Cool looking org-mode

[2021-08-21 Sat] on Yann Esposito's blog
A configuration to make org-mode look even better.

TL;DR: My tweaked configuration to make org-mode even more pleasant to use.

The code

At the end of this article there is a long digression about why I ended up here. But instead of bothering you with the why here is a what it looks like, and how to achieve it.

First you need to install some dependencies.

  1. Install nerdfonts1
  2. Tell org-mode to use variable-pitch-mode (variable width font)
  3. Use (setq org-hide-emphasis-markers t)
  4. Configure a lot of org-mode specific faces to still use a monospaced font.

Here are some images of the result. Notice one important factor of the feel is that I work on a mac with retina display. Often font rendering feel too bold by default. But this is perfect to have a writing environment even if screenshot does not look as slick as other ones, the usage is superior.

org-mode headers
org-mode some inline image
org-mode with some code block
Org mode with a modified doom-solarized light theme (use a grey background)

The main trick is to change org-mode to use different font depending on the kind of bloc. I use two fonts variant which are an iA Writer clone fonts; iM Writing Nerd Font.

First you need to install nerd-fonts2. You will get that iMWritingDuoS Nerd Font. If you look at the code block; I support the case when the font is not installed and fall back to Georgia or PT Serif. One nice little bonus of the config is to make the fixed width fonts smaller. This is often something I like when writing in org-mode.

There is a minor dependency on doom as I use doom-color for the color of the links. But you could easily use any color you like if you do not use doom.

(setq org-ellipsis " [+]")
(add-hook 'org-mode-hook 'variable-pitch-mode)
(let* ((variable-tuple
         ((x-list-fonts "iMWritingDuoS Nerd Font")   '(:family "iMWritingDuoS Nerd Font"))
         ((x-list-fonts "Georgia")   '(:family "Georgia"))
         ((x-list-fonts "PT Serif")  '(:family "PT Serif"))))
         ((x-list-fonts "iMWritingDuoS Nerd Font Mono")   '(:family "iMWritingDuoS Nerd Font Mono"   :height 160))
         ((x-list-fonts "Menlo")               '(:family "Menlo"    :height 120))
         ((x-list-fonts "PT Mono")             '(:family "PT Mono"  :height 120))))
       (headline `(:inherit default :weight bold)))
   `(org-level-1 ((t (,@headline ,@variable-tuple))))
   `(org-level-2 ((t (,@headline ,@variable-tuple))))
   `(org-level-3 ((t (,@headline ,@variable-tuple))))
   `(org-level-4 ((t (,@headline ,@variable-tuple))))
   `(org-level-5 ((t (,@headline ,@variable-tuple))))
   `(org-level-6 ((t (,@headline ,@variable-tuple))))
   `(org-level-7 ((t (,@headline ,@variable-tuple))))
   `(org-level-8 ((t (,@headline ,@variable-tuple))))
   `(org-document-title ((t (,@headline ,@variable-tuple))))

   `(variable-pitch     ((t ,@variable-tuple)))
   `(fixed-pitch        ((t ,@fixed-tuple)))

   '(org-ellipsis ((t (:inherit fixed-pitch :foreground "gray40" :underline nil))))
   '(org-block            ((t (:inherit fixed-pitch))))
   '(org-block-begin-line ((t (:inherit fixed-pitch))))
   '(org-block-end-line   ((t (:inherit fixed-pitch))))
   '(org-src              ((t (:inherit fixed-pitch))))
   '(org-properties       ((t (:inherit fixed-pitch))))
   '(org-code             ((t (:inherit (shadow fixed-pitch)))))
   '(org-date             ((t (:inherit (shadow fixed-pitch)))))
   '(org-document-info    ((t (:inherit (shadow fixed-pitch)))))
   '(org-document-info-keyword ((t (:inherit (shadow fixed-pitch)))))
   '(org-drawer           ((t (:inherit (shadow fixed-pitch)))))
   '(org-indent           ((t (:inherit (org-hide fixed-pitch)))))
   `(org-link             ((t (:inherit fixed-pitch :foreground ,(doom-color 'blue) :underline t))))
   '(org-meta-line        ((t (:inherit (font-lock-comment-face fixed-pitch)))))
   '(org-property-value   ((t (:inherit fixed-pitch))) t)
   '(org-special-keyword  ((t (:inherit (font-lock-comment-face fixed-pitch)))))
   '(org-table            ((t (:inherit fixed-pitch))))
   '(org-tag              ((t (:inherit (shadow fixed-pitch) :weight bold :height 0.8))))
   '(org-verbatim         ((t (:inherit (shadow fixed-pitch)))))))

Digression about why I did that;

For some reason a went to the rabbit hole of tweaking my emacs. In fact, it first started as; let's try to switch from doom-emacs3 to nano-emacs4. But, doing so, I realized I wouldn't be able to reach the quality and optimization provided by doom-emacs myself. So instead of doing this, I first tried to copy the theme of nano. Then I realized one of the biggest factor of nano look & feel was its usage of "Roboto Mono" but with weight light (or Thin).


GNU Emacs / N Λ N O Look (light theme)
GNU Emacs / N Λ N O Look (dark theme)

OK so… I just tried to match the theme colors. It was easy to create a theme with matching colors. But, to make it really looks like nano; almost monochrome with two accent colors; it would mean a lot more work than anyone could expect. For most emacs mode you probably need to add a set of specific font faces. This choice is also what makes nano looks so good too. This is not just about the color, but about a lot more details than that. Using the good colors only at the right place is difficult to achieve. And not only the colors, but also, the correct fonts, the spacing of text elements etc…

Unfortunately if you want the nano look and feel in doom, it is much more work than just copying the nano theme.

But this research of look and feel opened the door to using thin fonts in emacs. And also tweaking the fonts which really improve the look & feel of emacs.

With this conf, I do not use the same font for coding and for writing prose or a blog post with code blocks. So far, I like this new look and feel.


Thin Code fonts

After lot of try, I finally switched my default coding font to SauceCodePro Nerd Font Mono with weight semi-light. This is a clone of Adobe SourceCode Pro. And on a retina display it is really nice to use.

(setq doom-font (font-spec :family "SauceCodePro Nerd Font Mono" :size 12 :weight 'semi-light)
      doom-variable-pitch-font (font-spec :family "iMWritingDuoS Nerd Font" :size 14))

An unfinished nano theme for doom

Even though the result is not 100% satisfactory, you could start using my work. Save this file into ~/.doom.d/themes/doom-nano-theme.el:

;;; doom-nano-theme.el --- inspired by Nicolas Rougier nano-theme -*- lexical-binding: t; no-byte-compile: t; -*-
;; Author: Yann Esposito <>
;; Created: August 16, 2021
;; Version: 1.0.0
;; Keywords: custom themes, faces
;; Homepage:
;; Package-Requires: ((emacs "25.1") (cl-lib "0.5") (doom-themes "2.2.1"))
;;; Commentary:
;; Ported from nano-theme:
;;; Code:

(require 'doom-themes)

;;; Variables

(defgroup doom-plain-theme nil
  "Options for the `doom-plain' theme."
  :group 'doom-themes)

(defcustom doom-plain-padded-modeline doom-themes-padded-modeline
  "If non-nil, adds a 4px padding to the mode-line.
Can be an integer to determine the exact padding."
  :group 'doom-plain-theme
  :type '(or integer boolean))
;;; Theme definition

(def-doom-theme doom-nano
  "Theme inspired by Nicolas Rougier nano-theme"

  ;; name      default/256/16
  ((nano-color-foreground '("#37474F")) ;; Blue Grey / L800
   (nano-color-background '("#FFFFFF")) ;; White
   (nano-color-highlight  '("#FAFAFA")) ;; Very Light Grey
   (nano-color-critical   '("#FF6F00")) ;; Amber / L900
   (nano-color-salient    '("#673AB7")) ;; Deep Purple / L500
   (nano-color-strong     '("#000000")) ;; Black
   (nano-color-popout     '("#FFAB91")) ;; Deep Orange / L200
   (nano-color-subtle     '("#ECEFF1")) ;; Blue Grey / L50
   (nano-color-faded      '("#B0BEC5")) ;; Blue Grey / L200

   (bg         nano-color-background)
   (bg-alt     nano-color-highlight)
   (base0      '("#18282f"))
   (base1      '("#24323a"))
   (base2      '("#556066"))
   (base3      '("#6f787d"))
   (base4      '("#8a9296"))
   (base5      '("#a6acaf"))
   (base6      '("#e7e8e9"))
   (base7      '("#f6f6f6"))
   (base8      '("#fafafa"))
   (fg         nano-color-foreground)
   (fg-alt     nano-color-faded)

   (grey       fg)
   (red        fg)
   (blue       fg)
   (dark-blue  fg)
   (orange     fg)
   (green      fg)
   (teal       fg)
   (yellow     fg)
   (magenta    fg)
   (violet     fg)
   (cyan       fg)
   (dark-cyan  fg)

   ;; face categories -- required for all themes
   (highlight      nano-color-salient)
   (vertical-bar   base5)
   (selection      nano-color-highlight)
   (builtin        nano-color-salient)
   (comments       nano-color-faded)
   (doc-comments   nano-color-faded)
   (constants      nano-color-strong)
   (functions      nano-color-salient)
   (keywords       nano-color-strong)
   (methods        nano-color-salient)
   (operators      nano-color-strong)
   (type           nano-color-strong)
   (strings        base0)
   (variables      base0)
   (numbers        base0)
   (region         base4)
   (error          nano-color-critical)
   (warning        nano-color-popout)
   (success        nano-color-salient)
   (vc-modified    nano-color-salient)
   (vc-added       fg-alt)
   (vc-deleted     nano-color-critical)

   ;; custom categories
    (when doom-plain-padded-modeline
      (if (integerp doom-plain-padded-modeline) doom-plain-padded-modeline 4)))

   (modeline-bg              (doom-darken bg-alt 0.15))
   (modeline-bg-alt          (doom-darken bg-alt 0.1))
   (modeline-bg-inactive     (doom-darken bg-alt 0.1))
   (modeline-bg-inactive-alt bg-alt)
   (modeline-fg              fg)
   (modeline-fg-alt          (doom-darken modeline-bg-inactive 0.35)))

  ;;;; Base theme face overrides
  ((error   :underline `(:style wave :color ,error))
   (warning :underline `(:style wave :color ,warning))
   ((font-lock-constant-face &override)      :slant 'italic)
   ((font-lock-comment-face &override)       :slant 'italic)
   ((font-lock-function-name-face &override) :slant 'italic)
   ((font-lock-type-face &override)          :slant 'italic)
   ;;(hl-line :background base8)
   ((line-number &override) :foreground base3)
   ((line-number-current-line &override) :foreground base2)
    :background modeline-bg :foreground modeline-fg
    :box (if -modeline-pad `(:line-width ,-modeline-pad :color ,modeline-bg)))
    :background modeline-bg-inactive :foreground modeline-fg-alt
    :box (if -modeline-pad `(:line-width ,-modeline-pad :color ,modeline-bg-inactive)))
   (mode-line-emphasis :foreground highlight)

   ;;;; doom-modeline
   (doom-modeline-bar :background modeline-bg)
   (doom-modeline-bar-inactive :inherit 'doom-modeline-bar)
   (doom-modeline-project-dir :foreground fg)
   (doom-modeline-buffer-file :foreground fg)
   (doom-modeline-buffer-modified :weight 'bold :foreground "#000000")
   (doom-modeline-panel :inherit 'mode-line-highlight :background base3 :foreground fg)
   ;;;; ivy
   (ivy-posframe :background bg-alt)
   ;;;; magit
   ((magit-diff-added-highlight &override)   :foreground fg :background (doom-blend vc-added bg 0.3))
   ((magit-diff-removed &override)           :foreground (doom-lighten fg 0.4) :background (doom-blend vc-deleted bg 0.1))
   ((magit-diff-removed-highlight &override) :foreground fg :background (doom-blend vc-deleted bg 0.22))
   ;;;; lsp-mode
   (lsp-headerline-breadcrumb-symbols-face :foreground keywords :weight 'bold)
   ;;;; outline <built-in>
   (outline-1 :slant   'italic :foreground fg-alt)
   (outline-2 :inherit 'outline-1 :foreground base2)
   (outline-3 :inherit 'outline-2)
   (outline-4 :inherit 'outline-3)
   (outline-5 :inherit 'outline-4)
   (outline-6 :inherit 'outline-5)
   (outline-7 :inherit 'outline-6)
   (outline-8 :inherit 'outline-7)

   (org-level-1 :inherit 'org-level-1 :foreground nano-color-strong)
   (org-level-2 :inherit 'org-level-2 :foreground nano-color-strong)
   (org-level-3 :inherit 'org-level-3 :foreground nano-color-strong)
   (org-level-4 :inherit 'org-level-4 :foreground nano-color-strong)
   (org-level-5 :inherit 'org-level-5 :foreground nano-color-strong)
   (org-level-6 :inherit 'org-level-6 :foreground nano-color-strong)
   (org-level-7 :inherit 'org-level-7 :foreground nano-color-strong)
   (org-level-8 :inherit 'org-level-8 :foreground nano-color-strong)

   (org-code     :inherit 'org-code
                 :foreground nano-color-salient
                 :weight 'bold)
   (org-verbatim :inherit 'org-verbatim
                 :foreground nano-color-salient
                 :weight 'bold)
   (org-upcoming-deadline :inherit 'org-upcoming-deadline
                          :foreground nano-color-critical
                          :weight 'bold)
   (org-upcoming-distant-deadline :inherit 'org-upcoming-distant-deadline
                                  :foreground nano-color-salient)

    :inherit 'org-habit-overdue-face
    :background fg-alt)
    :inherit 'org-habit-overdue-future-face
    :background nano-color-subtle)
    :inherit 'org-habit-alert-face
    :background nano-color-critical)
    :inherit 'org-habit-alert-future-face
    :background nano-color-subtle)

   (org-scheduled-today :inherit 'org-scheduled-today :foreground fg)
   (org-scheduled-previously :inherit 'org-scheduled-previously :foreground fg)

   ;;;; org <built-in>
   ((org-block &override) :background bg-alt)
   ((org-block-begin-line &override) :foreground base5)
   ;;;; solaire-mode
    :inherit 'mode-line
    :background modeline-bg-alt
    :box (if -modeline-pad `(:line-width ,-modeline-pad :color ,modeline-bg-alt)))
    :inherit 'mode-line-inactive
    :background modeline-bg-inactive-alt
    :box (if -modeline-pad `(:line-width ,-modeline-pad :color ,modeline-bg-inactive-alt)))))

;;; doom-plain-theme.el ends here

You will probably need more work to achieve the colors you expect. For that, using SPC-u C-x = will probably be useful. It will show the font face under the cursor.

Best of luck.