the user can safely opt for a more prose-friendly proportionately spaced typeface as their default, while spacing-sensitive elements like tables and inline code always use a monospaced font, by inheriting from the fixed-pitch face.

Users can try the built-in M-x variable-pitch-mode to see the effect in action.

To make everything use your desired font families, you need to configure the variable-pitch (proportional spacing) and fixed-pitch (monospaced) faces respectively. It may also be convenient to set your main typeface by configuring the default face the same way.

Put something like this in your initialization file (also consider reading the doc string of set-face-attribute):

;; Main typeface
(set-face-attribute 'default nil :family "DejaVu Sans Mono" :height 110)

;; Proportionately spaced typeface
(set-face-attribute 'variable-pitch nil :family "DejaVu Serif" :height 1.0)

;; Monospaced typeface
(set-face-attribute 'fixed-pitch nil :family "DejaVu Sans Mono" :height 1.5)

Or employ the face-attribute function to read an existing value, such as if you want to make fixed-pitch use the font family of the default face:

(set-face-attribute 'fixed-pitch nil :family (face-attribute 'default :family))

The next section shows how to make those work in a more elaborate setup that is robust to changes between the Modus themes.

Configure bold and italic faces.

Note the differences in the :height property. The default face must specify an absolute value, which is the point size × 10. So if you want to use a font at point size 11, you set the height to 110.1 Whereas every other face must either not specify a height or have a value that is relative to the default, represented as a floating point. If you use an integer, then that means an absolute height. This is of paramount importance: it ensures that all fonts can scale gracefully when using something like the text-scale-adjust command which only operates on the base font size (i.e. the default face’s absolute height).

Note for EWW and Elfeed fonts.

6.11. Configure bold and italic faces

The Modus themes do not hardcode a :weight or :slant attribute in the thousands of faces they cover. Instead, they configure the generic faces called bold and italic to use the appropriate styles and then instruct all relevant faces that require emphasis to inherit from them.

This practically means that users can change the particularities of what it means for a construct to be bold/italic, by tweaking the bold and italic faces. Cases where that can be useful include:

  • The default typeface does not have a variant with slanted glyphs (e.g. Fira Mono/Code as of this writing on 2021-07-07), so the user wants to add another family for the italics, such as Hack.
  • The typeface of choice provides a multitude of weights and the user prefers the light one by default. To prevent the bold weight from being too heavy compared to the light one, they opt to make bold use a semibold weight.
  • The typeface distinguishes between oblique and italic forms by providing different font variants (the former are just slanted versions of the upright forms, while the latter have distinguishing features as well). In this case, the user wants to specify the font that applies to the italic face.

To achieve those effects, one must first be sure that the fonts they use have support for those features. It then is a matter of following the instructions for all typeface tweaks.

Font configurations for Org and others.

In this example, we set the default font family to Fira Code, while we choose to render italics in the Hack typeface (obviously you need to pick fonts that work well together):

(set-face-attribute 'default nil :family "Fira Code" :height 110)
(set-face-attribute 'italic nil :family "Hack")

And here we play with different weights, using Source Code Pro:

(set-face-attribute 'default nil :family "Source Code Pro" :height 110 :weight 'light)
(set-face-attribute 'bold nil :weight 'semibold)

To reset the font family, one can use this:

(set-face-attribute 'italic nil :family 'unspecified)

To ensure that the effects persist after switching between the Modus themes (such as with M-x modus-themes-toggle), the user needs to write their configurations to a function and pass it to the modus-themes-after-load-theme-hook. This is necessary because themes set the styles of faces upon activation, overriding prior values where conflicts occur between the previous and the current states (otherwise changing themes would not be possible).

A theme-agnostic hook for theme loading.

This is a minimal setup to preserve font configurations across theme load phases. For a more permanent setup, it is better to rely on the custom-set-faces function: set-face-attribute works just fine, though it probably is better suited for quick previews or for smaller scale operations (custom-set-faces follows the format used in the source code of the themes, which can make it easier to redefine faces in bulk).

;; our generic function
(defun my-modes-themes-bold-italic-faces ()
  (set-face-attribute 'default nil :family "Source Code Pro" :height 110)
  (set-face-attribute 'bold nil :weight 'semibold))

;; or use this if you configure a lot of face and attributes and
;; especially if you plan to use `modus-themes-with-colors', as shown
;; elsewhere in the manual
(defun my-modes-themes-bold-italic-faces ()
   '(default ((t :family "Source Code Pro" :height 110)))
   '(bold ((t :weight semibold)))))

;; and here is the hook
(add-hook 'modus-themes-after-load-theme-hook #'my-modes-themes-bold-italic-faces)

Face specs at scale using the themes’ palette.

6.12. Custom Org todo keyword and priority faces

Users of org-mode have the option to configure various keywords and priority cookies to better match their workflow. User options are org-todo-keyword-faces and org-priority-faces.

As those are meant to be custom faces, it is futile to have the themes guess what each user wants to use, which keywords to target, and so on. Instead, we can provide guidelines on how to customize things to one’s liking with the intent of retaining the overall aesthetic of the themes.

Please bear in mind that the end result of those is not controlled by the active Modus theme but by how Org maps faces to its constructs. Editing those while org-mode is active requires re-initialization of the mode with M-x org-mode-restart for changes to take effect.

Let us assume you wish to visually differentiate your keywords. You have something like this:

(setq org-todo-keywords
      '((sequence "TODO(t)" "|" "DONE(D)" "CANCEL(C)")
        (sequence "MEET(m)" "|" "MET(M)")
        (sequence "STUDY(s)" "|" "STUDIED(S)")
        (sequence "WRITE(w)" "|" "WROTE(W)")))

You could then use a variant of the following to inherit from a face that uses the styles you want and also to preserve the properties applied by the org-todo face (in case there is a difference between the two):

(setq org-todo-keyword-faces
      '(("MEET" . '(bold org-todo))
        ("STUDY" . '(warning org-todo))
        ("WRITE" . '(shadow org-todo))))

This will refashion the keywords you specify, while letting the other items in org-todo-keywords use their original styles (which are defined in the org-todo and org-done faces).

If you want back the defaults, try specifying just the org-todo face:

(setq org-todo-keyword-faces
      '(("MEET" . org-todo)
        ("STUDY" . org-todo)
        ("WRITE" . org-todo)))

When you inherit from multiple faces, you need to quote the list as shown further above. The order is significant: the first entry is applied on top of the second, overriding any properties that are explicitly set for both of them: any property that is not specified is not overridden, so, for example, if org-todo has a background and a foreground, while font-lock-type-face only has a foreground, the merged face will include the background of the former and the foreground of the latter. If you do not want to blend multiple faces, you do not need a quoted list. A pattern of keyword . face will suffice.

Both approaches can be used simultaneously, as illustrated in this configuration of the priority cookies:

(setq org-priority-faces
      '((?A . '(bold org-priority))
        (?B . org-priority)
        (?C . '(shadow org-priority))))

To find all the faces that are loaded in your current Emacs session, use M-x list-faces-display. Try M-x describe-variable as well and then specify the name of each of those Org variables demonstrated above. Their documentation strings will offer you further guidance.

Recall that the themes let you retrieve a color from their palette. Do it if you plan to control face attributes.

Custom face specs using the themes’ palette.

Check color combinations.

6.13. Custom Org emphasis faces

Org provides the user option org-emphasis-alist which assosiates a character with a face, list of faces, or face attributes. The default specification of that variable looks like this:

(setq org-emphasis-alist
      '(("*" bold)
        ("/" italic)
        ("_" underline)
        ("=" org-verbatim verbatim)
        ("~" org-code verbatim)
        ("+" (:strike-through t))))

With the exception of org-verbatim and org-code faces, everything else uses the corresponding type of emphasis: a bold typographic weight, or italicised, underlined, and struck through text.

The best way for users to add some extra attributes, such as a foreground color, is to define their own faces and assign them to the given emphasis marker/character.

This is a custom face that extends the standard bold face with a red foreground value (so it colorises the text in addition to the bold weight):

(defface my-org-emphasis-bold
  '((default :inherit bold)
    (((class color) (min-colors 88) (background light))
     :foreground "#a60000")
    (((class color) (min-colors 88) (background dark))
     :foreground "#ff8059"))
  "My bold emphasis for Org.")

This face definition reads as follows:

  • Always inherit the bold face (Configure bold and italic faces).
  • For versions of Emacs that support at least 88 colors (graphical Emacs, for example) and use a light background, apply the #a60000 value.
  • For the same kind of Emacs that has a dark background use the #ff8059 color instead.

Same principle for how to extend italic and underline with, for example, green and yellow hues, respectively:

(defface my-org-emphasis-italic
  '((default :inherit italic)
    (((class color) (min-colors 88) (background light))
     :foreground "#005e00")
    (((class color) (min-colors 88) (background dark))
     :foreground "#44bc44"))
  "My italic emphasis for Org.")

(defface my-org-emphasis-underline
  '((default :inherit underline)
    (((class color) (min-colors 88) (background light))
     :foreground "#813e00")
    (((class color) (min-colors 88) (background dark))
     :foreground "#d0bc00"))
  "My underline emphasis for Org.")

In the case of a strike-through effect, we have no generic face to inherit from, so we can write it as follows to also change the foreground to a more subtle gray:

(defface my-org-emphasis-strike-through
  '((default :strike-through t)
    (((class color) (min-colors 88) (background light))
     :foreground "#505050")
    (((class color) (min-colors 88) (background dark))
     :foreground "#a8a8a8"))
  "My strike-through emphasis for Org.")

Or we can just change the color of the line that strikes through the text to, for example, a shade of red:

(defface my-org-emphasis-strike-through
  '((((class color) (min-colors 88) (background light))
     :strike-through "#972500")
    (((class color) (min-colors 88) (background dark))
     :strike-through "#ef8b50"))
  "My strike-through emphasis for Org.")

It is possible to combine those effects:

(defface my-org-emphasis-strike-through
  '((((class color) (min-colors 88) (background light))
     :strike-through "#972500" :foreground "#505050")
    (((class color) (min-colors 88) (background dark))
     :strike-through "#ef8b50" :foreground "#a8a8a8"))
  "My strike-through emphasis for Org.")

One may inspect the variables modus-themes-operandi-colors and modus-themes-vivendi-colors for possible color values. Or call the command modus-themes-list-colors to show a buffer that previews each entry in the palette.

Visualize the active Modus theme’s palette.

Once we have defined the faces we need, we must update the org-emphasis-alist. Given that org-verbatim and org-code are already styled by the themes, it probably is best not to edit them:

(setq org-emphasis-alist
      '(("*" my-org-emphasis-bold)
        ("/" my-org-emphasis-italic)
        ("_" my-org-emphasis-underline)
        ("=" org-verbatim verbatim)
        ("~" org-code verbatim)
        ("+" my-org-emphasis-strike-through)))

That’s it! For changes to take effect in already visited Org files, invoke M-x org-mode-restart.

6.14. Update Org block delimiter fontification

As noted in the section about modus-themes-org-blocks, Org contains a variable that determines whether the block’s begin and end lines are extended to the edge of the window (Option for org-mode block styles). The variable is org-fontify-whole-block-delimiter-line.

Users who change the style of Org blocks from time to time may prefer to automatically update delimiter line fontification, such as with the following setup:

(defun my-modus-themes-org-fontify-block-delimiter-lines ()
  "Match `org-fontify-whole-block-delimiter-line' to theme style.
Run this function at the post theme load phase, such as with the
  (if (eq modus-themes-org-blocks 'gray-background)
      (setq org-fontify-whole-block-delimiter-line t)
    (setq org-fontify-whole-block-delimiter-line nil)))

(add-hook 'modus-themes-after-load-theme-hook

Then M-x org-mode-restart for changes to take effect, though manual intervention can be circumvented by tweaking the function thus:

(defun my-modus-themes-org-fontify-block-delimiter-lines ()
  "Match `org-fontify-whole-block-delimiter-line' to theme style.
Run this function at the post theme load phase, such as with the
  (if (eq modus-themes-org-blocks 'gray-background)
      (setq org-fontify-whole-block-delimiter-line t)
    (setq org-fontify-whole-block-delimiter-line nil))
  (when (derived-mode-p 'org-mode)

6.15. Measure color contrast

The themes provide the functions modus-themes-wcag-formula and modus-themes-contrast. The former is a direct implementation of the WCAG formula: It calculates the relative luminance of a color value that is expressed in hexadecimal RGB notation. While the latter function is just a convenient wrapper for comparing the relative luminance between two colors.

In practice, one needs to work only with modus-themes-contrast. It accepts two color values and returns their contrast ratio. Values range from 1 to 21 (lowest to highest). The themes are designed to always be equal or higher than 7 for each combination of background and foreground that they use (this is the WCAG AAA standard—the most demanding of its kind).

A couple of examples (rounded numbers):

;; Pure white with pure green
(modus-themes-contrast "#ffffff" "#00ff00")
;; => 1.37
;; That is an outright inaccessible combo

;; Pure black with pure green
(modus-themes-contrast "#000000" "#00ff00")
;; => 15.3
;; That is a highly accessible combo

It does not matter which color value comes first. The ratio is always the same.

If one does not wish to read all the decimal points, it is possible to try something like this:

(format "%0.2f" (modus-themes-contrast "#000000" "#00ff00"))

While it is fine to perform such calculations on a case-by-case basis, it is preferable to implement formulas and tables for more demanding tasks. Such instruments are provided by org-mode or orgtbl-mode, both of which are built into Emacs. Below is such a table that derives the contrast ratio of all colors in the first column (pure red, green, blue) relative to the color specified in the first row of the second column (pure white) and rounds the results:

|         | #ffffff |
| #ff0000 |    4.00 |
| #00ff00 |    1.37 |
| #0000ff |    8.59 |
#+tblfm: $2='(modus-themes-contrast $1 @1$2);%0.2f

To measure color contrast one needs to start from a known value. This typically is the background. The Modus themes define an expanded palette in large part because certain colors are only meant to be used in combination with some others. Consult the source code for the minutia and relevant commentary.

Such knowledge may prove valuable while attempting to override some of the themes’ colors: Override colors.

6.16. Load theme depending on time of day

While we do provide modus-themes-toggle to manually switch between the themes, users may also set up their system to perform such a task automatically at sunrise and sunset.

This can be accomplished by specifying the coordinates of one’s location using the built-in solar.el and then configuring the circadian package:

(use-package solar                      ; built-in
  (setq calendar-latitude 35.17
        calendar-longitude 33.36))

(use-package circadian                  ; you need to install this
  :after solar
  (setq circadian-themes '((:sunrise . modus-operandi)
                           (:sunset  . modus-vivendi)))

6.17. Backdrop for pdf-tools

Most PDF files use a white background for their page, making it impossible to discern the file’s boundaries in the buffer while using the Modus Operandi theme. To introduce a distinction between the buffer’s backdrop and the PDF page’s background, the former must be rendered as some shade of gray. Ideally, pdf-tools would provide a face that the themes could support directly, though this does not seem to be the case for the time being. We must thus employ the face remapping technique that is documented elsewhere in this document to change the buffer-local value of the default face.

Remap face with local value.

To remap the buffer’s backdrop, we start with a function like this one:

(defun my-pdf-tools-backdrop ()
   `(:background ,(modus-themes-color 'bg-alt))))

(add-hook 'pdf-tools-enabled-hook #'my-pdf-tools-backdrop)

The idea is to assign that function to a hook that gets called when pdf-tools renders the document: pdf-tools-enabled-hook. This is enough when you only use one theme. However it has the downside of setting the background color value only at render time. In other words, the face remapping function does not get evaluated anew whenever the theme changes, such as upon invoking M-x modus-themes-toggle.

To have our face remapping adapt gracefully while switching between the Modus themes, we need to also account for the current theme and control the activation of pdf-view-midnight-minor-mode. To which end we arrive at something like the following, which builds on the above example:

(defun my-pdf-tools-backdrop ()
   `(:background ,(modus-themes-color 'bg-alt))))

(defun my-pdf-tools-midnight-mode-toggle ()
  (when (derived-mode-p 'pdf-view-mode)
    (if (eq (car custom-enabled-themes) 'modus-vivendi)
        (pdf-view-midnight-minor-mode 1)
      (pdf-view-midnight-minor-mode -1))

(add-hook 'pdf-tools-enabled-hook #'my-pdf-tools-midnight-mode-toggle)
(add-hook 'modus-themes-after-load-theme-hook #'my-pdf-tools-midnight-mode-toggle)

With those in place, PDFs have a distinct backdrop for their page, while they automatically switch to their dark mode when modus-themes-toggle is called from inside a buffer whose major-mode is pdf-view-mode.

6.18. Decrease mode line height

By default, the mode line of the Modus themes is set to 1 pixel width for its :box attribute. In contrast, the mode line of stock Emacs is -1 pixel. This small difference is considered necessary for the purposes of accessibility as our out-of-the-box design has a prominent color around the mode line (a border) to make its boundaries clear. With a negative width the border and the text on the mode line can feel a bit more difficult to read under certain scenaria.

Furthermore, the user option modus-themes-mode-line (Mode line) does not allow for such a negative value because there are many edge cases that simply make for a counter-intuitive set of possibilities, such as a 0 value not being acceptable by the underlying face infrastructure, and negative values greater than -2 not being particularly usable.

For these reasons, users who wish to decrease the overall height of the mode line must handle things on their own by implementing the methods for face customization documented herein.

Basic face customization.

One such method is to create a function that configures the desired faces and hook it to modus-themes-after-load-theme-hook so that it persists while switching between the Modus themes with the command modus-themes-toggle.

This one simply disables the box altogether, which will reduce the height of the mode lines, but also remove their border:

(defun my-modus-themes-custom-faces ()
  (set-face-attribute 'mode-line nil :box nil)
  (set-face-attribute 'mode-line-inactive nil :box nil))

(add-hook 'modus-themes-after-load-theme-hook #'my-modus-themes-custom-faces)

The above relies on the set-face-attribute function, though users who plan to re-use colors from the theme and do so at scale are better off with the more streamlined combination of the modus-themes-with-colors macro and custom-set-faces.

Face customization at scale.

As explained before in this document, this approach has a syntax that is consistent with the source code of the themes, so it probably is easier to re-use parts of the design.

The following emulates the stock Emacs style, while still using the colors of the Modus themes (whichever attribute is not explicitly stated is inherited from the underlying theme):

(defun my-modus-themes-custom-faces ()
     `(mode-line ((,class :box (:line-width -1 :style released-button))))
     `(mode-line-inactive ((,class :box (:line-width -1 :color ,bg-region)))))))

(add-hook 'modus-themes-after-load-theme-hook #'my-modus-themes-custom-faces)

And this one is like the out-of-the-box style of the Modus themes, but with the -1 height instead of 1:

(defun my-modus-themes-custom-faces ()
     `(mode-line ((,class :box (:line-width -1 :color ,fg-alt))))
     `(mode-line-inactive ((,class :box (:line-width -1 :color ,bg-region)))))))

(add-hook 'modus-themes-after-load-theme-hook #'my-modus-themes-custom-faces)

Finally, to also change the background color of the active mode line, such as that it looks like the “accented” variant which is possible via the user option modus-themes-mode-line, the :background attribute needs to be specified as well:

(defun my-modus-themes-custom-faces ()
     `(mode-line ((,class :box (:line-width -1 :color ,fg-alt) :background ,bg-active-accent)))
     `(mode-line-inactive ((,class :box (:line-width -1 :color ,bg-region)))))))

(add-hook 'modus-themes-after-load-theme-hook #'my-modus-themes-custom-faces)

6.19. A theme-agnostic hook for theme loading

The themes are designed with the intent to be useful to Emacs users of varying skill levels, from beginners to experts. This means that we try to make things easier by not expecting anyone reading this document to be proficient in Emacs Lisp or programming in general.

Such a case is with the use of the modus-themes-after-load-theme-hook, which runs after modus-themes-toggle, modus-themes-load-operandi, or modus-themes-load-vivendi is evaluated. We recommend using that hook for advanced customizations, because (1) we know for sure that it is available once the themes are loaded, and (2) anyone consulting this manual, especially the sections on enabling and loading the themes, will be in a good position to benefit from that hook.

Advanced users who have a need to switch between the Modus themes and other items will find that such a hook does not meet their requirements: it only works with the Modus themes and only with the aforementioned functions.

A theme-agnostic setup can be configured thus:

(defvar after-enable-theme-hook nil
   "Normal hook run after enabling a theme.")

(defun run-after-enable-theme-hook (&rest _args)
   "Run `after-enable-theme-hook'."
   (run-hooks 'after-enable-theme-hook))

(advice-add 'enable-theme :after #'run-after-enable-theme-hook)

This creates the after-enable-theme-hook and makes it run after each call to enable-theme, which means that it will work for all themes and also has the benefit that it does not depend on functions such as modus-themes-toggle and the others mentioned above. enable-theme is called internally by load-theme, so the hook works everywhere.

Now this specific piece of Elisp may be simple for experienced users, but it is not easy to read for newcomers, including the author of the Modus themes for the first several months of their time as an Emacs user. Hence our hesitation to recommend it as part of the standard setup of the Modus themes (it is generally a good idea to understand what the implications are of advising a function).

6.20. Diffs with only the foreground

Buffers that show differences between versions of a file or buffer, such as in diff-mode and ediff always use color-coded background and foreground combinations.

Option for diff buffer looks.

User may, however, prefer a style that removes the color-coded backgrounds from regular changes while keeping them for word-wise (aka “refined”) changes—backgrounds for word-wise diffs are helpful in context. To make this happen, one can use the modus-themes-with-colors macro (Face specs at scale using the themes’ palette):

(defun my-modus-themes-custom-faces ()
     `(modus-themes-diff-added ((,class :background unspecified :foreground ,green))) ; OR ,blue for deuteranopia
     `(modus-themes-diff-changed ((,class :background unspecified :foreground ,yellow)))
     `(modus-themes-diff-removed ((,class :background unspecified :foreground ,red)))

     `(modus-themes-diff-refine-added ((,class :background ,bg-diff-added :foreground ,fg-diff-added)))
     ;; `(modus-themes-diff-refine-added ((,class :background ,bg-diff-added-deuteran :foreground ,fg-diff-added-deuteran)))
     `(modus-themes-diff-refine-changed ((,class :background ,bg-diff-changed :foreground ,fg-diff-changed)))
     `(modus-themes-diff-refine-removed ((,class :background ,bg-diff-removed :foreground ,fg-diff-removed)))

     `(modus-themes-diff-focus-added ((,class :background ,bg-dim :foreground ,green))) ; OR ,blue for deuteranopia
     `(modus-themes-diff-focus-changed ((,class :background ,bg-dim :foreground ,yellow)))
     `(modus-themes-diff-focus-removed ((,class :background ,bg-dim :foreground ,red)))

     `(modus-themes-diff-heading ((,class :background ,bg-alt :foreground ,fg-main)))

     `(diff-indicator-added ((,class :foreground ,green))) ; OR ,blue for deuteranopia
     `(diff-indicator-changed ((,class :foreground ,yellow)))
     `(diff-indicator-removed ((,class :foreground ,red)))

     `(magit-diff-added ((,class :background unspecified :foreground ,green-faint)))
     `(magit-diff-changed ((,class :background unspecified :foreground ,yellow-faint)))
     `(magit-diff-removed ((,class :background unspecified :foreground ,red-faint)))
     `(magit-diff-context-highlight ((,class :background ,bg-dim :foreground ,fg-dim))))))

;; This is so that the changes persist when switching between
;; `modus-operandi' and `modus-vivendi'.
(add-hook 'modus-themes-after-load-theme-hook #'my-modus-themes-custom-faces)

This used to be an optional style of modus-themes-diffs, but has been removed since version 2.0.0 to ensure that the accessibility standard and aesthetic quality of the themes is not compromised.

7. Face coverage

The Modus themes try to provide as close to full face coverage as possible. This is necessary to ensure a consistently accessible reading experience across all available interfaces.

7.1. Full support for packages or face groups

This list will always be updated to reflect the current state of the project. The idea is to offer an overview of the known status of all affected face groups. The items with an appended asterisk * tend to have lots of extensions, so the “full support” may not be 100% true…

  • ace-window
  • alert
  • all-the-icons
  • all-the-icons-dired
  • all-the-icons-ibuffer
  • annotate
  • ansi-color
  • anzu
  • apropos
  • artbollocks-mode
  • auctex and TeX
  • auto-dim-other-buffers
  • avy
  • awesome-tray
  • bbdb
  • binder
  • bm
  • bongo
  • boon
  • bookmark
  • breakpoint (provided by the built-in gdb-mi.el library)
  • calendar and diary
  • calfw
  • centaur-tabs
  • cfrs
  • change-log and log-view (such as vc-print-log, vc-print-root-log)
  • cider
  • circe
  • color-rg
  • column-enforce-mode
  • company-mode*
  • company-posframe
  • compilation-mode
  • completions
  • consult
  • corfu
  • counsel*
  • counsel-css
  • cov
  • cperl-mode
  • css-mode
  • csv-mode
  • ctrlf
  • cursor-flash
  • custom (what you get with M-x customize)
  • dap-mode
  • dashboard (emacs-dashboard)
  • deadgrep
  • debbugs
  • deft
  • dictionary
  • diff-hl
  • diff-mode
  • dim-autoload
  • dir-treeview
  • dired
  • dired-async
  • dired-git
  • dired-git-info
  • dired-narrow
  • dired-subtree
  • diredfl
  • diredp (dired+)
  • display-fill-column-indicator-mode
  • doom-modeline
  • dynamic-ruler
  • easy-jekyll
  • ebdb
  • ediff
  • eglot
  • el-search
  • eldoc-box
  • elfeed
  • elfeed-score
  • elpher
  • embark
  • emms
  • enh-ruby-mode (enhanced-ruby-mode)
  • epa
  • equake
  • erc
  • eros
  • ert
  • eshell
  • eshell-fringe-status
  • eshell-git-prompt
  • eshell-prompt-extras (epe)
  • eshell-syntax-highlighting
  • evil* (evil-mode)
  • evil-goggles
  • evil-snipe
  • evil-visual-mark-mode
  • eww
  • exwm
  • eyebrowse
  • fancy-dabbrev
  • flycheck
  • flycheck-color-mode-line
  • flycheck-indicator
  • flycheck-posframe
  • flymake
  • flyspell
  • flx
  • freeze-it
  • frog-menu
  • focus
  • fold-this
  • font-lock (generic syntax highlighting)
  • forge
  • fountain (fountain-mode)
  • geiser
  • git-commit
  • git-gutter (and variants)
  • git-rebase
  • git-timemachine
  • gnus
  • gotest
  • golden-ratio-scroll-screen
  • helm*
  • helm-ls-git
  • helm-switch-shell
  • helm-xref
  • helpful
  • highlight-indentation
  • highlight-numbers
  • highlight-parentheses (Note on highlight-parentheses.el)
  • highlight-thing
  • hl-defined
  • hl-fill-column
  • hl-line-mode
  • hl-todo
  • hydra
  • ibuffer
  • icomplete
  • icomplete-vertical
  • ido-mode
  • iedit
  • iflipb
  • image-dired
  • imenu-list
  • indium
  • info
  • info-colors
  • interaction-log
  • ioccur
  • isearch, occur, etc.
  • ivy*
  • ivy-posframe
  • jira (org-jira)
  • journalctl-mode
  • js2-mode
  • julia
  • jupyter
  • kaocha-runner
  • keycast
  • ledger-mode
  • line numbers (display-line-numbers-mode and global variant)
  • lsp-mode
  • lsp-ui
  • macrostep
  • magit
  • magit-imerge
  • make-mode
  • man
  • marginalia
  • markdown-mode
  • markup-faces (adoc-mode)
  • mentor
  • messages
  • minimap
  • mmm-mode
  • mode-line
  • mood-line
  • moody
  • mpdel
  • mu4e
  • multiple-cursors
  • nano-modeline
  • neotree
  • notmuch
  • num3-mode
  • nxml-mode
  • orderless
  • org*
  • org-journal
  • org-noter
  • org-pomodoro
  • org-recur
  • org-roam
  • org-superstar
  • org-table-sticky-header
  • org-tree-slide
  • org-treescope
  • origami
  • outline-mode
  • outline-minor-faces
  • package (what you get with M-x list-packages)
  • page-break-lines
  • pandoc-mode
  • paradox
  • paren-face
  • pass
  • pdf-tools
  • persp-mode
  • perspective
  • phi-grep
  • pomidor
  • popup
  • powerline
  • powerline-evil
  • prism (Note for prism.el)
  • proced
  • prodigy
  • pulse
  • quick-peek
  • racket-mode
  • rainbow-blocks
  • rainbow-delimiters
  • rcirc
  • recursion-indicator
  • regexp-builder (also known as re-builder)
  • rg (rg.el)
  • ripgrep
  • rmail
  • ruler-mode
  • selectrum
  • selectrum-prescient
  • semantic
  • sesman
  • shell-script-mode
  • shortdoc
  • show-paren-mode
  • shr
  • side-notes
  • sieve-mode
  • skewer-mode
  • smart-mode-line
  • smartparens
  • smerge
  • solaire
  • spaceline
  • speedbar
  • stripes
  • suggest
  • switch-window
  • swiper
  • sx
  • symbol-overlay
  • syslog-mode
  • tab-bar-groups
  • tab-bar-mode
  • tab-line-mode
  • table (built-in table.el)
  • telega
  • telephone-line
  • terraform-mode
  • term
  • textsec
  • tomatinho
  • transient (pop-up windows such as Magit’s)
  • trashed
  • treemacs
  • tty-menu
  • tuareg
  • typescript
  • undo-tree
  • vc (vc-dir.el, vc-hooks.el)
  • vc-annotate (the output of C-x v g)
  • vertico
  • vertico-quick
  • vimish-fold
  • visible-mark
  • visual-regexp
  • vterm
  • wcheck-mode
  • web-mode
  • wgrep
  • which-function-mode
  • which-key
  • whitespace-mode
  • window-divider-mode
  • winum
  • writegood-mode
  • woman
  • xah-elisp-mode
  • xref
  • xterm-color (and ansi-colors)
  • yaml-mode
  • yasnippet
  • ztree

Plus many other miscellaneous faces that are provided by the upstream GNU Emacs distribution.

7.2. Indirectly covered packages

These do not require any extra styles because they are configured to inherit from some basic faces or their dependencies which are directly supported by the themes.

  • ag
  • apt-sources-list
  • buffer-expose
  • bufler
  • counsel-notmuch
  • counsel-org-capture-string
  • define-word
  • disk-usage
  • dtache
  • easy-kill
  • edit-indirect
  • evil-owl
  • flyspell-correct
  • fortran-mode
  • git-walktree
  • goggles
  • highlight-defined
  • highlight-escape-sequences (hes-mode)
  • i3wm-config-mode
  • minibuffer-line
  • no-emoji
  • org-remark
  • parrot
  • perl-mode
  • php-mode
  • rjsx-mode
  • side-hustle
  • spell-fu
  • swift-mode
  • tab-bar-echo-area
  • tide
  • vdiff
  • vertico-indexed
  • vertico-mouse

8. Notes on individual packages

This section covers information that may be of interest to users of individual packages.

8.1. Note on avy hints

Hints can appear everywhere, in wildly varying contexts, hence, their appearance, by necessity, is a compromise. However, there are various options for making them stand out. First is dimming the surroundings:

(setq avy-background t)

Dimming works well when you find it difficult to spot hints, any hint. Second is limiting the number of faces used by hints:

(setq avy-lead-faces

Limiting the number of faces works well with longer hints when you find it difficult to identify individual hints, especially with hints touching each other. The first character of the hint will have an intense color, the remaining ones the same neutral color.

Third is preferring commands that produce fewer candidates. Fewer hints is less noise: avy-goto-char-timer is an excellent alternative to avy-goto-char.

8.2. Note on calendar.el weekday and weekend colors

By default, the M-x calendar interface differentiates weekdays from weekends by applying a gray color to the former and a faint red to the latter. The idea for this approach is that the weekend should serve as a subtle warning that no work is supposed to be done on that day, per the design of traditional calendars.

Users who prefer all days to look the same can configure the variable calendar-weekend-days to either use gray of weekdays or the faint red of weekends uniformly.

;; All are treated like weekdays (gray color)
(setq calendar-weekend-days nil)

;; All are treated like weekends (red-faint color)
(setq calendar-weekend-days (number-sequence 0 6))

;; The default marks the Saturday and Sunday as the weekend
(setq calendar-weekend-days '(0 6))

For changes to take effect, the Calendar buffer needs to be generated anew.

8.3. Note on underlines in compilation buffers

Various buffers that produce compilation results or run tests on code apply an underline to the file names they reference or to relevant messages. Users may consider this unnecessary or excessive.

To outright disable the effect, use this:

(setq compilation-message-face nil)

If some element of differentiation is still desired, a good option is to render the affected text using the italic face:

(setq compilation-message-face 'italic)

Configure bold and italic faces.

8.4. Note on inline Latex in Org buffers

Org can work with inline latex and related syntax. To actually fontify those constructs, set the variable org-highlight-latex-and-related to the desired list of values (per its doc string). For example:

(setq org-highlight-latex-and-related '(latex script))

Remember to use M-x org-mode-restart for changes to take effect.

8.5. Note on dimmer.el

The dimmer.el library by Neil Okamoto can be configured to automatically dim the colors of inactive Emacs windows. To guarantee consistent results with the Modus themes, we suggest some tweaks to the default styles, such as in this minimal setup:

(use-package dimmer
  (setq dimmer-fraction 0.3)
  (setq dimmer-adjustment-mode :foreground)
  (setq dimmer-use-colorspace :rgb)

  (dimmer-mode 1))

Of the above, we strongly recommend the RGB color space because it is the one that remains faithful to the hueness of the colors used by the themes. Whereas the default CIELAB space has a tendency to distort colors in addition to applying the dim effect, which can be somewhat disorienting.

The value of the dimmer-fraction has been selected empirically. Users might prefer to tweak it further (increasing it makes the dim effect more pronounced).

Changing the dimmer-adjustment-mode is a matter of preference. Though because the Modus themes use black and white as their base colors, any other value for that variable will turn the main background gray. This inadvertently leads to the opposite of the intended utility of this package: it draws too much attention to unfocused windows.

8.6. Note on display-fill-column-indicator-mode

While designing the style for display-fill-column-indicator-mode, we stayed close to the mode’s defaults: to apply a subtle foreground color to the fill-column-indicator face, which blends well with the rest of theme and is consistent with the role of that mode. This is to not upset the expectations of users.

Nevertheless, display-fill-column-indicator-mode has some known limitations pertaining to its choice of using typographic characters to draw its indicator. What should be a continuous vertical line might appear as a series of dashes in certain contexts or under specific conditions: a non-default value for line-spacing, scaled and/or variable-pitch headings have been observed to cause this effect.

Given that we cannot control such factors, it may be better for affected users to deviate from the default style of the fill-column-indicator face. Instead of setting a foreground color, one could use a background and have the foreground be indistinguishable from it. For example:

   `(fill-column-indicator ((,class :background ,bg-inactive
                                    :foreground ,bg-inactive)))))

Face specs at scale using the themes’ palette.

8.7. Note on highlight-parentheses.el

The highlight-parentheses package provides contextual coloration of surrounding parentheses, highlighting only those which are around the point. The package expects users to customize the applicable colors on their own by configuring certain variables.

To make the Modus themes work as expected with this, we need to use some of the techniques that are discussed at length in the various “Do-It-Yourself” (DIY) sections, which provide insight into the more advanced customization options of the themes.

Advanced customization.

In the following example, we are assuming that the user wants to (i) re-use color variables provided by the themes, (ii) be able to retain their tweaks while switching between modus-operandi and modus-vivendi, and (iii) have the option to highlight either the foreground of the parentheses or the background as well.

We start by defining our own variable, which will serve as a toggle between foreground and background coloration styles:

(defvar my-highlight-parentheses-use-background t
  "Prefer `highlight-parentheses-background-colors'.")

Then we can update our preference with this:

;; Set to nil to disable backgrounds.
(setq my-highlight-parentheses-use-background nil)

To re-use colors from the themes, we must wrap our code in the modus-themes-with-colors macro. Our implementation must interface with the variables highlight-parentheses-background-colors and/or highlight-parentheses-colors.

So we can have something like this (the doc string of modus-themes-with-colors explains where the names of the colors can be found):

    ;; Our preference for setting either background or foreground
    ;; styles, depending on `my-highlight-parentheses-use-background'.
    (if my-highlight-parentheses-use-background

        ;; Here we set color combinations that involve both a background
        ;; and a foreground value.
        (setq highlight-parentheses-background-colors (list cyan-refine-bg
              highlight-parentheses-colors (list cyan-refine-fg

      ;; And here we pass only foreground colors while disabling any
      ;; backgrounds.
      (setq highlight-parentheses-colors (list green-intense
            highlight-parentheses-background-colors nil)))

;; Include this if you also want to make the parentheses bold:
(set-face-attribute 'highlight-parentheses-highlight nil :inherit 'bold)

;; Our changes must be evaluated before enabling the relevant mode, so
;; this comes last.
(global-highlight-parentheses-mode 1)

For our changes to persist while switching between the Modus themes, we need to include them in a function which can then get passed to modus-themes-after-load-theme-hook. This is the complete implementation:

;; Configurations for `highlight-parentheses':
(require 'highlight-parentheses)

(defvar my-highlight-parentheses-use-background t
  "Prefer `highlight-parentheses-background-colors'.")

(setq my-highlight-parentheses-use-background nil) ; Set to nil to disable backgrounds

(defun my-modus-themes-highlight-parentheses ()
    ;; Our preference for setting either background or foreground
    ;; styles, depending on `my-highlight-parentheses-use-background'.
    (if my-highlight-parentheses-use-background

        ;; Here we set color combinations that involve both a background
        ;; and a foreground value.
        (setq highlight-parentheses-background-colors (list cyan-refine-bg
              highlight-parentheses-colors (list cyan-refine-fg

      ;; And here we pass only foreground colors while disabling any
      ;; backgrounds.
      (setq highlight-parentheses-colors (list green-intense
            highlight-parentheses-background-colors nil)))

  ;; Include this if you also want to make the parentheses bold:
  (set-face-attribute 'highlight-parentheses-highlight nil :inherit 'bold)

  ;; Our changes must be evaluated before enabling the relevant mode, so
  ;; this comes last.
  (global-highlight-parentheses-mode 1))

(add-hook 'modus-themes-after-load-theme-hook #'my-modus-themes-highlight-parentheses)

8.8. Note on mmm-mode.el background colors

The faces used by mmm-mode.el are expected to have a colorful background, while they should not touch any foreground value. The idea is that they must not interfere with existing fontification. Those background colors need to be distinct from each other, such as an unambiguous red juxtaposed with a clear blue.

While this design may be internally consistent with the raison d’être of that library, it inevitably produces inaccessible color combinations.

There are two competing goals at play:

  1. Legibility of the text, understood as the contrast ratio between the background and the foreground.
  2. Semantic precision of each face which entails faithfulness to color-coding of the underlying background.

As the Modus themes are designed with the express purpose of conforming with the first point, we have to forgo the apparent color-coding of the background elements. Instead we use subtle colors that do not undermine the legibility of the affected text while they still offer a sense of added context.

Users who might prefer to fall below the minimum 7:1 contrast ratio in relative luminance (the accessibility target we conform with), can opt to configure the relevant faces on their own.

Face specs at scale using the themes’ palette.

This example uses more vivid background colors, though it comes at the very high cost of degraded legibility.

   `(mmm-cleanup-submode-face ((,class :background ,yellow-refine-bg)))
   `(mmm-code-submode-face ((,class :background ,bg-active)))
   `(mmm-comment-submode-face ((,class :background ,blue-refine-bg)))
   `(mmm-declaration-submode-face ((,class :background ,cyan-refine-bg)))
   `(mmm-default-submode-face ((,class :background ,bg-alt)))
   `(mmm-init-submode-face ((,class :background ,magenta-refine-bg)))
   `(mmm-output-submode-face ((,class :background ,red-refine-bg)))
   `(mmm-special-submode-face ((,class :background ,green-refine-bg)))))

8.9. Note on prism.el

This package by Adam Porter, aka “alphapapa” or “github-alphapapa”, implements an alternative to the typical coloration of code. Instead of highlighting the syntactic constructs, it applies color to different levels of depth in the code structure.

As prism.el offers a broad range of customisations, we cannot style it directly at the theme level: that would run contrary to the spirit of the package. Instead, we may offer preset color schemes. Those should offer a starting point for users to adapt to their needs.

In the following code snippets, we employ the modus-themes-with-colors macro: Face specs at scale using the themes’ palette.

These are the minimum recommended settings with 16 colors:

(setq prism-num-faces 16)

  :desaturations '(0) ; do not change---may lower the contrast ratio
  :lightens '(0)      ; same
  :colors (modus-themes-with-colors
            (list fg-main

With 8 colors:

(setq prism-num-faces 8)

  :desaturations '(0) ; do not change---may lower the contrast ratio
  :lightens '(0)      ; same
  :colors (modus-themes-with-colors
            (list blue

And this is with 4 colors, which produces results that are the closest to the themes’ default aesthetic:

(setq prism-num-faces 4)

  :desaturations '(0) ; do not change---may lower the contrast ratio
  :lightens '(0)      ; same
  :colors (modus-themes-with-colors
            (list blue

If you need to apply desaturation and lightening, you can use what the prism.el documentation recommends, like this (adapting to the examples with the 4, 8, 16 colors):

  :desaturations (cl-loop for i from 0 below 16 collect (* i 2.5))
  :lightens (cl-loop for i from 0 below 16 collect (* i 2.5))
  :colors (modus-themes-with-colors
            (list fg-main

8.10. Note on god-mode.el

The god-mode library does not provide faces that could be configured by the Modus themes. Users who would like to get some visual feedback on the status of M-x god-mode are instead encouraged by upstream to set up their own configurations, such as by changing the mode-line face (Advanced customization). This is an adaptation of the approach followed in the upstream README:

(defun my-god-mode-update-mode-line ()
  "Make `mode-line' blue if God local mode is active."
    (if god-local-mode
        (set-face-attribute 'mode-line nil
                            :foreground blue-active
                            :background bg-active-accent
                            :box blue)
      (set-face-attribute 'mode-line nil
                          :foreground fg-active
                          :background bg-active
                          :box fg-alt))))

(add-hook 'post-command-hook 'my-god-mode-update-mode-line)

We employ the modus-themes-with-colors which provides access to color variables defined by the active theme. Its use is covered elsewhere in this manual (Face specs at scale using the themes’ palette). As for the attributes that can be passed to each face, start by consulting the documentation string of set-face-attribute.

8.11. Note on company-mode overlay pop-up

By default, the company-mode pop-up that lists completion candidates is drawn using an overlay. This creates alignment issues every time it is placed above a piece of text that has a different height than the default.

The solution recommended by the project’s maintainer is to use an alternative front-end for drawing the pop-up which draws child frames instead of overlays.2, 3

8.12. Note on ERC escaped color sequences

The built-in IRC client erc has the ability to colorise any text using escape sequences that start with ^C (inserted with C-q C-c) and are followed by a number for the foreground and background.4 Possible numbers are 0-15, with the first entry being the foreground and the second the background, separated by a comma. Like this ^C1,6. The minimum setup is this:

(add-to-list 'erc-modules 'irccontrols)
(setq erc-interpret-controls-p t
      erc-interpret-mirc-color t)

As this allows users the chance to make arbitrary combinations, it is impossible to guarantee a consistently high contrast ratio. All we can we do is provide guidance on the combinations that satisfy the accessibility standard of the themes:

Modus Operandi
Use foreground color 1 for all backgrounds from 2-15. Like so: C-q C-c1 where N is the background.
Modus Vivendi
Use foreground color 0 for all backgrounds from 2-13. Use foreground 1 for backgrounds 14, 15.

Colors 0 and 1 are white and black respectively. So combine them together, if you must.

8.13. Note on powerline or spaceline

Both Powerline and Spaceline package users will likely need to use the command powerline-reset whenever they make changes to their themes and/or mode line setup.

8.14. Note on SHR colors

Emacs’ HTML rendering library (shr.el) may need explicit configuration to respect the theme’s colors instead of whatever specifications the webpage provides.

Consult C-h v shr-use-colors.

8.15. Note on EWW and Elfeed fonts

EWW and Elfeed rely on the Simple HTML Renderer to display their content. The shr.el library contains the variable shr-use-fonts that controls whether the text in the buffer is set to a variable-pitch typeface (proportionately spaced) or if just retains whatever the default font family is. Its default value is non-nil, which means that variable-pitch is applied.

Font configurations for Org and others.

8.16. Note on Helm grep

There is one face from the Helm package that is meant to highlight the matches of a grep or grep-like command (ag or ripgrep). It is helm-grep-match. However, this face can only apply when the user does not pass --color=always as a command-line option for their command.

Here is the docstring for that face, which is defined in the helm-grep.el library (you can always visit the source code with M-x find-library).

Face used to highlight grep matches. Have no effect when grep backend use “–color=”

The user must either remove --color from the flags passed to the grep function, or explicitly use --color=never (or equivalent). Helm provides user-facing customization options for controlling the grep function’s parameters, such as helm-grep-default-command and helm-grep-git-grep-command.

When --color=always is in effect, the grep output will use red text in bold letter forms to present the matching part in the list of candidates. That style still meets the contrast ratio target of >= 7:1 (accessibility standard WCAG AAA), because it draws the reference to ANSI color number 1 (red) from the already-supported array of ansi-color-names-vector.

8.17. Note on vc-annotate-background-mode

Due to the unique way vc-annotate (C-x v g) applies colors, support for its background mode (vc-annotate-background-mode) is disabled at the theme level.

Normally, such a drastic measure should not belong in a theme: assuming the user’s preferences is bad practice. However, it has been deemed necessary in the interest of preserving color contrast accessibility while still supporting a useful built-in tool.

If there actually is a way to avoid such a course of action, without prejudice to the accessibility standard of this project, then please report as much or send patches (Contributing).

8.18. Note on pdf-tools link hints

Hints are drawn by ImageMagick, not Emacs, i.e., ImageMagick doesn’t know about the hint face unless you tell ImageMagick about it. By default, only the foreground and background color attributes are passed. The below snippet adds to those the various font attributes. As it queries various faces, specifically pdf-links-read-link and the faces it inherits, it needs to be added to your initialization file after you’ve customized any faces.

(use-package pdf-links
  (let ((spec
         (apply #'append
                 (lambda (name)
                   (list name
                         (face-attribute 'pdf-links-read-link
                                         name nil 'default)))
                 '(:family :width :weight :slant)))))
    (setq pdf-links-read-link-convert-commands
          `("-density"    "96"
            "-family"     ,(plist-get spec :family)
            "-stretch"    ,(let* ((width (plist-get spec :width))
                                  (name (symbol-name width)))
                             (replace-regexp-in-string "-" ""
                                                       (capitalize name)))
            "-weight"     ,(pcase (plist-get spec :weight)
                             ('ultra-light "Thin")
                             ('extra-light "ExtraLight")
                             ('light       "Light")
                             ('semi-bold   "SemiBold")
                             ('bold        "Bold")
                             ('extra-bold  "ExtraBold")
                             ('ultra-bold  "Black")
                             (_weight      "Normal"))
            "-style"      ,(pcase (plist-get spec :slant)
                             ('italic  "Italic")
                             ('oblique "Oblique")
                             (_slant   "Normal"))
            "-pointsize"  "%P"
            "-undercolor" "%f"
            "-fill"       "%b"
            "-draw"       "text %X,%Y '%c'"))))

9. Frequently Asked Questions

In this section we provide answers related to some aspects of the Modus themes’ design and application.

9.1. Is the contrast ratio about adjacent colors?

The minimum contrast ratio in relative luminance that the themes conform with always refers to any given combination of background and foreground colors. If we have some blue colored text next to a magenta one, both against a white background, we do not mean to imply that blue:magenta is 7:1 in terms of relative luminance. Rather, we state that blue:white and magenta:white each are 7:1 or higher.

The point of reference is always the background. Because colors have about the same minimum distance in luminance from their backdrop, they necessarily are fairly close to each other in this measure. A possible blue:magenta combination would naturally be around 1:1 in contrast of the sort here considered.

To differentiate between sequential colors, we rely on hueness by mapping contrasting hues to adjacent constructs, while avoiding exaggerations. A blue next to a magenta can be told apart regardless of their respective contrast ratio against their common background. Exceptions would be tiny characters in arguably not so realistic cases, such as two dots drawn side-by-side which for some reason would need to be colored differently. They would still be legible though, which is the primary objective of the Modus themes.

9.2. What does it mean to avoid exaggerations?

The Modus themes are designed with restraint, so that their default looks do not overdo it with the application of color.

Customization Options.

This is the non-quantifiable aspect of the themes’ design: the artistic part, if you will. There are a lot of cases where color can be used inconsiderately, without accounting for layout, typographic, or other properties of the presentation. For example, two headings with distinct markers, such as leading asterisks in Org buffers, do not have to have highly contrasting hues between them in order to be told apart: the added element of contrast in hueness does not contribute significantly more to the distinction between the headings than colors whose hues are relatively closer to each other in the color space.

Exaggerations can be hard to anticipate or identify. Multiple shades of blue and magenta in the same context may not seem optimal: one might think that it would be better to use highly contrasting hues to ensure that all colors stand out, such as by placing blue next to yellow, next to magenta, and green. That would, however, be a case of design for its own sake; a case where color is being applied without consideration of its end results in the given context. Too many contrasting hues in close proximity force an erratic rate to how the eye jumps from one piece of text to the next. Whereas multiple shades of, say, blue and magenta can suffice to tell things apart and avoid excess coloration: a harmonious rhythm.

9.3. Why are colors mostly variants of blue, magenta, cyan?

Due to the innate properties of color, some options are better than others for the accessibility purposes of the themes, the stylistic consistency between modus-operandi and modus-vivendi, and the avoidance of exaggerations in design.

What does it mean to avoid exaggerations?

What we describe as color is a function of three distinct channels of light: red, green, blue. In hexadecimal RGB notation, a color value is read as three pairs of red, green, and blue light: #RRGGBB. Of those three, the most luminant is green, while the least luminant is blue.

The three basic colors represent each of the channels of light. They can be intermixed to give us six colors: red and green derive yellow, green and blue make cyan, red and blue turn into magenta.

We can test the luminance of each of those against white and black to get a sense of how not all colors are equally good for accessibility (white is #ffffff, which means that all three light channels are fully luminated, while black is #000000 meaning that no light is present (notwithstanding display technology)).

| Name    |         | #ffffff | #000000 |
| red     | #ff0000 |    4.00 |    5.25 |
| yellow  | #ffff00 |    1.07 |   19.56 |
| green   | #00ff00 |    1.37 |   15.30 |
| cyan    | #00ffff |    1.25 |   16.75 |
| blue    | #0000ff |    8.59 |    2.44 |
| magenta | #ff00ff |    3.14 |    6.70 |

Measure color contrast.

By reading this table we learn that every color that has a high level of green light (green, yellow, cyan) is virtually unreadable against a white background and, conversely, can be easily read against black.

We can then infer that red and blue, in different combinations, with green acting as calibrator for luminance, will give us fairly moderate colors that pass the 7:1 target. Blue with a bit of green produce appropriate variants of cyan. Similarly, blue combined with some red and hints of green give us suitable shades of purple.

Due to the need of maintaining some difference in hueness between adjacent colors, it is not possible to make red, green, and yellow the primary colors, because blue could not be used to control their luminance and, thus the relevant space would shrink considerably.

Is the contrast ratio about adjacent colors?

This phenomenon is best illustrated by the following table that measures the relative luminance of shades of red, yellow, magenta against white:

|         | #ffffff |
| #990000 |    8.92 |
| #995500 |    5.75 |
| #990099 |    7.46 |

We notice that equal values of red and blue light in #990099 (magenta shade) do not lead to a considerable change in luminance compared with #990000 (red variant). Whereas less amount of green light in #995500 leads to a major drop in luminance relative to white. It follows that using the green channel of light to calibrate the luminance of colors is more effective than trying to do the same with either red or blue (the latter is the least effective in that regard).

When we need to work with several colors, it is always better to have sufficient manoeuvring space, especially since we cannot pick arbitrary colors but only those that satisfy the accessibility objectives of the themes.

As for why we do not mostly use green, yellow, cyan for the dark theme, it is because those colors are far more luminant than their counterparts on the other side of the spectrum, so to ensure that they all have about the same contrast ratios we would have to alter their hueness considerably. In short, the effect would not be optimal as it would lead to exaggerations. Plus, it would make modus-vivendi look completely different than modus-operandi, to the effect that the two could not be properly considered part of the same project.

9.4. What is the best setup for legibility?

The Modus themes can be conceptually simplified as combinations of color values that account for relative luminance and inner harmony. Those qualities do not guarantee that every end-user will have the same experience, due to differences between people, but also because of variances in hardware capabilities and configurations. For the purposes of this document, we may only provide suggestions pertaining to the latter case.

modus-operandi is best used outdoors or in a room that either gets direct sunlight or has plenty of light. Whereas modus-vivendi works better when there is not a lot of sunshine or the room has a source of light that is preferably a faint and/or warm one. It is possible to use modus-operandi at night and modus-vivendi during the day, though that will depend on several variables, such as one’s overall perception of color, the paint on the walls and how that contributes to the impression of lightness in the room, the sense of space within the eye’s peripheral vision, hardware specifications, and environmental factors.

In general, an additional source of light other than that of the monitor can help reduce eye strain: the eyes are more relaxed when they do not have to focus on one point to gather light.

The monitor’s display settings must be accounted for. Gamma values, in particular, need to be calibrated to neither amplify nor distort the perception of black. Same principle for sharpness, brightness, and contrast as determined by the hardware, which all have an effect on how text is read on the screen.

There are software level methods on offer, such as the XrandR utility for the X Window System (, which can make gamma corrections for each of the three channels of light (red, green, blue). For example:

xrandr --output LVDS1 --brightness 1.0 --gamma 0.76:0.75:0.68

Typography is another variable. Some font families are blurry at small point sizes. Others may have a regular weight that is lighter (thiner) than that of their peers which may, under certain circumstances, cause a halo effect around each glyph.

The gist is that legibility cannot be fully solved at the theme level. The color combinations may have been optimized for accessibility, though the remaining contributing factors in each case need to be considered in full.

9.5. Are these color schemes?

No, the Modus themes are not color schemes.

A color scheme is a collection of colors. A good color scheme is a combination of colors with an inner logic or abstract structure.

A theme is a set of patterns that are applied across different contexts. A good theme is one that does so with consistency, though not uniformity.

In practical terms, a color scheme is what one uses when, for example, they edit the first sixteen escape sequences of a terminal emulator to the hues of their preference. The terminal offers the option to choose, say, the exact value of what counts as “red”, but does not provide the means to control where that is mapped to and whether it should also have other qualities such as a bold weight for the underlying text or an added background color. In contradistinction, Emacs uses constructs known as “faces” which allow the user/developer to specify where a given color will be used and whether it should be accompanied by other typographic or stylistic attributes.

By configuring the multitude of faces on offer we thus control both which colors are applied and how they appear in their context. When a package wants to render each instance of “foo” with the “bar” face, it is not requesting a specific color, which makes things considerably more flexible as we can treat “bar” in its own right without necessarily having to use some color value that we hardcoded somewhere.

Which brings us to the distinction between consistency and uniformity where our goal is always the former: we want things to look similar across all interfaces, but we must never force a visual identity where that runs contrary to the functionality of the given interface. For instance, all links are underlined by default yet there are cases such as when viewing listings of emails in Gnus (and Mu4e, Notmuch) where (i) it is already understood that one must follow the indicator or headline to view its contents and (ii) underlining everything would make the interface virtually unusable.

Option for links.

Again, one must exercise judgement in order to avoid discrimination, where “discrimination” refers to:

  • The treatment of substantially different magnitudes as if they were of the same class.
  • Or the treatment of the same class of magnitudes as if they were of a different class.

(To treat similar things differently; to treat dissimilar things alike.)

If, in other words, one were to enforce uniformity without accounting for the particular requirements of each case—the contextual demands for usability beyond matters of color—they would be making a not-so-obvious error of treating different cases as if they were the same.

The Modus themes prioritise “thematic consistency” over abstract harmony or regularity among their applicable colors. In concrete terms, we do not claim that, say, our yellows are the best complements for our blues because we generally avoid using complementary colors side-by-side, so it is wrong to optimise for a decontextualised blue+yellow combination. Not to imply that our colors do not work well together because they do, just to clarify that consistency of context is what themes must strive for, and that requires widening the scope of the design beyond the particularities of a color scheme.

Long story short: color schemes and themes have different requirements. Please do not conflate the two.

9.6. Port the Modus themes to other platforms?

There is no plan to port the themes to other platforms or text editors. I (Protesilaos) only use GNU Emacs and thus cannot maintain code that targets software I am either not familiar with or am not using on a daily basis.

While it is possible to produce a simulacrum based on a given template, doing so would run contrary to how this project is maintained where details matter greatly.

Each program has its own requirements so it won’t always be possible—or indeed desirable—to have 1:1 correspondence between what applies to Emacs and what should be done elsewhere. No port should ever strive to be a faithful copy of the Emacs implementation, as no other program is an Emacs equivalent, but instead try to follow the spirit of the design. For example, some of the customization options accept a list as their value, or an alist, which may not be possible to reproduce on other platforms.

Customization options.

In other words, if something must be done differently on a certain editor then that is acceptable so long as (i) the accessibility standards are not compromised and (ii) the overall character of the themes remains consistent.

The former criterion should be crystal clear as it pertains to the scientific foundations of the themes: high legibility and taking care of the needs of users with red-green colour deficiency (deuteranopia) by avoiding red+green colour coding paradigms and/or by providing red+blue variants.

The latter criterion is the “je ne sais quoi” of the artistic aspect of the themes, which is partially fleshed out in this manual.

Frequently Asked Questions.

With regard to the artistic aspect (where “art” qua skill may amount to an imprecise science), there is no hard-and-fast rule in effect as it requires one to exercise discretion and make decisions based on context-dependent information or constraints. As is true with most things in life, when in doubt, do not cling on to the letter of the law but try to understand its spirit.

For a trivial example: the curly underline that Emacs draws for spelling errors is thinner than, e.g., what a graphical web browser has, so if I was to design for an editor than has a thicker curly underline I would make the applicable colours less intense to counterbalance the typographic intensity of the added thickness.

With those granted, if anyone is willing to develop a port of the themes, they are welcome to contact me and I will do my best to help them in their efforts.

10. Contributing

This section documents the canonical sources of the themes and the ways in which you can contribute to their ongoing development.

10.1. Sources of the themes

The modus-operandi and modus-vivendi themes are built into Emacs 28.

The source code of the themes is available on Gitlab, for the time being. A mirror on Github is also on offer.

An HTML version of this manual is provided as an extension of the author’s personal website (does not rely on any non-free code).

10.2. Issues you can help with

A few tasks you can help with:

  • Suggest refinements to packages that are covered.
  • Report packages not covered thus far.
  • Report bugs, inconsistencies, shortcomings.
  • Help expand the documentation of covered-but-not-styled packages.
  • Suggest refinements to the color palette.
  • Help expand this document or any other piece of documentation.
  • Merge requests for code refinements.

Patches require copyright assignment to the FSF.

It is preferable that your feedback includes some screenshots, GIFs, or short videos, as well as further instructions to reproduce a given setup. Though this is not a requirement.

Whatever you do, bear in mind the overarching objective of the Modus themes: to keep a contrast ratio that is greater or equal to 7:1 between background and foreground colors. If a compromise is ever necessary between aesthetics and accessibility, it shall always be made in the interest of the latter.

10.3. Patches require copyright assignment to the FSF

Code contributions are most welcome. For any major edit (more than 15 lines, or so, in aggregate per person), you need to make a copyright assignment to the Free Software Foundation. This is necessary because the themes are part of the upstream Emacs distribution: the FSF must at all times be in a position to enforce the GNU General Public License.

Copyright assignment is a simple process. Check the request form below (please adapt it accordingly). You must write an email to the address mentioned in the form and then wait for the FSF to send you a legal agreement. Sign the document and file it back to them. This could all happen via email and take about a week. You are encouraged to go through this process. You only need to do it once. It will allow you to make contributions to Emacs in general.

Please email the following information to, and we
will send you the assignment form for your past and future changes.

Please use your full legal name (in ASCII characters) as the subject
line of the message.

[What is the name of the program or package you're contributing to?]

GNU Emacs

[Did you copy any files or text written by someone else in these changes?
Even if that material is free software, we need to know about it.]

Copied a few snippets from the same files I edited.  Their author,
Protesilaos Stavrou, has already assigned copyright to the Free Software

[Do you have an employer who might have a basis to claim to own
your changes?  Do you attend a school which might make such a claim?]

[For the copyright registration, what country are you a citizen of?]

[What year were you born?]

[Please write your email address here.]

[Please write your postal address here.]

[Which files have you changed so far, and which new files have you written
so far?]

11. Acknowledgements

The Modus themes are a collective effort. Every bit of work matters.

Protesilaos Stavrou.
Contributions to code or documentation
Alex Griffin, Anders Johansson, Basil L. Contovounesios, Björn Lindström, Carlo Zancanaro, Christian Tietze, Daniel Mendler, Eli Zaretskii, Fritz Grabo, Illia Ostapyshyn, Kévin Le Gouguec, Kostadin Ninev, Madhavan Krishnan, Markus Beppler, Matthew Stevenson, Mauro Aranda, Nicolas De Jaeghere, Philip Kaludercic, Rudolf Adamkovič, Stephen Gildea, Shreyas Ragavan, Stefan Kangas, Vincent Murphy, Xinglu Chen.
Ideas and user feedback
Aaron Jensen, Adam Porter, Adam Spiers, Adrian Manea, Alex Griffin, Alex Peitsinis, Alexey Shmalko, Alok Singh, Anders Johansson, André Alexandre Gomes, Arif Rezai, Basil L. Contovounesios, Burgess Chang, Christian Tietze, Christopher Dimech, Damien Cassou, Daniel Mendler, Dario Gjorgjevski, David Edmondson, Davor Rotim, Divan Santana, Eliraz Kedmi, Emanuele Michele Alberto Monterosso, Farasha Euker, Feng Shu, Gautier Ponsinet, Gerry Agbobada, Gianluca Recchia, Guilherme Semente, Gustavo Barros, Hörmetjan Yiltiz, Ilja Kocken, Iris Garcia, Jeremy Friesen, Jerry Zhang, Johannes Grødem, John Haman, Joshua O’Connor, Kevin Fleming, Kévin Le Gouguec, Kostadin Ninev, Len Trigg, Manuel Uberti, Mark Burton, Markus Beppler, Mauro Aranda, Michael Goldenberg, Morgan Smith, Murilo Pereira, Nicky van Foreest, Nicolas De Jaeghere, Paul Poloskov, Pengji Zhang, Pete Kazmier, Peter Wu, Philip Kaludercic, Pierre Téchoueyres, Roman Rudakov, Ryan Phillips, Rudolf Adamkovič, Sam Kleinman, Shreyas Ragavan, Simon Pugnet, Tassilo Horn, Thibaut Verron, Thomas Heartman, Trey Merkley, Togan Muftuoglu, Toon Claes, Uri Sharf, Utkarsh Singh, Vincent Foley. As well as users: Ben, CsBigDataHub1, Emacs Contrib, Eugene, Fourchaux, Fredrik, Moesasji, Nick, TheBlob42, Trey, bepolymathe, bit9tream, doolio, fleimgruber, iSeeU, jixiuf, okamsn, pRot0ta1p.
Basil L. Contovounesios, Eli Zaretskii, Glenn Morris, Mauro Aranda, Richard Stallman, Stefan Kangas (core Emacs), Stefan Monnier (GNU Elpa), André Alexandre Gomes, Dimakakos Dimos, Morgan Smith, Nicolas Goaziou (Guix), Dhavan Vaidya (Debian).
Inspiration for certain features
Bozhidar Batsov (zenburn-theme), Fabrice Niessen (leuven-theme).

Special thanks (from A-Z) to Gustavo Barros, Manuel Uberti, Nicolas De Jaeghere, and Omar Antolín Camarena for their long time contributions and insightful commentary on key aspects of the themes’ design and/or aspects of their functionality.

12. Meta

If you are curious about the principles that govern the development of this project read the essay On the design of the Modus themes (2020-03-17).

Here are some more publications for those interested in the kind of work that goes into this project (sometimes the commits also include details of this sort):

And here are the canonical sources of this project’s documentation:

Change Log

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:height values do not need to be rounded to multiples of ten: the likes of 115 are perfectly valid—some typefaces will change to account for those finer increments.


This page explains the basics, though it is not specific to Emacs: