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Is it possible to change the layout or style of the Access Denied screen to make the whole thing less scary and the "Request access" link stand out?

Access Denied screen in Sharepoint

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If you edit the existing Access Denied page it will affect all the web application sites in that server/farm. So better to create a custom simple page with your customization and make that custom page your "Access Denied" page for your web application.

Below are the steps involved:

  1. Create custom Access Denied page and place it in layouts folder. (**C:\Program Files\Common Files\Microsoft Shared\Web Server Extensions\14\TEMPLATE\LAYOUTS\1033**)

  2. Run the below powershell command which will set that page as your web apps Access Denied page.

    $webApp = Get-SPWebApplication YourWebAppURL $webApp.UpdateMappedPage([Microsoft.SharePoint.Administration.SPWebApplication+SPCustomPage]::AccessDenied,"/_layouts/1033/Custom_AccessDenied.html")

    $webApp.Update()

See this article for more details.

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