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Customize Visual Studio’s Colours – easy when you know how

How to banish the blues
Thursday 24 November 2011.

Visual Studio is one of those rare pieces of software for which I have considerable affection. This is just as well since it’s one of the two pieces of software that I use every day. The other is Microsoft Word. ‘Affection’ is not a word that springs to mind in relation to MS Word. ‘Irritation’ is more to the point. I particularly dislike the bloody awkward, space-hogging ribbon-bar which very effectively hides away all the functions that used to be instantly accessible on menus.

At least Visual Studio still has menus. I dread, I quake with fear, at the thought that one day Microsoft might replace them with a ribbon. No, that would just be too horrible!

Anyway, suffice to say that in my view, Visual Studio is head and shoulders above any other IDE for programmers. If you’ve had the misfortune to use Eclipse or XCode you will surely know what I mean. There are just two things I don’t like. 1) Visual Studio 2010 has introduced auto-undocking windows. Nothing wrong with that apart from the fact that every time I double-click a tabbed document in the editor, the damn’ thing undocks itself. Yes, I know I should avoid double-clicking the tabs, but I still do it often enough to find this behaviour annoying; and 2) the colour scheme! I don’t mean the colours in the code editor which are easy to change. I mean the nasty, yucky blue colour of the window boundaries. These colours are, unfortunately, fixed and cannot be changed by the end user. Or so I had thought…

Visual Studio 2010 is a great IDE with an unfortunate colour scheme

In a pause between coding sessions yesterday, I decided to hunt around to see if I could find any way to change the damn’ colours. To my delight, I found there is! Microsoft has a little-known add-in that will do the trick nicely. This is what you need to do to use it. First, in Visual Studio select Tools, Extension Manager. In the search box at the top-right of the dialog box, enter Visual Studio Color Theme Editor. You’ll need to click the Online Gallery tab on the left to search online. When I searched, it was about number 15 in the list. You can check it’s the right one by highlighting it. It will say that it’s created by Microsoft. Download and install it. Restart Visual Studio and you are ready to go.

When you restart Visual Studio you will have a Theme menu just to the right of View.

Use this to install predefined colour schemes or use the Customize Colors option to tinker with the colours one at a time. The only trouble with customizing the colours is that there are an awful lot of them! I still haven’t figured them all out yet.

This tool really should be supplied as a standard part of Visual Studio.

Not sure about this colour scheme but at least it’s not blue!

Now all I need is to find some way to stop the damn’ code windows undocking when I double-click a tab and my happiness will be complete…

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  • Customize Visual Studio’s Colours – easy when you know how
    24 November 2011, by Brad

    Huw- Is it possible to change the background color of the editor? Some people like dark grey backgrounds instead of just bright white all the time. Also have you experimented with fonts? I use Verdana and Georgia in Visual C++, its much better than the blah default Courier and it makes the code more compact so you can see more text on one line.

    I wonder if you can tell me if Embarcadero’s Delphi and C++ IDEs are still the same as what they were with Borland or if Embarcadero has changed it now. When ever you interview David I. you only ask about new features since you are already familiar with their IDEs. I know you dont like comparing IDEs, but do you think that the Embarcadero C++ IDE can hold up to what Visual C++ does in win32 programming?

    • Customize Visual Studio’s Colours – easy when you know how
      25 November 2011, by Huw Collingbourne

      Fonts can be changed one by one in Tools, Options, Environment, Fonts and Colors - that includes background colours and font family/style. You can also save and load entire colour schemes. Here’s a video which I recorded to show how to do this in Amethyst (my company’s Adobe Flash IDE for Visual Studio:


      On the Embarcadero IDE. It’s a pretty good one but no, it is not (in my opinion) in the same league as Visual Studio. Obviously, I am not entirely unbiased since we develop IDEs for Visual Studio. That said, before we got into this business we evaluated other IDE platforms before deciding on Visual Studio. It remains my opinion that Visual Studio is far and away the best.

      • Customize Visual Studio’s Colours – easy when you know how
        25 November 2011, by Huw Collingbourne

        I should add that I don’t do C++ programming these days so can’t make a direct comparison between the Embarcadero and VS IDEs for that language. I pretty much stick to C#, ActionScript and Ruby these days. In the past, (many years ago) I preferred the Borland (now Embarcadero) C++ as it was more visual that the MS version and gave access to the Delphi libraries. MS has made significant improvements since then, though, and I wouldn’t know exactly how they compare in their current releases.



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