You are writing a lot, maybe several hours per day? Then you might want to add a personal touch to your virtual writing studio. Ulysses offers several options to do so. Here's a step-by-step guide on how to customize Ulysses to your liking, to best spark creativity. We’re going to glance at all the screws you can turn. If you want to know how to do this on iOS, please head over to this article.
Should you prefer to leave everything like it is and start writing, please go ahead. Defaults were set with care, and intended to provide a clean, focused writing experience.
Step 1: Write in Editor-Only View
Ulysses comes with a handy three-pane layout: the library with your groups and filters on the left, the sheet list in the middle, and the editor on the right. With three simple shortcuts you can easily hide the library and the sheet list, and display them only when needed:
- ⌘1 (command-1) View Library, Sheet List, and Editor (1)
- ⌘2 (command-2)View Sheet List and Editor (2)
- ⌘3 (command-3) View Editor Only (3)
Step 2: Hide the Library Sections You Don’t Need
Your library has several sections, but you can choose to show only those you actually use:
- Projects - for your self-contained writing projects
- iCloud - if you take advantage of cross-device sync
- On My Mac - if you choose to store your texts locally
- External Folders - such as Dropbox
- Introduction - for a short feature overview
You can toggle sections in Ulysses › Settings… › Sidebar.
Step 3: Enter Full Screen
Do you want to block diversions and keep focused on writing? Enter full screen. You can do so in the View menu, by clicking the diverging-arrows symbol in the upper left corner, or use the shortcut ⌃⌘F (control-command-F).
Step 4: Write in a Minimal Environment
Do you prefer to see nothing but the editor? That’s possible, too! The shortcut ⌃⌥⌘F enables Editor Focus which hides all sidebars and also the toolbar.
Step 5: Try out “Paged Mode”
You can choose to switch from default to paged mode. As you might suspect, paged mode puts a more page-like frame around your text. For a less virtual appeal, so to speak. Find this options in the View menu.
Step 6: Write in the Dark
If you switch your system to dark mode, Ulysses will follow along and change its appearance. Or would you prefer to use all of your other apps in light mode while writing in dark mode with Ulysses? Go to View › Appearance and make your choice: Match System, Light or Dark.
There’s also an option to switch only the editor to dark mode while keeping a light appearance for your library and sheet list, by selecting “Dark Theme” in the View menu.
Please note that Ulysses remembers the appearance settings for windowed mode and full-screen mode individually.
If you are working in dark mode, you can also set your export preview to dark mode. In the preview window, click on the sun icon top left. Of course, this will change only the appearance of the preview, but not affect the exported document.
Step 7: Select a Font
Ulysses’ default font is San Francisco, Apple’s system font. San Francisco was specifically designed with screens in mind and is therefore great to read on your devices. But there are of course other beautiful fonts out there, and Ulysses allows you to pick the one you like best.
In Ulysses › Settings… › General, you can find a handful of fonts carefully preselected by our designer. If you’re looking for something else, click on “Custom...” to browse your installed fonts. More on that here.
Step 8: Adapt Editor Settings
Preferences allow you to adjust the settings of the editor. Do you think a different line height and an indented first line would make for a nicer look? Give it a try.
You can also set paragraph spacing. The default is Zero since many of us tend to put a blank line to structure our writing. You can alter the number of characters with line width before a line breaks. Here you can also tweak the size of image previews to anything between 3 and 16 lines and choose to show them in full color (instead of black and white, which is the default). You can also turn off image previews completely; images in the text will then be indicated with a tag.
Step 9: Zoom to Make Your Font Bigger
Of course, you can make the font bigger, if your eyes get tired or you’re affected by farsightedness, or just because you like it that way. Or smaller, of course. Go to View › Zoom, or use your habitual shortcuts ⌘+ and ⌘-. ⌘0 takes you back to default.
Step 10: Use Typewriter Mode
Experienced writers regard this feature as very beneficial for their concentration. There are several options available – you’ll find them in the View menu › “Typewriter Mode”.
Highlight can be set to either your current line, sentence, or paragraph. If enabled, the rest of the text is still readable but fades into the background.
Fixed Scrolling fixes the current line vertically on one spot while you’re typing. You can choose this spot to be on the top, in the middle, or at the bottom of the screen, or opt for variable. When using the latter, you can freely move your cursor with the mouse or arrow keys. Only after you start typing the current line will remain fixed.
Mark Current Line puts a light grey tint under the line you’re currently writing.
Step 11: Tweak Your Sheet List
You can tweak the sheet preview in your sheet list via the View menu – set it to anything between one and six lines. Also, you can toggle the display of creation/modification dates of your sheets in the sheet list here.
Step 12: Change Theme
Themes define the colors of your background, font, and markup. They’re like virtual wallpapers for your virtual writing studio. Every theme has a light and a dark version, so you can quickly switch between them. Ulysses ships with a few harmonious themes for your viewing pleasure, each of them fine-tuned with lots of love by our designer, for example:
- D22 is a simple and clean theme that combines a monochrome tint with classic revision colors. (1)
- Freestraction’s light version comes with a graphite-colored font as well as teal and magenta for the most common markups. (2)
- The theme Solarized uses the color palette of the same name, which is popular with programmers, but also good for a harmonious novel writing environment. (3)
You can switch themes via the Markup tab in Ulysses' Preferences.
Step 13: Download Themes From Ulysses Styles & Themes
If you’re not confident with the themes Ulysses ships with, or if you’re just curious, you should pay a visit to the Ulysses Styles & Themes platform. There, users can upload, download and rate themes (and export styles, but this is another story). The following selection showcases some of the most popular themes.
- Outback is the most downloaded of all available themes and was the first one contributed by a community member, the Australian journalist Matthew Cawood. (1)
- Blanco by Federico De Obeso is a theme for purists: white background, black font – or the other way round, in the dark version. Very focused. (2)
- In comparison, Eighties by chibicode is somewhat playful: a theme that pleases the eye with candy-colored fonts and markups and a fawnish background. (3)
If you found a theme that suits your taste, download it from the Style Exchange. In Ulysses’ preferences, go to the Markup tab, click on “Add Themes…”, and select it in Finder. The theme of your choice will now appear in the list of available themes and instantly start doing its job.
Step 14: Build Your Own Theme
By now we explored most of the adjustments you can make in Ulysses to convert its clean and focused writing environment to a clean, focused writing environment that is custom-tailored to your taste and needs. If you’re happy by now (or always have been), you can skip this step.
However, if you think there is that certain indefinable something missing to perfection, you should try our separate tutorial to learn how to build your own theme.