Intro

When trying to help Captivate users, I often bump into confusion between themes and templates. Same confusion can be found in many training schedules and books. There has been a lot of evolution in Captivate since versions, slowly but steadily. Those are not the big hype features that were emphasized everywhere. My blog fans know that I often appreciate more the hidden gems, which help any developer to save time and frustration. This article will explain how I am creating custom Themes, and also why I am using Templates a lot less than in earlier versions of Captivate (before version 6).

Theme versus Template

The goal of a Captivate theme is to keep a consistent design throughout your project. It can be 'applied' to any project, even after creation. Although most themes will be created for a certain resolution, when designed carefully it is not necessary to apply it only to projects with the same resolution. When you apply a well designed theme to a project, the 'look' will change immediately and you'll not have to edit the design a lot afterwards. A theme is saved in a file with extension cptm. You can have themes for a normal (blank)  or for a responsive theme. Captivate 8 and 9 both have several themes in the box, most of them being responsive themes. They show up as thumbnails when you click on the Big Button 'Themes'. Those Captivate themes are stored in the Public Documents, under the subfolder 'Layouts' of the 'eLearning Assets', at the same level as the Theme Colors palettes.

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You can store custom themes in this folder or wherever you want. The Thumbnails view (under Themes button) has a Browse button which allows you to navigate to any folder. I will mostly save a custom theme in the project folder when working for a client. But you see in the screenshot that I have a custom theme (CP8Theme) in the default folder. That folder is a copy of the original Layouts folder in the Gallery under the Captivate installation folder. If you ever have messed up one of the themes in the Public documents, you can restore it from that original folder. If you delete the whole Layouts folder in the Public documents, while Captivate is closed, on restarting the application a new copy of the original folder will be installed in the Public documents (see also my article: Keep your Customisation).

To save a theme you need to use the Themes menu, not the big button 'Themes'. Use the option 'Save Theme as' if you started from an existing Captivate theme.

A template in Captivate has to be chosen before you create a project. You have to use the option File, New Project, Project from Template. This means that a template needs to have exact the same resolution as you want for your project. As for a theme, there is a difference between a template for a responsive, and one for a normal (blank) project. A template file has the extension cptl. When you create a project from a template, it will get the normal extension cptx. You can edit a template, and that will the only reason why you would save it again as a cptl. It is also possible to create a template from a normal cptx-file with the option 'File, Save As'. There is no 'reserved' folder for templates, Captivate has no included 'templates'. The term is often wrongly used: most Captivate 'templates' that you can find on the web, are just cptx-projects, not templates in the Captivate language.

When a template is saved, the used theme, preferences etc are saved with the template. However you can always apply another theme later on.

Components of a Theme

It is rather important to know what exactly will be saved in a custom theme. . Remember: if you ever want to use that theme in a responsive project, be sure to create the theme in such a project. I will list up the components in the logical sequence to be followed when editing or creating a custom theme :

1. Theme colors palette

The start point for design consistency in a project is guaranteed by the consequent use of a Theme, which starts with the creation of a palette with 10 colors that will be used for object styles, master slides, skin, and within learning interactions. I have written some articles about the creation of a Theme colors palette:  Colorful 2015  and   Theme Colors. Beware: it is no longer possible to save an ASE file with Adobe Color (as described in the first article): that means that the Swatch Manager is not very useful anymore. My recommendation is to ignore the Swatch Manager and focus on the Theme Colors Palette, which is available in any Color Dialog box.

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When saving a theme (using the Themes menu), the used theme colors palette will be saved with the same name. In the mentioned articles you'll find a way to save a theme colors palette independently from a theme as well. The saved document is a XML-file.

2. Object Styles - Object Style Manager

Most design-oriented applications have a work flow for creation and use of styles (Word, InDesign, Framemaker). All experts and good trainers will tell you to use styles, and to avoid overridden styles. Captivate is no exception in that world: it has a great Object Style Manager to be found under the Edit menu (or by using the the shortcut key SHIFT-F7). Object styles can be saved individually, have the extension cps, only useful in case you want to export/import such an individual style. In most use cases you'll save all the object styles necessary for a project in a custom theme, no need to export/import styles anymore as was the case before themes appeared in Captivate.

 

If you are working on a responsive theme: first define the breakpoint views you want in the theme, before launching the Object Style Manager. In the styles you will be able to define the look for the breakpoints that are available in the project.

Make some decisions about which objects you'll be using in the theme as well. Just an example: if you prefer using shapes instead of captions for feedback messages, capture messages etc you do not need to change all the caption styles. A similar situation exists for normal buttons vs shape buttons.

 

Some tips:

  • Use only colors from the palette defined in Step 1.
  • Do not hesitate to change one of the (grayed out) styles between brackets [Default...]. You can overwrite those styles, since you are working on a custom theme. Those are the styles that will be applied immediately when you insert an object. Another approach is to clone a style and set it as Default style. The problem is that you'll end up with tons of custom styles, which makes selecting the proper style in dropdown lists not easier. That is why I always change existing default styles.
  • For buttons: the InBuilt states Rollover and Down are available together with Normal  for change in the OSM, do not forget to check/edit those states. This is valid for Text Buttons, Image Buttons and Transparent buttons.

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  • For shapes: you cannot define a default style for text and another default style for buttons (too bad), but any shape style that you define should include InBuilt states (Normal, Rollover, Down) because any shape can be converted to a button.

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  • Quizzing objects are in a separate category. Quiz buttons cannot be replaced by shape buttons (yet), but you can define an individual object style for each quiz button. Feedback captions can be replaced by shapes.
    Feedback captions and shapes not always use theme colors in the default Themes included with Captivate. Be careful: if you want to have consistent colors in your project, you'll need to check those styles.
  • It is not possible to define real Effects in an Object style. Only the 'old' Transitions can be defined.

3. Master slides

The Object styles defined in step 2 - at least the default styles - will immediately be applied to the objects on the Master slides.  If it doesn't look well, you can edit the object style and redefine it, while working on the objects in the Master slides (It can be done with the Properties panel). Be sure to make all added objects responsive (check all the breakpoint views) on the master slides.
Each theme needs at least 6 master slides (Blank Master slide, 4 Quiz master slides and a Score master slides), besides the main master slide, but you can create as many master slides as you want. You can add different type of placeholders on master slides, but be careful with the 5 master slides for Quiz: the embedded objects (without individual timeline) have a lot of functionality built in!

 

Some tips

  • Use the new Rulers and Guides to assist you when designing master slides: check this post Guides Rule!
  • If you plan to use the theme for software simulations: keep a real Blank master slide, because it is used both for software simulations and for Powerpoint import. You don't want those slides covered up with other stuff.
  • Remember that shape buttons can be used on master slides, they can have actions. This can be a big time saver for custom buttons like the ones from these posts: Toggle buttons   and Replay slide button
  • Do not forget to label the master slides

 

4. Skin

 

Use the theme colors palette to customize the skin: playbar, borders and Table of Contents. You can even insert a logo on the TOC and eventually custom expand/collapse icons.5. Recording defaultsThis is only necessary for themes (also) to be used for software simulations. Although you have set up Default object styles in step 2, you still have to indicate which styles have to be used when capturing simulations. Just one example:

  • Create a default style for the highlight box in step 2: with a big bright red stroke and outer fill. Set it to display as default highlight box style.
  • Open Preferences, Recording, Defaults and check the default Highlight box style: it will still be set at the original default style in the original theme. Bit annoying, but it also allows you to save two different sets of object styles within a theme: one for normal slides, and one for software capture slides.

Do not forget to save the theme (using the Themes menu)!

Do you need a Template?

I ask this question very often and everywhere: with all the design power and flexibility of a custom theme, why would you still need a template? Before themes existed, I used templates to be able to reuse variables and advanced actions (see: Template for reusing script). With the present version of Captivate, we have shared actions which I store in a separate project to be used as external library in any project. Variables, used in those shared actions, get copied automatically when the shared action is dragged into the Library of the new project.  When you copy an object, that triggers an advanced action, the action will be copied along when pasted into another project.

I used templates to have footnotes on each slide, pointing to the name of the project, showing the slide number and the total amont of slides. But now you can put them on master slides, using system variables or user variables that can be populated later on.

When would I use a template in Captivate 9? For courses that have several modules, where you want to have some slides in common, maybe have custom navigation/control buttons that cannot be put on the master slide, but need to be timed for the rest of the project. I would rarely use it to have placeholder slides, unless some team members need to have that assistance. Lot of placeholders have fixed object size, which can just be annoying. If you do have a lot of advanced actions (maybe variables), that cannot be replaced by shared actions, identical entries in Project Info, variables not included in shared actions: those would be situations where I would think about creating a template.


Conclusion

I hope this post did clarify the difference between a theme and a template. If you ever see somewhere my question 'Do you need a template', this will no longer be a mystery, right?