Mac Customization Guide

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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.

Should you prefer to leave everything like it is and start writing, please go ahead. Defaults were set with care, 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.

Screenshot of Ulysses’ Library, Sheet List and Editor

⌘1 (command-1) View Library, Sheet List, and Editor

Screenshot of Ulysses’ Sheet List and Editor

⌘2 (command-2)View Sheet List and Editor

Screenshot of Ulysses’ Editor

⌘3 (command-3) View Editor Only

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: iCloud if you take advantage of cross-device sync; “On My Mac”, if you choose to store your texts locally; or external folders, such as Dropbox. As a beginner, it certainly makes sense to keep the introduction at reach, but later you may want to hide it for the benefit of better focus. You can toggle sections in the Preferences menu under Library. 

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 by tapping ⌃⌘F (control-command-F).

Screenshot of Ulysses’ Editor in Fullscreen mode

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.

Screenshot of Ulysses’ Paged Mode

Paged Mode

Step 6: Write in the Dark

Are you one of those who love to work in dark mode? Please go ahead! 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.

Screenshot of Ulysses’ Dark Mode

Dark Mode

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 setting for windowed mode and full screen mode individually.

Extra tip: For the export preview, there’s a dark option as well. In the preview window, click on the sunglasses top right.

Of course, this will change only the appearance of the preview, but not affect the output itself.

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 Preferences, you’ll 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.

Screenshot of Ulysses’ Preferences while selecting a font

Step 8: Adapt Editor Settings

Preferences allow you to adjust the settings of the editor. Feel like a different line height and an indented first line would make for a nicer look? Give it a try.

Screenshot of Ulysses’ Preferences. The selected settings are Georgia as font, line height set to 1, paragraph spacing set to 1 and first line indent set to two.

You can also set paragraph spacing. The default for this is Zero since many of us tend to put a blank line to structure our writing. With Line Width, you can alter the number of characters 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 little tag. Finally, there are two different cursors to choose between.

See how tiny adjustments affect the appearance of the editor:

Screenshot of Ulysses’ Editor customized with the settings from above.

Step 9: Zoom to Make Your Font Bigger 

Well, yes, it’s a very basic thing, but we’ll include it here for the sake of completeness. 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:

Screenshot of the menu item View › Typewriter Mode › Fixed Scrolling

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 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.

Screenshot of the Yosemite theme

D22 is a simple and clean theme that combines a monochrome tint with classic revision colors.

Screenshot of the Simple theme

Freestraction’s light version comes with a graphite-colored font as well as teal and magenta for the most common markups.

Screenshot of the Solarized theme

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.

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.

Screenshot of the Outback theme

Outback is the most downloaded of all available themes and was the first one contributed by a community member, the Australian journalist Matthew Cawood.

Screenshot of the Blanco theme

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.

Screenshot of the Eighties theme

In comparison, Eighties by chibicode is somewhat playful: a theme that pleases the eye with candy-colored fonts and markups and a fawnish background. Are you writing light comedy? Try it!

Screenshot of the Early Computers theme

Did you already love computers before they started to hide their arithmetic power under a bright surface? Early Computers lets you get nostalgic.

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. It is much more fun than wallpapering a real office, at least if you’re not a craftsman by profession!

Screenshot of Ulysses’ theme preferences.

This article was last updated on March 23, 2021

Mac Customization Guide

Custom-tailor your own clean and focused writing environment