A True Dark Mode for Microsoft Word

Some users consider dark mode a fad. Because of my deteriorating eyesight, I don’t have such a luxury: I can’t read dark text on bright/light colored background, be it on screen or on paper.

Before dark mode was a thing, I was using a high contrast accessibility theme—which is great but also way too radical for my specific needs. Dark mode has given me the best of both worlds: a more or less ‘normal’ looking setup, only with bigger fonts, less eye candy and, well, darker colors.

So, how does Microsoft Word deal with dark mode? Very well, as long as you do not limit yourself to what the majority of guides will suggest you do, that is to use Office 365 dark mode. There is more to it, as you will see.

Illustration: the left of the screen shows Word using its dark mode plus the Immersive Reader: the text is white on a black backround, with an image that is unchanged. There is no page break or margins, the document almost feels like a basic text editor save that it shows an image too. The other half of the screen shows the wallpaper: a night view of a desert scene with many stars.
Microsoft Word in all its dark glory, once fully configured.

But let’s start with the obvious: activating Office’s dark mode.

Activate dark mode in Office 365

  1. Open Word, go to File->Options.
  2. In the sidebar, click the General tab.
  3. Locate the Personalize your copy of Microsoft Office and set Office Theme to Black. You guessed it, this will apply to all Office 365 applications, not just Word.

Illustration of the setting window.

Let’s have a look at a test document in Word.

Same as the first screenshot but this time Word is using the tradional page view: white background and black text. Making the contrast with the dark menus very hard on the eyes.

As expected, the user interface is dark but the document itself, our page, remains blindingly white. Not really what we were hoping for.

Word offers two ways to go beyond that. Which one to use depends on what you want to do: keep using the traditional page display mode, or not.

Change colors using the Page Color

In the Ribbon, go to the Design tab and then click the Page Color button.

Illustration of the button.

Tip: use Word’s search field to quickly access any command or button: type what you’re looking for:

Illustration on how the search display its results in a list of icons + menu and command names.

Once you have opened the Page Color settings, pick a theme in the Theme Colors. You’ve just picked a background color for your entire document, and Word will automatically change its text, using a contrasting color.

Illustration of Word using its dark mode, still in page view but this time the page background is dark grey and the text is white.

“But, I don’t want my page to print in dark and my text in white!”

It won’t. This theme applies only to the screen rendering of your document. Word is clever enough to remember that in general paper is white and text should be printed in black.

Help! My text stays black!

Word with a dark background page but its text stuck in black, making it almost unreadable.

If your document was not created directly in Word or if you have defined a custom Normal style, it’s possible your text won’t update after changing the background color. Don’t panic.

Right-click anywhere on the black text, a little pop-up should appear. Click the “Styles” button to list most used styles in your document. Then, right-click the Normal Style button and choose “Modify…”

Illustration of teh pop window and its contextual menu.

A window opens—yeah I know, it’s not using dark mode… maybe in a next update?

This is where you modify your Styles. If you’re not familiar with Styles: every Word document uses a bunch of styles to define the look of everything on the page and on the screen. There are a lot of predefined styles that you can tweak, and you can create your own too. There are styles for headings, for foot-notes, for your paragraphs, for individual characters, and so on. Each style has many options—too much to list here. The one that we’re interesting in is the text color.

Illustration of the non-dark themed window to customize a style.

Next to the U button, the color drop-down list should be set to “Automatic”, yours is probably set to black, click the list and change it. That’s all.

Immersive Reader: turning Word into a text editor on steroids

Like all the other word processors I can think of, Word relies on the “page” metaphor—what you see on screen looks very much like what you will get once it’s printed on a sheet of paper. That is certainly useful when writing reports or stuff that will end up printed on paper, but it has nothing to do with what I write, or how I write.

I write and I read on a screen. I don’t need to turn pages or to see page borders. I scroll my text like I would in a web browser or any basic text editor. No margins, no page breaks, no headings or footers, nothing but my raw text. Except that I like to have some basic formatting too—I like being able to select the font I’m using, and a first-line indent is a must have for me, and so on. You know, personal preferences.

Word can give you both: the styling you need and the simplicity of raw text.

How? By using its Immersive Reader. Unlike what the name suggests it is not only a great reading mode, but it’s also a great editing mode. If you’re a long time Word user, think of the old Draft mode. Only much better and more polished.

This is the mode I use Word most of the time.

Go to the View tab and click the Immersive Reader button. If you don’t run the most recent Office 365 subscriber version, it may still be named Learning Tools but they share the same icon: an open book with a little loudspeaker on the right page—a loudspeaker because among other features to help students with disabilities, this mode includes a read aloud function.

Illustration of the Ribbon, with the button selected.

Once activated, the page view is hidden:  no borders or margin. you’re left with your content. One exdeption: drawing/inking won’t show up in Immerse reader, but images will be displayed, and all your styles too—a text editor on steroids.

Sample document using dark mode and Immersive Reader: white text on a black background without aby of the tradional page layout stuff. It feels almost like a text editor.

Tip: The first time you activate the Immersive Reader/Learning Tools, your text will probably look oddly formatted. That’s because this mode was developed to help users with disabilities, and some tools are activated by default. But you can turn them off and Word will remember it the next time.

In the Immersive Reader tab, click the Text Spacing and the Syllables buttons to turn them off:

Illustrations of these two buttons.

  1. Use the Page Color to select the black background. Very recently they added many other colors, but that doesn’t work as well as expected. I reported the bug and do not use it for the moment.
  2. Use the Column Width to set the width of your text on screen. It won’t change the way it is printed.
  3. You can zoom freely, from 10 to 500%. Zooming only changes the font on screen, not its actual size on page or printed.
  4. Another cool feature—even if I don’t use it—is the Line Focus that helps focus even more on the section of text you’re working on by diming all your document save 1, 3 or 5 lines around the active line:

Illustration of Line Focus: on line of text is in white, the rest of tjhe content, text and image, is dimmed down to a darkish grey.


The Immersive Reader is the mode I use all the time, no matter what I’m writing: a book, a blog post, a short story, research notes, and so on. It turns Word into a comfortable app that suits so well my—admittedly very specific—needs while letting me access most of Word more advanced features I also need (styles, macros, and so on).

Is Word the perfect solution? No, of course not. It’s still a huge beast that takes time and efforts to tame. Some windows and controls haven’t yet been updated to use dark mode, and a few insist on using fixed font size and therefor can’t be resized. And you’ll need to subscribe to Office 365 to access all the latest features. And so on.

But if you haven’t used Word in recent years it’s impressive to see how it has changed, and it’s so encouraging to see Microsoft constantly improving it accessibilty-wise and, I’m kidding you not, in user-friendliness.

For example, one thing I did not mention at all that I use as much as the Immersive Reader is the ability to entirely customize the Ribbon—what tabs to show, and what buttons, and in what order—and the ability to quickly show or hide it, turning it into the most useful type of menu ever created, imo. Maybe that could be something for another post? 😉

Edit: Here is a similar how-to for LibreOffice (it works bestunder Linux, but is useable too under Windows or macOS): LibreOffice Writer: Clutter Free Dark Mode .

52 thoughts on “A True Dark Mode for Microsoft Word”

  1. “Some users consider dark mode a fad.”

    What, do they think wheelchair ramps and handrails are a “fad”, too?

    1. This made me lol. I just had a long chat with the disability support at my university about how to dark mode everything on my PC. Don’t think there is any white left on it, and I can assure you that no change in fad will ever turn that back!!

  2. Merci David!

    You just helped me get my Word into true dark mode. White text on dark charcoal. Very cool. Been wanting to do this for years. Finally, after bringing a new MBP online (yeah, still a mac guy) searched the web and found your dark word elixir.

    Thanks, I’ll get back to writing now!

    Roberto, Mostly in California, sometimes in Lyon.

  3. Selected text are “highlighted” with a background color. I’ve not found a way to make this selection-background lighter on dark theme, what about you?

    1. When I use the ‘Page’ view with a custom background color (like explained) the highlight colour is a very dark grey, maybe even black. I don’t know how to chnge that. But when I use the Immersive Reader/assistive mode, the same highlight will be white. Does that help?

  4. Wonderful post and glad to see Something that M$ has done so seamlessly brought out into the public for anyone to use.

    Small point – your text fields on this website are still glaringly white, maybe a little css touch-up to turn them charcoal to ease all our eyes, too?

    1. Thx.

      your text fields on this website are still glaringly white, maybe a little css touch-up to turn them charcoal to ease all our eyes, too?

      I haven’t touched CSS & HTML in like ten years, so I feel a little bit out of touch. I can’t promise anything but I’ll check, tough. Thx for telling me.

      I’m using the ‘Dark Reader’ extension (Firefox, Chrome/Chromium (including my dear Vivaldi browser, which has had a great dark UI for years, btw), Edge, and Safari) to force all websites to use dark colors. It works really well on almost all websites. So, I don’t see that kind of issues: text fields are black or very dark gray for me.

      A view of the black Search text field

      And when it’s not working that great with some websites, the extension comes with a few one-click options to quickly tweak color renditions. here, using it in Edge on my ‘Apple’ blog. One can define rule for every single websites, suing different filters or simply shut off the extension. Oddly, the only permanent problematic pages I’m aware are Google, Firefox and Edge very own extensions stores. They want them to be white. No idea why.

      A true lifesaver and the very first extension I install on any browser 😉

      1. Hey David,

        I just wanted to offer a solution to this. It’s the cheap and dirty way, but it gets it done easy without having to fuss around much.

        input { background-color: #333!important; color:#b0b0b0!important; }

        You can alter the colors to come up with the combo that best suits you, but this will alter the colors for all your input fields on most major browsers.

  5. This was incredibly helpful. Thank you. After years of professionally editing onscreen in Word, my eyes are just done with my nonsense. I’ve been going cross-eyed for weeks now, and this is the best relief I’ve had.

  6. David, This has been a HUGE help. Writing my dissertation late at night has been killing my eyes. I look forward to the relief. In addition, do you have any similar insight to Excel? I’ve been able to change the Office theme, but the cells are still white. I was hoping to find something similar to be able to change the worksheet to black and type to white, but I haven’t been able to find anything really useful in my search. Sincerely, James

    1. When I use XL, I select all cells and change their background color to some dark grey and the text itself to white. But, unlike the reading mode in Word, that means the actual content itself has been changed and if you ever want to print it (which I don’t) you’ll need to revert the colors to their standard values 😉

  7. Thanks a bunch David. I’m working on 365 and following your steps it made the frame/margins of the page the color I choose, but most of the page where the text is still white background. Any tips for this?

  8. Ha, never mind. I had copied text from a website and it was copied with a background. I first pasted into notepad to eliminate its format and then copied it from notepad to word. Now all is great. Thanks a bunch David!

  9. Hi, great guide! I’m loving it! But is there a way to set the settings I choose as default for all Word documents I open? I have to work with dozen documents at once, and sometimes just for a minute or two. It would be a real hassle to change the setting each time over and over.

  10. HI So basically everytime we need to change manually the page background color right? there is no option to automaticlly change the page color to black right? tried many ways and every new page is started with this unwanted white color…

  11. yaron: I’m testing a workaround that imply some heavy tweakings in the way Word is booting, loading a default set of macros. It looks promising, but it’s far from being perfect and it’s a also a huge security risk. So, I would not recommand it.

    What you could more easily do is:

    • Change your default model/template (normal.dotm,) that word loads each time it starts, and set it to use a dark background. It’ snot perfect either is it will not always work as expected. Also if a document is hard-coded with to use black text, you’ll need to change it to automatic, no matter what.
    • Use the Reading Mode/Immersive reader view by default as this one one remembers your settings from one session to the next.

    @Paul, sorry for the delay: I just noticed your comment 🙁

    There is no bullet proof to change Word’s behavior but tweaking what is loaded at startup is helping. Alas, as i wrote, it’s also a security risk… something I’m not that willing to encourage users that may not all be experienced enough to knows what they’re doing.

    1. Thanks, this helped me find the reading mode which I last used many versions ago. It has definitely improved since then. Is it possible to mod you default templates, and thus force the page and font colours?

      1. It is, but it’s somewhat tricky to have it right. I would need to write a post to explain it.

        The simplest but limited way would require you to change the default.dotm template’s background-color that Word uses each time it opens. It is hidden somewhere in the %appdata% folder (I don’t have a win PC at hands so I can’t check exactly where, maybe Local/Microsoft/template but really I don’t remember) but it’s somewhat limited and, no idea why, it won’t always work as expected.

        A better way, but still not failproof, would be to create your own default template (to be loaded at application startup), but that requires much more tweakings in Word’s options.

  12. Thank you SO MUCH for this!! 🙂 My eyes really hurt if I use the normal mode at night, plus I am trying to reduce blue light exposure because of chronic sleep problems. Being able to set up a TRUE dark mode in Word has been a big problem for me until I found this, as it limited the hours I could use Word without real consequences. Thank you–very much appreciated!

  13. Just came by to say ‘many thanks’ for the Immersive Reader tips, was looking to see if I can start a writing project with a true ‘focus mode’ where I only have a few lines of text to input at a time, like other paid options (iA Writer was suggested but hey I already use Office 365).

    Great for getting that crucial first draft down, without the ability to look at what I’ve already done. Thanks again!

  14. Thanks man. This is just what I was looking for. Hopefully, one day, software developers will come to grips with the fact that they are coding for light-emitting displays, rather than blank paper pages. For now they still live in a fantasy where they are book authors. H. sapiens usually requires a couple centuries to wrap its head around a new technology.

  15. This is great. I had been looking for this all over the place only to be told that it didn’t exist yet.

    1. It does exist 😉

      And if anyone is wondering, it’s possible to create a a very similar experience using LibreOffice Writer too. See my edit at the end of the orginal post.

  16. Oh, wow. I NEVER would have thought to check out ‘immersive reader’ mode for content creation! Because, well, I’m creating and editing content–duh. But it’s just the thing! And unlike ‘regular’ mode with black page, selecting words/sentences for editing is easy to see. Thanks!

  17. Thank you so much David. When I changed the page color to black I had shivers; I am SO satisfied right now. I was stuck thinking that the Theme was all I could do. You’ve made my day. Again, thank you so much!

    1. The pleasure is mine 😉

      It’s odd to realize how poorly Microsoft communicates on such an useful feature (and how poorly they named it).

  18. Hello,

    Thank you! Trully usefull, my eyes thanks you.

    I’m writing movie scripts, and almost changed software because of dark page functionaly. Now, thanks to your article, I’m using my favourite writing software, dark mode fully on.


    1. I don’t use tables muchnot at all to be perfectly honest. And since I don’t have a Windows PC at hand right now, I can’t check but I’d look if there is an option to define a color for the borders and select Automated, like for standard text. If there were no such option, I’d use the color white (making a note to myself to remember turn them back to normal if was print the file).

  19. If you use One Drive, here’s a small hack for those who are a bit lazy: Install the Dark Reader plugin in [Firefox], place your word doc in your One Drive, switch to the dark side and use the “edit online” version of your word document. Not as good, but it’s super simple.

    1. Yep. And thank you for sharing this with us 🙂

      I’d add two caveats, though. They may or may not affect you depending what you’re using Word for:

      • The online version is much slower than the installed app. It is barely noticeable on standard and simple documents, but it will show on huge and/or complex ones. In that regard, I also noticed performences were a little bit better (don’t expect a drastical change, though) when using the new Edge (Crhomium-based, or another chromium-based browser: I use Vivaldi) for which the amazing Dark reader extension is also available 😉
      • The online version misses quite a lot of the ‘historical’ advanced features (I use quite a few VBA scripts to streamline my selfpublishing workflow, but there is no VBA support in the online app).

      Once again, that should not — or barely — impact many users but be aware of these limitations.

      Also, notice that the online version of Word (and Office) is free to use, with a free OneDrive account with its 5Gb storage: more than enough to give it a go 😉

  20. I just found this! So grateful that you shared this with everyone here. (Years ago, there used to be an “inverse mode” checkbox of some kind in Preferences > General, yielding a white-text-on-blue-background look. The “immersive reader” is a decent approximation, although I wish it could still be done in the familiar Page View.

    Great to find a Word super-user here!

    1. Great to find a Word super-user here!

      Not sure about the ‘super’ user here — there are so many features I’ve never used, the only ‘power’ feature I regularly use in Word must be VBA (I automate a lot of stuff in my publishing process, be it to push a blog post from Word to WordPress or to prepare a file for Amazon KDP) — but I”m a long-time user… longer than I’d like to admit: I started using Word on Mac back in the early 90s (Word 5.1) & later started using it on a PC (Word version 6.0, on a Windows 3.11 desktop). Since then, I’ve never really ceased to use it 😉

  21. I tried lots of things that I found on the Internet, including things suggested on this webpage, merci David. But, nothing was really satisfactory for me, until I came across the following post on the Microsoft Answers Forum:


    Read the answer given by Suzanne S. Barnhill about half way down page 1, where she talks about: pressing Alt+F11 to bring up the Visual Basic Editor in order to be able to edit Normal.dotm

    This method allows you to configure your page with a dark background and light text and save this as your default page for all new Word documents.

    It worked for me this evening. I hope it helps out some other people too. Thanks again David for hosting this webpage, and giving me a place to share my experience with others. And, of course, a big thank you to Suzanne for providing us with an answer that works!

    1. Thx for sharing. I did know that way of accessing it.

      Though, as I said answering another comment (and as it is hinted in Suzan’s tip?) there is a risk when using normal.dotm directly: Word can (and probably will, at one time or another), overwrite it without warning. Thus deleting all your tweaks and personnalizations.

      Imo, the safest (if cumbersome) solution is to load your own default tempalte next to ?ormal.dotm that you leave untouched. I have no Windows PC under hands for the time being, but as soon as I get one I’ll try to write a short blog post explaing how to do it. As I said, it”‘s somewhat cumbersome.

  22. Thanks! A lot of great takeaways here, but the most important for me was the reminder that Word is smart enough to NOT print a background color by default! After all, the best way to publish a document is as a PDF.

  23. I often work late, and since my computer is in our bedroom, I turn off all the lights to try not to disturb my wife who sleeps next to me.

    Except that the white of the Word pages destroys my eyes every time I’m working on it at night! I’ve been looking for this true dark mode features for weeks, and I can’t believe how easy it was. Thanks so much David for this tutorial!

    Fun fact: I’m working late tonight to prepare a pitch about my (french) startup, which is developing a product for the visually impaired… and I’m reading this tutorial that helps to protect my eyes, written by a french mate… visually impaired: how amazing is that?! 🤩🥂

    1. Fun fact: I’m working late tonight to prepare a pitch about my (french) startup, which is developing a product for the visually impaired… and I’m reading this tutorial that helps to protect my eyes, written by a french mate… visually impaired: how amazing is that?! 🤩🥂


      If you feel like it, you are more than welcome to tell us more about what you are doing.

      Except that the white of the Word pages destroys my eyes every time I’m working on it at night! I’ve been looking for this true dark mode features for weeks, and I can’t believe how easy it was. Thanks so much David for this tutorial!!

      One sometimes wonder wy Microsoft seems to have such a hard time promoting the good stuff they are doing, even the most obvious one. Making Word (so much) more accessible should be one of those things.

  24. Hi David, Very interesting — but what if I want to use Outline mode? (“le mode Plan”) As it happens, I only use Outline mode, all the time, as it is what I need to organize what I write. Word 365 thinks it is being smart by going back to white background when switching to Outline mode after one has applied a background as you describe…

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