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We are creating a SharePoint 2013 based solution which comes with a custom master page, which for example defines navigation elements, which are not available in the standard master page. This solution needs to work with composed looks. This means that users (i.e. admins or developers) should be able to change the look of SharePoint by selecting/applying a different composed look. Apart from our own composed look, these looks need to be created by our partners/customers.

As we all know, the .spcolor file defines the colors which are replaced in the themable CSS files once a look is applied. This is ok and it works fine with our own color palette.

The problem however is, explaining other developers how to create a composed look for our solution, as the color slots (defined in the .spcolor file) often do not have speaking names, i.e. do not match the exact way/place we use them. For example when they are applied to our own, specific elements. Another problem is that if we test our look with the different standard .spcolor files defined by Microsoft, it often looks more or less ok, but it never looks great in all places.

I now see two possibilities how this can be done:

  1. Either we stick with the standard SharePoint color slots defined in the regular .spcolor files (e.g. "TopBarBackground") and somehow try to make the best out of these available slots.
  2. Or we define our own color slots (e.g. "MyActionWebPartBackground") and use those in our CSS file. If you are asking yourself, if it is possible to create your own color slots, then the answer is yes, I have tested it. ;)

The first approach has the advantage that we are "compatible" with all the existing .spcolor files. Even though I have my doubts that everything is really compatible – e.g. that we can be sure there is no black text on a black background for example. This would lead to partners/customers needing to overwrite some colors in their own CSS file. And this is not the idea of composed looks..

The second approach however will not be compatible, but it will be much easier to create a look which actually looks right everywhere, as we can then create slots with a speaking name, where ever we need it. Then only looks (i.e. .spcolor files) created specifically for our solution would work, but at least they will be easier to create and it would be more transparent, which replacement is used in which place.

The question now is what would you recommend? Or what does Microsoft recommend? I couldn’t find anything in the internet discussing these different approaches.. Is there anybody out there with any experience on this? Thanks in advance for your thoughts.

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Microsoft doesn't have documented recommendations for every possible use case. There are no recommendations against custom CSS or custom .spcolor files, so I can't imagine there would be anything wrong with what you suggest. As far as what I would recommend, it depends on your specific business needs. You've described the advantages of each approach in your question; the answer depends on your specific needs. Do you see more value in versatility or compatibility?

  • Thanks for you reply.. Basically that's what we thought/expected. I think we're probably going with versatility in that case.. ;) – PzYon Oct 15 '14 at 7:45
  • Glad to help. Feel free to mark as answered if you don't feel this question requires further attention. – Dave Oct 16 '14 at 15:19
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Actualy Microsoft describes the process of creating custom themes:

You can create custom themes by creating additional color palettes and font schemes and uploading them to the Theme Gallery. The new color palettes and font schemes are then available to you in the theming experience or when you want to apply a theme programmatically. Similarly, if you want to have additional site layouts to choose from, you can upload additional master pages, and corresponding preview files, to the Master Page Gallery. You can create new designs by creating new list items in the Composed Looks list. Create a list item and specify the master page, color palette, font scheme, and background image for the new design.

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    Thanks for reply, but this is acutally not what we are looking for. We know how to create a custom theme using our own color palettes, etc. The question is, if we should/shouldn't use custom slots (i.e. slots which are not defined by Micrsoft but by us) in the color palette file and if there any recommendations/experience in this issues.. – PzYon Oct 3 '14 at 13:03

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