Writers Guide to LibreOffice – Part 4

LibreOffice's Toolbars let you do many things, including dramatic but questionable headlines.

LibreOffice’s Toolbars let you do many things, including creating bright and garish headlines.

In this post, for LibreOffice (LO) newbies and experienced users alike, we tell you how to use toolbars, rearrange them, customize them, and redesign them. Even if you just want to write, though, there are a few things that will make that easier, too.

The only problem with LibreOffice toolbars is that there are just so darn many of them. Fortunately, some of them pop up only when you need them and then disappear (or at least, you can get rid of them) when you are finished.

Here’s an idea of what your writing screen would look like if you opened ALL of your toolbars:

Toolbars galore, in LibreOffice

When you make all your LibreOffice toolbars available at once, it’s hard to find a space to write in.

But my toolbar icons don’t look like your Writer icons!

That’s because LibreOffice offers you CHOICES in icon sets for your menus. In fact you can choose between six (yes, SIX!) different icon styles. To choose a set, you need Options.

The Options area is the semi-secret Area 51 region of LibreOffice, where mysterious things happen. (We’ll try to make them less mysterious.) Don’t worry, you shouldn’t run into any galactic aliens zooming around in flying saucers (unlike the legendary Area 51 in Nevada) – but it’d be really cool if you did! (Did I just see a floating menu bar zoom by???)

What’s Your Style? Choose your toolbar icon set.

First, go to the Tools menu and go nearly to the bottom to select the Options… tool. (If you’re using keyboard shortcuts like we talked about in the previous post, hit Alt-T then O. (This is a handy shortcut if you’re testing lots of settings.)

If you need to, click (or tap) on the boxed cross to open the topmost LibreOffice sub-menu.

Click on View and an options box will open up on the right hand side of the window.

Finding your icon options in Options

In the upper left part of the box, you’ll see User Interface. (See screenshot.) Here is where you control the look of your toolbars.

Icon size and style is where we’ll be looking, for now. Once you select something, the only way to view your changes is to click on the OK button. (There’s no preview option.)

It’s the Style dropdown menu that gives you your choices for icon sets. Here are the choices (from best – in my opinion – to worst):

  • Sifr – Is an inexplicable name, but I like this set the best. Its monochromatic flat design is modern, the icons large, and it’s calming to these old experienced eyes. (Yes, I use the Large icons, too.)

    Sifr icons sample

    Sifr icons

  • Galaxy – could be my fave without Sifr. The icons are larger. The red underlines are a little garish, but the set is easy to read.

    Galaxy icons

    Galaxy icons

  • Tango is nicely designed and tastefully colored with good contrast. The icons are a little bit smaller.

    Tango icon sample

    Tango icons

  • Crystal – Is nice, but the icons are too small for my taste. You need 20-20 vision (or better) to see them in the Small version.

    Crystal icons sample

    Crystal icons

  • Oxygen is left over, apparently, from an older implementation of OpenOffice (OxygenOffice). I don’t like the white, outlined style of the font formatting icons, but the rest are pleasant.

    Oxygen icons sample

    Oxygen icons

  • Hi Contrast – is definitely the ugliest of the choices here, but it might be useful if you later customize the menu bars to have a dark background. (Not something I recommend.)

    High Contrast icon sample

    Hicontrast icons

A few other settings, while you’re in the neighborhood

Unless you are using a very slow computer with no graphics acceleration, I recommend these settings in the LibreOffice -> View area:

  • Check (on) for Use hardware acceleration
  • Check (on) Use anti-aliasing (for smoother font display)
  • Check (on) for Show preview of fonts and Show font history in your font menu – unless you only use one font when you write.
  • Check Transparency on. I prefer to increase transparency to 85%. This only affects selected text. However, if you use search a lot, a lower transparency will make the results easier to find. If you uncheck it, LO reverses the colors (black text becomes white on a black background). If you were a big fan of Windows 95, this retro look is for you.

One more setting to check

One thing we will NOT do in this tutorial is explain what all the toolbar icons mean. Why not? Because LO will do it for you. If you are learning LibreOffice and its toolbars, there is one more setting I recommend: tooltips.

Again, back to Options (remember, Alt-T, O?). Then select General under the LibreOffice tree. On the right-hand window, you see Help. If you are new to LibreOffice, I suggest you check both Tips and Extended tips.

Setting Tooltips

Extended Tooltips

A sample extended tool tip that pops up when pointing at the Insert Table icon.

When you activate “Tips” and point at a toolbar icon, wait a second or two and a little popup window will show with the name of the tool. If you activate “Extended tips” the popup window will actually tell you how to use that tool. The instructions can get downright chatty, but they’re good. (Nothing else in this Options area needs to be checked, in my opinion.)

Okay, now that we’ve settled on the right environment, let’s return to Writer’s work area.

Writer window parts

Here’s a look at the different parts of the standard work area for Writer, courtesy the LibreOffice documentation team.

LO Writer Parts from Guide

Basic LibreOffice Toolbars

The upper docked toolbar, just below the Menu Bar, is the Standard Toolbar. The standard toolbar is found in all the LibreOffice applications and shows tools appropriate to each application.

Formatting text

The formatting toolbar when you are writing or editing text.

The next toolbar below is the Formatting toolbar, which is context sensitive, depending on what you are doing. Normally, when you are writing and editing text, it contains text-related tools (style selection, fonts selection, font formatting, color tools, and such.) When you click on an image in your document, this toolbar changes to show appropriate controls (plus, another Pictures toolbar pops up below your doc, too).

Formatting images

When you click on an image, the formatting toolbar changes to an image editing tool with layout options.

Where are all the other toolbars?

To find most of the possible toolbars in LO, go to the View menu, select Toolbars, and explore the long dropdown list. I’ll confess that, for my type of writing, I rarely use anything but the standard and formatting toolbars. Here are a few of the options:

  • Tools offers a hodgepodge of document design tools for complex documents. It might combine well with the Drawing menu, which turns Writer into a drawing program, too. You can add the Basic Shapes toolbar from the Standard toolbar (which, strangely, is not in the View list).
  • Fontworks offers drawing and distortion tools for headlines and the like. Known in that other program as WordArt. Use with care or you might get headlines like those at the beginning of this post.
  • Changes helps compare two versions of the same document, keeps track of comments and changes to the document, approves or declines changes someone else made, and turns on and off Track Changes. It automatically pops up when you add a comment, too. Very useful in proofreading and formal editing.
  • Form Design and Form Controls help you design forms for gathering information. Form Navigation helps you navigate through the collected data (or other data sources), or so I gather.
  • Logo refers to the programming language, not graphic design for logos. Honestly, I’m not sure why its here.

Toolbars in LO are quite flexible:

They can be docked (most of the main ones are). This means they anchor to one of the four sides in your work window, like the Standard and Formatting toolbars.

Toolbars can be moved and docked elsewhere on your work window.

Grab bar

The dotted lines (here enlarged) are the grab bar .

See the small dotted line on the left side of any docked toolbar? You can click and drag that to any of the 4 sides of your work window. Prefer your toolbars on the sides or on the bottom? Easy peasy.

You can play with them to see if another position works better.

Toolbars can also float. Again, click and drag from the dotted line, but instead of moving to the sides, move towards the center. The toolbar is now floating. Click and drag the toolbar’s title to move it anywhere on the screen or to a different screen.

A floating toolbar

If your primary screen is tiny, you can set up your toolbars on a second screen while you edit on your primary screen. You have to first move the toolbar to the center, release, then move to the other screen. There’s one floating window that you can’t dock, Find & Replace. (I wish you could.)

Personally, I find floating toolbars are handier with photo editors than with writing software. I prefer keeping Writer on one screen and my browser open in the other to use dictionaries, thesauri, Google, and other writing and research tools. Tailor your setup to what feels comfortable to you.

When you use the Command-Shift-J shortcut for full-screen editing (as we suggested in the previous post), the menus still disappear, even if they are on another screen.

Right Clicking Your Toolbars

Pushing your hidden buttons

There are hidden commands on your toolbars that you cannot see. No, they don’t wander around like ghosts in Hogwarts. (That would be fun, though.) Many of your toolbars just show a subset of the possible commands, mainly because most screens aren’t big enough to show them all. To see all the commands, you can right-click on a toolbar with your mouse (or the equivalent with your touchpad or other pointing device or finger). This gives you a drop-down menu from the toolbar with the additional commands. Try it! You need to click on a toolbar icon or the space in between (not a blank space and not on the title bar of a floating toolbar).

You see that you have additional options available when you right-click. For example, if you right-click on the formatting toolbar, you can select double underline, overline, outline text and more.

Customizing your Toolbars

You can customize your toolbars to match your work style.

If you right-click on a toolbar, go down the resulting menu and select Visible Buttons. You can choose which commands (and icons) show on your toolbar.

Go ahead and do this with the formatting toolbar. You will see that the live commands are highlighted, and the invisible ones aren’t. Maybe you want to get rid of the Shadow icon button and show the Double underline button instead. Just click on the commands you want to show and not show.

Customizing your LibreOffice toolbars


Instead of adding buttons, you might want to remove the ones you don’t use, to simplify things.

This process is easy, but you can only change one button at a time. If you want to be particularly adventurous with your LibreOffice interface, you can:

  1. Right click on any menu (the formatting menu will do).
  2. Select Customize toolbar…
  3. A popup window will show you options where you can completely redesign your toolbar.
  4. Scroll up and down in the window and you can select which icons show.
Customize toolbar box

The Customize Toolbar box gives you complete control over your toolbars and more!

In fact, you can go beyond customizing that toolbar and change every toolbar, Fkey assignment, keyboard shortcut, dropdown menu. This is great for customizing your entire writing environment — something you’ll probably only want to do if you are procrastinating or having major writer’s block. This tool area gives you Zeus-like powers over Writer. Don’t like a menu item – you can smite it here. In fact, you can go beyond just customizing and do some major damage to the LibreOffice interface here. Be responsible with your smiting.

It’s better to just add the occasional feature that makes your writing faster.


There is a lot to explore with LibreOffice toolbars. A few, like the drawing menu, are like a small added application. Of course, it IS an application called Draw, which is one of LibreOffice’s other modules. (That’s an advantage of an all-in-one application rather than a suite of separate tools.)

There is a toolbar to do just about anything you’d need in a printed or digital document (except, oddly, HTML design.) Many of these toolbars have features you and I will never use. But if you have a specialized need for complex document design and editing, check the LibreOffice documentation page and download the Writer Guide.

Originally, I planned to include details about the Status Bar (on the bottom of the screen) in this post. But there is so much surprising info about the bar that it’s become a separate post.

Have your own LibreOffice Toolbar Tips? Please share them in the comments.

Other articles in our series on LibreOffice for Writers:

Writing with LibreOffice – An Intro

Writing with LibreOffice – Part 2 – Installing

Writing with LibreOffice – Part 3 – Getting Started – Working the Menus

10 Secrets of the LibreOffice Status Bar


The LibreOffice Writer Window Parts image is courtesy of the LibreOffice Documentation Team; used undeer the GNU General Public License.Screen shots are by the author.

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