How to Create Tailored Toolbars in LibreOffice for Focused Writing

Libre Office Bespoke

It’s often said that 80 percent of typical office software users only make use of about 20 percent of the software. Clever interfaces are generally designed to give ready access to these most commonly used features. But what if you’re that 20 percent that delves more deeply into the software? Or what if you use an even smaller fraction of the tools and would like to create something more focused?

LibreOffice has various tools that allow you to configure the entire interface to put the options you need exactly where you need them. In this tutorial we create a collection of task-focused toolbars that can be activated as needed. We also create an additional menu and load it up with our mos-needed tools.

Set up a new toolbar

In LibreOffice Writer, select “Tools -> Customize … ” from the menu bar. In the resulting window, where we’ll do all these customizations, select the Toolbar tab from the top. You’ll see the setup of the standard toolbar on the right with all available tools on the left.

Screenshot of the LibreOffice toolbar definition widget.
You can create multiple toolbars specific to each writing task.

You can move icons around in here, but we’re going to start from scratch, rather than adjusting what’s already there. Next to the Target drop-down, click on the cog icon and select “Add … ” Give your toolbar a descriptive name and define whether you want to see icons, text or both in the final product. Once done, you can select this new Toolbar from the Target drop-down, and you’re ready to build. 

Add contents

Defining your toolbar is simply a case of finding the appropriate icons on the left and clicking the right-facing arrow in the center of the columns to add them. Top-to-bottom in the column equates to left-to-right on the toolbar itself, and there are arrows on the far right for reordering elements, or they can be dragged and dropped.

Beneath the new toolbar column, there is an option to Insert a divider and, with an icon selected, an option to modify it. This means you can add your own label to an icon or even swap out the icon itself. If you want to go the whole hog, you’ll find millions of cool icons at the Noun Project. Icons should be 24 x 24 pixel PNGs. Larger ones will be scaled down.

Screenshot showing the toolbar configuration options in LibreOffice Writer.
You can filter available icons with the Category dropdown, then select and order your icons.

Once you’re satisfied, hit OK to close the window. Toolbars are enabled and disabled in “View -> Toolbars,” so visit there and select your toolbar name. If you’re looking for a focused experience, you can also switch off the standard ones, as we’ve done.

Add styles to a toolbar

Screenshot showing the interface to add various styles to a toolbar.
As well as standard tools, all your paragraph, character and page styles are available to add.

In addition to the icons available in LibreOffice, it’s possible to add Page Styles, Paragraph and Character Styles to a toolbar, which is excellent if you’re working on a style-heavy document such as a resume or screenplay. They are added in the same way but do not come with their own icons – instead you’ll see the name of the style in the toolbar. Use the Modify button to add an icon from the integrated set or upload your own.

Make a menu

Screenshot showing the bespoke menu configuration screen in LibreOffice.
Putting your most used styles close to the top of the interface can be really useful for focused writing.

Sometimes you may want an option that is a little removed from the main interface to reduce clutter. In this case, adding a menu to the menu bar and populating that with content makes sense. The process is the same as with a toolbar. Go into the Menu section of the Customize window, use the cog icon to create a new menu, then populate it with the options you need. In our case, we’ve moved the paragraph styles from the toolbar into a menu entry called Screenplay. This is visible on the far right of the menu bar.

Define the look

Screenshot showing the icon set selection options in LibreOffice.
Personalise your icon set to look great in dark or light mode.

Next, we’l change the look of the toolbars. Go into “Tools -> Options” and look under the Personalization option. There are six themes to choose from; we chose the dark theme. Click Apply to see the colors painted on your interface.

You may notice now that your icons are dark on a dark background. To resolve this, go into the View section and click the Icon style: drop-down. There are a couple of options available for “dark mode.” For good measure, we also clicked on the Toolbar drop-down under Icon size and chose Extra Large. Hit Apply again to see your changes. To complete the “dark mode” look, go into Application Colors and set the application background to a dark grey.

Having a standalone, comprehensive office suite installed on your PC means being able to tailor the environment to your specific needs at any given time. For those of us who write for various purposes, one-size-fits-all is not always the best option, so it’s great to be able to make an application that fits the circumstances in which it is used. However, if this feels a little too much like overkill, there are many word processors which try to give users a distraction-free experience.

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Andy Channelle

Andy Channelle is a writer and web developer who has written for Linux Format, Mac Format, 3D World and others, and has also published best-selling books on Ubuntu Linux and OpenOffice.org. He's recently worked on web projects and campaigns for the International Red Cross and the UN. He produces - but hardly ever releases - electronica under the name Collision Detector. Andy lives in Wales, UK.

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