The ebook version of OOXML Hacking has been released. The last three years have gone into adding the equivalent of 40 pages of new information. This is in addition to the trove of unique techniques that already appeared in the print version. Here are screen shots of the table of contents, to give you an idea of the topics covered in this publication:
Barnes & Noble distributes only in the U.S., so use Kobo.com if you’re from another country.
As always, all techniques are covered in both Windows and Mac, where possible. The book contains a link to a downloadable text file of all listings in the book, so you don’t have to re-key text from the screen. The book is currently available on Kobo.com and Barnes & Noble. Barnes & Noble distributes only in the U.S., so use Kobo.com if you’re from another country.
Please note, this e-book has digital rights management applied. All code listings are available in a downloadable text file, so you don’t have to re-key anything. If you have any problems, please contact us at this address
I also answer questions at Experts Exchange, where I’ve been awarded a Distinguished Expert award for 2021.
This site isn’t free, but it is jam-packed with expertise. There’s a 7-day free trial, if you want to check it out. Tag your post with Microsoft PowerPoint, Microsoft Word, VBA and/or Fonts Typography to ensure your Office questions are answered.
Chart templates solve the old problem of having to send out copy-and-paste samples of graphs. But they only display the first 6 of the chart template colors you designed.
Adding More Colors
The most common application of chart templates is to overcome the design limitation of having only a 6-color palette to work with. I wrote about this problem years ago: Office Charts: 6 Colors Maximum! – Best Practices. After a chart uses Accents 1 to 6, it starts recycling those same 6 colors with automatically generated darker and lighter variations. Banks and wealth management clients often need many more than 6 data series in their charts, but still want to have colors that are on-brand and designed.
To create a wider range of data series colors, create a chart with the maximum number of data series that the client requires. Our record is 25 colors! Then right-click on the chart edge and choose Save as Template. This captures the formatting of the sample that you’ve created.
Your template will work just fine on charts that have already been created. Select the chart, choose Change Chart Type (yes, even if it’s the right type already), click on the Templates icon, select the chart template and click on Apply. Easy peasy, job done!
The New Chart Problem
But this process breaks down if you try to create a new chart from that template. Choose Insert>Chart, click on Templates, and select the chart type. Then start inputting data. As soon as you get past the 6th color, Office starts using those damn Microsoft default darker and lighter variations instead of the colors you set! This is Authoritarian Helpfulness at its worst!
Yes, you can fix this. Reapply the template by choosing Change Chart Type>Templates and reselecting the template. The colors are corrected to the design specs. But you shouldn’t have to do this! And now that you’ve found this article, you don’t have to.
Understanding Chart Template Colors
Let me back up a bit, and explain how chart templates are structured. The top level of the XML consists of [Content_Types].xml, a _rels folder for documenting the relationships of XML parts and a chart folder holding the good bits.
Inside the chart folder, we find chart.xml, which holds most of the formatting that we created when we made the custom chart. Chart.xml contains definitions that contain the intended series color. The colors in chart.xml get set when you save the file as a chart template, and they get used when you apply the template to an existing table. But they are not used when you create a new chart.
Each series is numbered starting with 0, so this is the series for the 7th color. For the first six, the color is set to an accent color. Starting with the 7th, the color fills are in RGB/hexadecimal. Here’s a sample:
In addition, there are subfolders for charts, media, theme, and _rels. The media folder only holds a BMP file that is used for thumbnail display in Office 2007 and 2010, but not in later versions. The _rels folder is for relationships of XML parts. The theme folder contains themeOverride1.xml. As the name suggests, this is a theme that overrides the theme of an Office file that hosts it. This allows you to use a chart template in any Office document while retaining the original design appearance. Finally, we have the charts folder, which has the XML part we’re looking for.
This folder contains 2 files: style1.xml, containing the formatting for all the chart parts and colors1.xml, with a list of default fill colors and transforms fo apply to those colors. Colors1.xml is the file that supplies the colors when a new chart is created from the template. Here’s what colors1.xml looks like:
On a newly inserted chart, an Office program will use the 6 colors in turn. Then it will cycle through them again, applying the a:lumMod val=”60000″ transform. LumMod modifies the luminance, turning each accent color to a dark version. The chart will follow this pattern instead of using the colors you designed for the extra data series. If you reapply the chart type to the chart, then it will update with your designed colors from chart.xml
Fixing Chart Template Colors
My first step was to read the Microsoft specs for cs:colorStyle. Under section 188.8.131.52 CT_ColorStyle, it reads: “The total set of colors is all contained colors repeated each time with each variation applied. A color style can contain 6 colors and 7 variations. This yields a total of 42 colors with the first 6 having the first variation applied, the second 6 having the second variation applied and so on.” Not promising, we really need more than 6 colors here.
After many fruitless experiments, I decided to see if I could add extra colors anyway:
To my astonishment, it worked! I could create a new chart and insert 10 dataseries with each displaying the designed color. No need to reapply the template! Who would ever have dreamt that Microsoft documentation has a mistake in it! ;-D
The takeaway is that to create a many-colored chart template that works as expected under all circumstances, you need to set the extra color values manually in colors1.xml.
Unlike PowerPoint, Microsoft Word has a utlity to create custom Word table styles. You might think this makes life a lot easier, but you would be wrong. The Word utility has quirks and bugs, and Word tables don’t work the same way as PowerPoint’s. To get a Word table style to work closer to the way it should, you may have to hack the OOXML. Here’s how to get the best possible results.
Start with a similar table style
The first step in creating a custom table style is to insert a table, so the Table Design tab appears. By default, a new table will use the Table Grid style, which is very plain. If your final table style requires design options like a distinctive first column or a total Row, Table Grid is a poor place to start. It doesn’t include any of those options, and adding them back in is difficult. Switch the style to a Microsoft default that already has similar features. Next, expand the table style gallery dropdown again and select New Table Style at the bottom. This ensures that your table style will appear in a new Custom row right at the top of the styles gallery. By contrast, starting with Modify Table Style lumps your style in with all the Microsoft defaults.
Base the new style on the chosen one
When you choose Table Design>Table Styles>New Table Style, Word sets the Style based on dropdown to Table Normal, not the style you chose. If you originally chose Grid Table 5 Dark, then set Style based on to the same style name. (Current versions of Word for Mac have a display bug whereby choosing a different table style does not update the preview in the dialog. Choose the style, OK out, then choose Modify Table Style to see a corrected preview.)
Word Table Style Quirks
There are some oddities about Word table styles, and a few bugs. One oddity is that table text is based on the Normal style in relationship to Word’s default text settings. If Normal has been set to any color other than Automatic, applying different text colors to different table parts will have no effect. The text will remain the color set for Normal. You then have to apply new text styles to the table parts after creating the table.
Another weird result of the dependency on Normal is that Word expects to have the default line spacing for your version of Word. As I write, Word 365’s default Normal style has a Line spacing of Multiple at 1.08 with Space After of 8 points. In a table style, this gets automatically reinterpreted as Single with 0 before and after. Centered vertical spacing then works as expected. If you change the Normal line spacing to a larger or smaller value, text that is nominally vertically centered will actually sit higher or lower in the cell. If you add 12pt after, the table text will jump from being vertically centered to having 12 pt after, a huge difference. Microsoft doesn’t publish any of this information. Surprise!
This is one of the reasons why Word experts recommend that Normal style should stay as is and not be actually used in a document unless the default formatting matches the needs of the design. Better to format all text as Body Text style and give that style the custom color and line spacing.
But what if you’re given a template that already has a non-standard Normal, and the client asks for a table style? All is not lost. Table styles can still work as designed if you are using Word for Windows (sorry, Mac people). The trick here is to set the document text defaults to the same values as the revised Normal style. (Thanks to MVP Stefan Blom for this tip.) Here’s how to do this:
With the document or template open in Word, click on the Styles pane dialog opener below the Quick Styles gallery, or press Alt + Ctrl + Shift + s at the same time. The Style pane opens.
Click on the Manage Style button at the bottom.
Select the Set Defaults tab.
Set the defaults to the same values as Normal style: same font, size, color and paragraph settings. OK out.
You’ll know you got it right when you insert a table in the new style and it automatically has the correct styling for header row, first column and the other table style options. It is no longer necessary to apply text styles to the table, you can simply turn the Table Design>Table Style Options on and off to affect the related table area.
Word Table Style Bugs
Lousy User Interface Design
In the table style dialog, color dropdowns remain set at the color last chosen, even if that was for a different table part. The dropdown should update to the color currently in use for the table part that has been selected. This is just common-sense UI design.
The interface for setting border styles is pretty bad. It’s almost impossible to set one color for vertical borders and a different one for horizontal borders. All borders switch to the last selected color. But we can fix this with an OOXML hack (see below).
Defective Override Capabilities
Subsequent parts can’t always override the XML of earlier parts. As an example, set the Whole table to have internal vertical rules. Then set the first column to have no rule on the right. This should make the vertical rule separating the first column from the second column disappear, but it doesn’t. The rule has to be manually removed after the table is created.
Non-Functional OOXML Tags
The Paragraph Properties (w:pPr) element for each table part has a pStyle attribute that is supposed to set the paragraph style for that part. It does nothing. As mentioned above, the style is always derived from Normal style.
Format the Word table style options in order.
Start by formatting the Whole table section with the defaults for cell in the middle of the preview. Most of the time, this will include the font size and color, and the table background color and any rules that are to appear if banded rows are turned off. If you can’t get the formatting you need from the few controls on the dialog, click on the Format dropdown to find detailed access to Table Properties, Borders and Shading, Banding, Font and Paragraph attributes. Under Windows, you’ll also see a Text Effects choice, which is of dubious value in a table.
Then move on to Header Row formatting, the next item on the Apply formatting to dropdown. Format each item on that dropdown until you have set all the properties you need. After you get all formatting set, apply the custom style to the sample table you created at the beginning. Then use Modify Table Style for any tweaks required.
Word Table Style Hacks
Default style formatting is hardcoded in Word. So the styles that get stored in a Word file are only styles that have been modified or newly created in the document. All of the style exceptions and new style definitions are stored in the word/styles.xml part. Here’s the OOXML for a full table style. First, the section that formats the whole table. Pr stands for Property. tbl is Table, tc is Table Cell, p is Paragraph and r is Run (any length of text less that a paragraph).
(Above) The w:rPr section sets the default text while w:tblPr sets the borders. This table is transparent when all design options are turned off, so there is no fill. Note the entries for w:insideH and w:insideV. I had to hack this XML to get different colors for the inside horizontal and inside vertical borders.
(Below) Next is the formatting for the header row. w:rPr sets the text as bold and white, while w:tcPr sets the cell borders to nothing and the fill to Accent 2.
(Above) The previous section formats the Total Row, removing the borders. There’s another hack here: the w:shd illustrates how to set the fill as No Color, with both w:color and w:fill set to auto.
(Below) Next up is the First Column formatting. w:pPr sets the text flush right, w:rPr makes it bold and w:tcPr removes the borders and keeps the fill No Color. Oddly, while w:insideH successfully overrides the internal horizontal rules set in the Whole Table section, neither w:right nor w:insideV are able to remove the internal vertical rule to the right of the column. This works as expected in a PowerPoint table style, but is broken in Word.
(Above) The right-most table column is formatted with no borders and no fill.
(Below) If your design includes banded columns, the table style will include a section like this. There is just a definition for odd columns: even columns would be formatted with the defaults from the Whole Table section. If the First Column option is turned off, odd columns start at the left-most column. If First Column is turned on, all columns shift and the column just to the right of the first column takes on odd column formatting.
(Below) Formatting for the 4 corner cells. These are only activated when both options that affect the cell are turned on. As an example, if the table has both a Header Row and a First Column, then the nwCell formatting is turned on. In the formatting for nwCell below, the text becomes flush right when both options are used.
If you base your Word table styles on a table other than Table Normal, that table style will be included in styles.xml. If that table style includes formatting that you don’t want to included in your table style, then delete the section in the style it’s based on. As an example, this style was based on Grid Table 3, which includes a last column and a total row. To remove all last column and total row formatting from your style, delete the corresponding XML sections in both your custom style and in the style on which it’s based. You’ll know when you’re succesful when turning the Last Column and Total Row Design Options on and off in Word has no visual effect on a sample table.
Too complicated? Shoot me a message and we’ll create custom Word table styles for your document or template.
Microsoft doesn’t have a catchy name for this feature, but I’ll try to describe it. In Word for Windows, you can select document text, then apply Read-only protection, but with Exceptions. By default, the exception is Everyone. If we untangle the word logic, this means that the document becomes read-only except that everyone can edit the selected text. It’s a far better solution than the old protection for forms.
When this type of protection is applied, the selected areas become shaded in light yellow as a visual cue that the highlighted text remains editable. Users of Word 2016 for Mac and 2019 for Mac (including Microsoft 365 subscribers) can use these documents, but can’t produce them. At least, until now.
Word pros will look at the square bracket and think it’s a bookmark. It’s not. Microsoft reused the bookmark character to show a Permission Range. To add these editable ranges on a Mac, we’re going to create one manually.
To start, apply Read-only protection to the document. Use Tools>Protect Document, then check Protect document for. Click on Read only, then on OK. Save the file.
Now open the file in your XML editor. OOXML Tools in the Chrome browser is fine for this job. Open document.xml inside the word folder.
Just before the text that you want to be editable, insert a line like this:
The beginning and end tag must have the same 9-digit random number. Each pair of tags in a document must have a different random number.
Here is a whole paragraph marked as editable:
<w:permStart w:id="783447734" w:edGrp="everyone"/>
<w:t>To make your document look professionally produced, Word provides header, footer, cover page, and text box designs that complement each other.</w:t>
It’s that simple. Save the file and distribute to users.
For any of our tips that seem too complicated, Brandwares is available to do it for you. We teach the pros!
Fix It with VBA
Instead of hand-editing the XML, then applying Read-only protection, you can use a bit of VBA to solve this problem. Select the text that should remain editable, then run this macro:
ActiveDocument.Protect Password:="", NoReset:=False, Type:=wdAllowOnlyReading, UseIRM:=False, EnforceStyleLock:=False
If you have multiple areas that should remain editable, run the macro, then unprotect the document (Tools>Protect Document>Uncheck Protect document for option), select new text, then re-run the macro. Leave the document protected before distributing it.
The Best Practice is to NOT use Text Effects in Office. Ever.
That could have been my shortest article ever, but I guess I should explain the reasons. I’m referring to the graduated fills and lines, the glows, reflections, shadows and 3-D effects you can add to text. In the past these effects have caused some problems with ordinary shapes, but with text, they’re a disaster.
Clearly, it’s not enough for most users that these effects are visually hideous. That just a natural result of the low value we assign to arts education. In many years of working with competent graphic artists, I’ve never been asked to create any template that uses these effects. Designers understand the need for restraint, users don’t. And so we get the appalling appearance of most Word and PowerPoint documents.
But the functional problem with these effects is how they affect PDFs created from Word, PowerPoint and Excel. Microsoft has no clue how to export true PostScript of the fancy effects. So they adopt a simplistic approach: flatten them to graphics. Unfortunately, this means the text vanishes, leaving behind only a pretty picture. Well, not even that. All kinds of PDF functions are impaired: Text to speech is impossible, accessibility goes right out the window, reimporting the PDF to Office is brain-dead.
I tested PDFs created in 3 ways: saving to PDF in Office, printing to Acrobat and printing to the Microsoft Print to PDF print driver that comes with Windows 10. When saving to PDF, all text with applied effects was flattened. When printing to either Acrobat or Microsoft Print to PDF, Gradient Fills, Gradient Lines and 3D Effects were flattened, while Shadows, Reflections and Glows remained as live text.
The moral is clear: when the client asks for Text Effects, just say NO!
There are more AutoShapes in Office than appear in the user interface. Over time, Microsoft has quietly added to the collection stored in Office. Many of the more recent shapes are used in SmartArt files, while others have no current use that I can detect. But for anyone who hacks XML or codes VBA will find this week’s download or every autoshape a useful reference.
I’m preparing to start a series on custom SmartArt files. This is a deep topic: SmartArt XML is a programming language with a Frankenstein syntax. But the starting point for any language is to get the names right. SmartArt and VBA both reference the AutoShapes collection in Office, but they use different names for the same objects. Many of the same shapes are seen in the Shapes dropdown of Office programs, but those names are also different. The main source of the VBA names are from this page: MsoAutoShapeType enumeration (Office), while the XML names come from this out-of-date listing: SmartArt AutoShapes.
So, for my own sanity, I created a Word document showing an example of each shape, along with it’s name in XML, in VBA and in the user interface. This has smoothed out my workflow, and it may help you as well.
For any non-interface shapes, you can insert them into a document with code analogous to this. For PowerPoint:
ActivePresentation.Slides(1).Shapes.AddShape msoShapeTrapezoid, 24, 24, 144, 144
Change the bolded word to the shape name in the VBA MsoShapeType Name column.
Some shapes have specialized VBA commands, like callouts:
ActivePresentation.Slides(1).Shapes.AddCallout msoCalloutTwo, 24, 24, 144, 144
Callouts led me to a discovery about legacy versions. msoCalloutOne gives exactly the same result as msoCalloutTwo in current versions of Office.That seemed odd, so I ran the same macro in PowerPoint 2003 (I still have it installed for its macro recorder). In that version, msoCalloutOne creates a callout with a vertical leading line that can be moved up and down, but not at an angle. Presumably, MS found that useless and deprecated it.
We’re proud to be hosting a free e-book Open XML Explained. Finding readable explanations of how Office Open XML works isn’t easy. Outside of the very dense published ECMA standards, most of the information exists only on the web in help pages and blog posts. Back in 2007, a developer in the Netherlands, Wouter van Vugt, published a well written PDF that goes into details about the XML formats used in Word, Excel and PowerPoint. This was originally posted on the openxmldeveloper.org website run by OOXML genius Eric White.
Eric’s site closed down some years ago and much of the content disappeared. But I’ve been able to track down a copy of Wouter’s book and have his permission to give it a new home here at Brandwares. Download Open XML Explained.
The e-book covers Excel, Word and PowerPoint in depth, covering otherwise obscure topics like table formatting, bullets and charts. It’s an excellent companion to my book, covering the theory behind my practical techniques. OOXML hackers will appreciate the explanations of all the major XML parts in an Office file, while coders will find this a useful resource in learning how to programmatically create and modify documents, workbooks and presentations.
I should note that Open XML Explained was written in 2007, so while it covers all the OOXML basics, it doesn’t have any information about newer features like the Backstage or SuperThemes. Reader David Wiggins was kind enough to find the sample files that accomapied the book. The download page has a link to them as well. Enjoy!