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 10-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.
⌘1 (command-1) View Library, Sheet List, and Editor
⌘2 (command-2)View Sheet List and 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).
Step 4: Enter “Minimal Mode”
Do you prefer to let yourself inspire by a beautiful landscape, a chilly pattern, or a piece of art? Change your desktop background image and position the Ulysses window in the center of your screen. As soon as you start typing (or scrolling) in the editor, the window toolbar fades out. If you’ve already switched to editor-only mode, the window only contains your text, nothing else.
In case you’re using the toolbar frequently you may feel more comfortable when it is kept visible. No problem: Open the View menu and select “Always Show 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
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.
There’s also an option to switch only the editor to dark while keeping a light appearance for your library and sheet list, by selecting “Dark Theme” in the View menu.
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.
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.
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:
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:
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.
D14 is a straightforward theme, with high contrast, a focus on typography, and a rather streamlined use of color.
Freestraction’s light version comes with a graphite-colored font as well as teal and magenta for the most common markups.
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 the Ulysses Style Exchange
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 Style Exchange 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.
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.
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!
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!
This article was last updated on September 24, 2018