Autothemer is a wrapper for deftheme. It allows you to create an Emacs theme which can easily target multiple display types.

Below is a quick example theme made with Autothemer, the important thing to notice here is the two sets of colors. The first column is the color we’ll use for Emacs GUI, the second column is the color we’ll use for Emacs running in an XTerm-256Color terminal.

(autothemer-deftheme example-name "Autothemer example..."

  ;; Specify the color classes used by the theme
  ((((class color) (min-colors #xFFFFFF))
    ((class color) (min-colors #xFF)))

    ;; Specify the color palette for each of the classes above.
    (example-light  "#EAEBE1" "#FFFFFF")
    (example-dark   "#242E11" "#000000")
    (example-red    "#781210" "#FF0000")
    (example-green  "#22881F" "#00D700")
    (example-blue   "#212288" "#0000FF")
    (example-purple "#812FFF" "#Af00FF")
    (example-yellow "#EFFE00" "#FFFF00")
    (example-orange "#E06500" "#FF6600")
    (example-cyan   "#22DDFF" "#00FFFF"))

    ;; specifications for Emacs faces.
    ((button (:underline t :weight 'bold :foreground example-dark))
     (error  (:foreground example-red)))

    ;; Evaluated Forms after face specifications...

    ;; Palette vars can be used here
    ;; Note: they need commas in these forms

    (custom-theme-set-variables 'example-name
        `(ansi-color-names-vector [

We can easily add support for monochrome, 16 color… Well any number of colors actually!

We can also target a display with a dark background and a light background, providing different color palettes for each.

Faces and Color Classes

One of the things that makes writing themes for Emacs difficult is the clumsy syntax of defface, the macro used to configure Emacs face definitions.

Because the syntax isn’t particularly developer friendly, it usually results in themes with limited support for different color displays, usually GUI / 24bit themes are made, and the results in the terminal are often sub par. On occassion a theme does appear that provides better support for multiple display types, but due to the manual work involved in adding face specs, mode support is limited and development often stalls.

On the plus side the complexity of face specifcations means we can in theory design themes that support any display with any number of colors, we can support dark and light background modes. It’s a shame that it’s been so hard to fully exploit the potential.

Autothemer solves most of the problems that a theme developer would face.

By defining a simple set of color class rules we can remove swathes of repetitive face specs. Looking again at the example above.

(((class color) (min-colors #xFFFFFF)) ((class color) (min-colors #xFF)))

Here we’ve setup a color class for 16.8million (0xFFFFFF) color display i.e. 24bit, which will be read from first column in the palette. We’ve then setup a color class for 256 (0xFF) color displays i.e. Xterm-256color, this will be read from the second column.

We can setup as many columns as we’d like to support, here’s a few more examples.

For a two color display:

((class color) (monochrome))

For a light background 24bit

((class color) (min-colors #xFFFFFF) (background light))

For a dark background 24bit

((class color) (min-colors #xFFFFFF) (background dark))

You can read more about defining faces in the Emacs manual, display types and class color is covered here.


The palette definition is specified as a list of lists, each of the nested lists is a color name and then color values that correspond to each of the display/color classes defined above.

You can set color values as nil and the first color to the left will be used.

For example, if we have three display classes defined, 256, 24bit, 16 color:

((((class color) (min-colors #xFF))
  ((class color) (min-colors #xFFFFFF))
  ((class color) (min-colors 16)))

  ;; We define my-red in 256 color mode only.
  (my-red "#FF0000" nil nil))

Note we only specify 256 color mode’s my-red value, and leave the others as nil. Autothemer will set the others with the value #FF0000.

Simplified face specs

In a regular theme (created with the deftheme macro) we have to specify faces with the display attributes included for every face. Autothemer’s primary purpose is to reduce this down to a minimum.

As we can see in the example above face specs now look like this:

;; specifications for Emacs faces.
((button (:underline t :weight 'bold :foreground example-yellow))
 (error  (:foreground example-red)))

color names from the palette can be used directly, as we can see here. The faces are using colors named example-yellow and example-red.

One important thing to remember is that we are in a different context to deftheme so symbols like bold or faces we want to :inherit from must use the ' quote-mark. (See the example above 'bold would usually not be quoted.)

The values of these face attributes will be affected:

(NOTE: there may some I’ve missed!)

Body / Evaluated Forms

After defining the display specs, palette and simplified face specs, you can include other code to be evaluated.

Be aware that colors named in the palette will need to be , comma-ed. For example if you wanted to use the color my-red in a form, you would refer to it as ,my-red, so that it’s evaluated properly.

(This section of the article will be updated as I find any other gotchas.)

Auto generating missing specs

You can automatically generate specs for faces that are not in your theme using the command:

M-x autothemer-generate-templates

This creates a new buffer with simplified specs for all unthemed faces. Colors will be selected from the theme palette based on the nearest RGB distance to the un-themed color. You can drop these directly into your autothemer simplified faces block.

Themes using Autothemer

The following themese are already using Autothemer. They serve as good usage examples.

You can find the Autothemer package in MELPA Emacs packages (M-x package-install RET autothemer)

The github page is