LibreOffice Writer: Clutter Free Dark Mode

Tue, Jul 21, 2020
8 min read

LibreOffice Writer can use a dark theme — both for its UI and for the document itself:

LibreOffice Writer in dark mode, with panels displayed and two pages view

It can also look much less cluttered (see ‘Hide the clutter’, below).

The way it handles a dark theme is not the same wether you’re using Windows, macOS, or Linux.

Support is the worst for Windows and macOS where LibreOffice doesn’t seem to recognize either of their dark themes, which doesn’t make for a great experience. We’re forced to manually setup LO own’s “dark theme” which is more gray than dark and which I find quite mediocre, imo. Worse, under Windows or macOS, many panels simply won’t LO’s dark theme at all, they stay light. And every time I tested it on Windows or Linux, part of the toolbars remained light :/

But, teh great news is that things are much better under Linux, where LibreOffice should recognize your window manager’s dark theme and use it by default, almost everywhere — as far as I can tell, the only part of Writer that doesn’t switch to dark is the ‘Comments’ panel/thingy that will stay blindingly white.

Activating LibreOffice’s dark theme

It’s more of “grayish theme” than something dark, but that’s better than nothing when I must use LibreOffice under Windows or macOS — which is not often as I’d rather use MS Word, which has a great dark theme support (see ‘More info’, below).

To turn it on, go to Tools→Options→LibreOffice→Personnalization, check the Preinstalled Theme and select the gray theme.

Activate the Dark Theme

If you have trouble seeing your icons after activating this theme (dark icons over a gray background may not be that great), go to Tools→Options→LibreOffice→View and select another Icon Style — anything ‘dark’ should feel better.

One thing I could not get to use a dark theme at all, even under Linux, is the ‘Comments’ window/panel thingy that remains blindingly white.

Great! Writer now has a(n almost complete) dark UI. What about the document itself?

Make the document dark themed

If you’re wondering: using the following method should not impact your ability to print or share your documents with other people. As far as I can tell, it only changes the way you see the document not the document itself — since I never print, I have not tested it thoroughly, though. Here is a print preview in Writer of my test ‘dark’ document:

An Image

And the same test document opened in the lastest Word/MS Office 365 on macOS:

An Image

So, to make your document dark theme-friendly, go to Tools→Options→Application Colors. The bare minimum to change is:

  • Document background, aka the color of your page.
    If you use black or one of the darker gray, your text color should automaticaly switch to a lighter color. But you can use any color you fancy, you’ll just have to remember to also define a specific color for your text that will work well with whatever background color you want to use:

Bright colors

  • Font color. Automatic will make your text adapt to teh background color but only when using black and the darker grays. If you select any other background color you must manually change the font color.
  • Application background, aka Writer’s empty space around your document. I make it the same color as the document itself. So, as soon as I turn off text markers and the shadow around the page, Writer really starts to look like a text editor: clean and uncluttered.

Just don’t close this window yet, you may want to tweak two more settings.

Hide the clutter

I don’t like having my screen filled with buttons, menus, panels, I find them distracting. I just want to see them when I need them, or better yet: I’d rather not see them at all and use keyboard shortcuts instead. Also, since I don’t write for print (I write ebooks), I don’t care at all about ‘pages’ — margins and borders having no utility for me, I just need an infinite scroll of styled text.

What’s great is taht you can easily (un)hide all of that (even margins and page breaks) without actually getting rid of them. You hide them, that’s all. You can also use many keyboard shortcuts, and add you own if you need it. And so, Writer can look much cleaner and, imo, much better:

The same without all the clutter, just your text (and images)

Note that you can also hide the main toolbar; and Manjaro/Xfce’s taskbar. The only reason they are visible is to give an idea of how everything looks.

  • To remove the shadow/border around the page (and make it look like the second screenshot in this post): Tools→Options→LibreOffice→Personnalization and uncheck Shadow, somewhere in the list of colors (you can also define another color, btw).
  • To remove the text markers on each page, uncheck Text boundaries, below in this list.

You can now close this window. We won’t need it anymore.

  • To remove the empty top and bottom margins and the empty space between two pages (neat, when on a smaller screen, to be able to see more text), go to View→Hide Whitespace. Alas, the feature is bugged and you’ll need to reactivate it every time you (re)open a document, but at least it’s there.
  • To remove any toolbar, go to View→Toolbars. You will have to do it for each toolbar you want to remove.
  • To hide the rulers, go to View→Rulers. If you need them later, press Shift+Ctrl+r.

There are other ways to keep Writer less cluttered and make it look exactly like you want it to. Learning to use Styles is very useful, as it is to modify margins, to select another paper format: A5 is narrower than A4, and it is also much more suited if you intend to share your finished document as PDF that will be read on tablets, btw since it will give yoyu a better approximation of what the final PDF will look like on the reader’s screen.

Keyboard shortcuts

But the most efficient trick to reduce clutter is to learn Writer’s many keyboard shortcuts, or to create your own when there is none for a specifc command you often use. Not only shortcuts let you kept hidden all the menus and panel but, no matter what you want to do, they are also much faster than using a mouse to click through menus and on buttons.

For example, unless you make constant changes in your custom Styles, you probably don’t need to see the Style drawer that often. Press F11 to toggle its visibility when you need to see it, press it again to send it back to oblivion.

Even better: since you can assign your own keyboard shortcuts to every single Style (and to almost any of Writer’s menus), you don’t even need to access the Style drawer to apply a Style (you only need it to modify a Style). To define a shorcut fo your Styles (and/or menus) go to Tools→Customize… — it’s a bit messy to configure them, but once it’s done you don’t have to do it anymore.

Here are some of the shortcuts I most frequently use:

  • Show/hide the Navigator, in order to list my headings and quickly go from one to another: F5 or Ctrl+F5.
  • Quickly apply any style: I defined custom shortcuts to the few I really need: Shift+Ctrl+N for “Default Text” (using the same shortcut as the Normal style, under Word that, after all theses years is ingrained in my fingers), Shift+Ctrl+A for heading 1, Shift+Ctrl+B for heading 2, and so on.
  • Show/hide the Style Panel, for the rare occasions when I need to use a Style without a direct shortcut: F11.
  • Center text, Ctrl+E.
  • Show/hide the Status bar, I use it for a single reason: to see the actual word count. Since I can’t customize it and remove all the other information it throws at me, I’d rather hide it the rest of the time. I assigned the F2 shortcut (why not F1? Because one can not reassign F1 (the integrated help).
  • Toggle full-screen view. If you don’t feel confident to remove all your toolbars and panels, this one is great since it will temporarily hide everything and (including your OS’s menu/taskbar) and let you write in full screen: Shift+Ctrl+J.
  • Switch to Web View: press Alt+V then press w. See next section for more info on Web view.
  • Switch to Normal (page) View: press Alt+v, then n.

Web view

Writer comes with two view modes: Normal and Web view (the first two entries in the View menu).

Normal View will display the document like any word processor would do: as one or more pages with margins, a fixed paper size, page breaks and everything that give you the illusion to see a sheet of paper on your screen — the WYSISWYG part of any word processor.

Web view, on the contrary, gets rid of the page and leaves you with only your text (and images), Styles and an infinite scroll of text, without borders or margins, without page breaks. Of course all of these still exists and are preserved, it is just a different way of displaying your content.

I find Web view mode very useful when I take notes while reading some PDF or doing research: I want my PDF as big as possible and make Writer as narrow as possible, since I don’t need that much space to take my notes but I want the PDF to be comfortable to read.

An Image

Don’t mind the colors: I have a very bad eyesight and I can’t read (or write) dark text on a light background. So, like my word processor, my PDF reader uses custom (inverted) colors too ;)

More info