Smarter ideas worth writing about.

Ways to Brand SharePoint 2013 Sites

With the release of SharePoint 2013, there are several different ways to brand your SharePoint 2013 site. The goal of this post is to discuss the options available, what skills are necessary to make the change, and what the level of difficulty is for the change.

The easiest way to change the look and feel of a site is by going to the Change the look link on the Site Settings page or by selecting the Settings gear and selecting Change the look. This gives you a display of all created Composed Looks in the site collection. About 40 Composed Looks are available out of the box.


Once a starting point is selected, easy customizations can be made by changing the background image, the basic colors of the site, the site layout (i.e. the master page), and the fonts used by the site.


While this allows a quick change of the site look, there are several additional ways to perform real-world branding within SharePoint 2013.


Composed Looks

Composed Looks is a new feature of SharePoint 2013. Each Composed Look contains a link to a master page URL, theme URL, background image URL, and a font scheme URL. A considerable amount of branding changes can be made by reusing out of the box master pages, themes, and font schemes to create a new Composed Look. Creating a Composed Look based on pre-existing assets is not a difficult task and could easily be done by a power user or site collection administrator. As each of the pieces that make up a Composed Look can be customized, there are endless possibilities.  Next we will discuss each of these pieces.



Create Custom Themes

Themes are greatly improved in SharePoint 2013.  Themes as they are defined within the Composed Look are nothing more than a color palette.   This color palette is nothing more than an XML file with a .spcolor extension.  It contains 89 color slots with names such as BodyText, SuiteBarBackground, and SelectionBackground.  Opacity is also supported on each color.  Microsoft mentioned the release of an upcoming Theme Slots tool to help with the creation of color palettes at SharePoint Conference 2012 in November, but it still hasn't been released as of this writing.  The color palettes can easily be created by a designer or power user.



Custom Font Schemes

Custom font schemes are another new feature of SharePoint 2013. The font scheme is also an XML file with a .spfont extension. There are 7 font slots with names such as title, navigation, and small-heading. Web fonts are now supported within font schemes by including four web font files (EOT, WOFF, TTF, and SVG) along with large and small preview images.  Font schemes can also easily be created by a designer or power user.



Custom Master Pages

Creating custom master pages is clearly the most difficult and time consuming method of branding a SharePoint 2013 site. There are two ways to create a custom master page and accompanying css style sheet file: Design Manager and through Visual Studio or SharePoint Designer.


Custom Master Pages with Design Manager

Design Manager is only available in publishing site or sites where the publishing features have been activated. Branding for regular collaboration or team sites would require the development of master pages within Visual Studio or SharePoint Designer.

Design Manager walks through a seven step process that allows for the creation of master pages and page layouts.


For master page creation, HTML and CSS design files can be uploaded to SharePoint.  Design Manager converts the design files to a SharePoint master page. The Snippet Gallery (shown below) can be used to add SharePoint components to the master page such as Top Navigation, a search box, or the site title. When the design file is converted into a master page, these snippets are converted to the proper control with properties set as requested on the master page.



While it is much easier to create master pages and page layouts via the Design Manager as opposed to using Visual Studio and SharePoint Designer, it is not something that a typical designer can undertake despite the fact Microsoft says so. A considerable amount of SharePoint knowledge is needed to properly create a master page.

Custom Master Pages with Visual Studio or SharePoint Designer

Creating custom master pages with Visual Studio or SharePoint Designer hasn't changed much from SharePoint 2010. Creating custom master pages in this manner requires a SharePoint developer skilled in HTML and CSS with a considerable knowledge of SharePoint components and styles. Creating a custom master page is one of the more complex tasks within SharePoint development. By investigating what is produced when snippets are converted into master pages, it is much easier to determine what components to add to a custom master page. One additional item to consider when building a custom CSS style sheet file to work with a custom master page is whether to make it Themable. A Themable style sheet allows the CSS to be overridden by theme color changes and font changes. Any style sheets outside of the Themable folder in the Style Library will not themed.


SharePoint 2013 brings many options for customizing the look and feel of a SharePoint site.  These options range from the relatively simple menu option Change the look and using Composed Looks to the more complex solution of generating custom master pages through Visual Studio or SharePoint Designer.  The easier solutions offer the least ability of customization while the more difficult solutions offer the largest ability of customization.


About The Author

Managing Consultant

Bart is a Managing Consultant in the Application Development practice of Cardinal’s Raleigh/Durham office.