How to Customize Templates in iWork Apps for Mac

iWork – Apple's office productivity software suite. Pages for word processing and page layout, Keynote for developing and delivering presentations, and Numbers for creating spreadsheets and charts.

Let's talk templates; specifically, iWork's document templates.

For me, the ability to work with document templates is one of the most valuable productivity features in any app, but especially in all three apps in the iWork suite.

For illustration purposes, I will be referring to the use of templates in the Pages app, but understand that the same mechanisms discussed are shared across the three apps in iWork. They are also called "Templates" in Numbers, but are named "Themes" in Keynote.

The Templates Chooser in Pages.

The Newsletters Templates category is selected in the Pages Template Chooser.

In generic terms, a template is a special kind of file that allows you to create documents based on prepositioned and custom formatted objects, graphics, text, and page layout schemes already contained in the template. When you call up a template file, it actually opens a copy of itself for you to work on, while the original template remains unchanged and closed for future use.

To me, the beauty of all this is that I can apply and present a consistent look-and-feel to my documents and presentations. Consider a template as a starting point towards your final product.

I suppose you can tell that I love templates. It may take a while to set them up just right, but they are huge time-savers if you prepare many kinds of documents and presentations.

I teach a number of Mac, iOS and Photography classes in three different colleges in my area. I like to "brand" my Pages handouts and other types of documents and Keynote presentations according to which school I will be utilizing them in. For instance, for the iPhoneography course I teach at the Delaware College of Art and Design, I use the school's logo in the header, my own personal contact information for student use, plus other graphical elements to set off document sections.

Pages allows me to design – with the inevitable occasional tweaking – a number of customized templates for a variety of specific uses in each of my classes and projects. For example, I use custom templates for articles, lecture notes, exercises and labs, quizzes, surveys, and more.

I go to great lengths to design each template just right so that I can reuse them over and over without any fuss. This can only be done successfully by taking advantage of the tools that Pages offers, such as the ability to create, store and apply customized styles for formatting a document layout, plus paragraph and character formatting, among others.

So, enough about me… how can you create these terrifically tantalizing templates?

Each iWork app comes configured with a number of pre-built attractive and useful templates designed for personal and business use.  (See the first illustration) While you certainly can just use these templates to generate your documents, you can create your own templates to fit your special needs. This can be done by starting from a blank document, or you can modify and tweak one of the existing stock templates to your heart's content, using it as a creative starting point for your customized template. 

Before you start to create a custom template, you have to pre-visualize the look of your finished product. You can utilize placeholders consisting of dummy "Lorem Ipsum" text as well as generic graphic components and photos. Formatting and placing these as desired within your template will allow you to get a good visual feel for your finished document. Within your template, you also place any static components, like page numbering, logos and various dingbats you like to pepper your document with, then lock them into place on the template document.

What happens to these placeholders? Well, when the time comes to actually use your template to create your final document, you will replace the placeholders with your actual content. The idea is that content will inherit any character, paragraph, and document formatting attributes, as well as other characteristics that you established in your template.

Once you are satisfied with your template you need to save it for future use.  However, you need to use a special Save reserved for creating template files. Go to File > Save as Template. By the way, you can modify your templates any time you want. 

The File menu in Pages, with Save as Template selected.

Templates are special types of files that are created and saved via the Save as Template command.

You can easily organize your templates so that they appear in the app's Template Chooser alongside the stock templates. This Chooser appears when you start a new document or by going to File > New from Template Chooser.

As for where to save your templates, you can actually do so anywhere on your storage devices. However, if you want them to be visible and organized in your app's Template Chooser, they must be saved into the app's "My Templates" folder that is created for you within your User Library.

Here is the path to this special location (for Pages):
~/Library/Application Support/iWork/Pages/Templates/My Templates.

If you want, you can go look as you read this, but if you have never created your own templates in any of the three iWork apps, these folders will not be present yet.

The first time you create and save a template, the file path described above is created. From that point on, all new templates you create will be stored there by default. While it's not absolutely necessary to store templates inside the "Templates" folder, it is a very important folder because whatever templates you have stored within it, and perhaps even organized into specific sub-folders, will subsequently appear similarly organized hierarchically inside the app's Template Chooser. It's a beautiful thing!

For instance, to get to your actual Pages template files that you created, you can do so from Finder via Go > Library > Application Support > iWork > Pages > Templates [Lion and Mountain Lion users: hold down the Option key while selecting the Go menu so that your normally hidden Library appears and becomes selectable in the menu]. Along the way, you may have noticed that folders for Keynote and Numbers are available choices as well, but only if you already created templates in those apps.

At this point, you may be wondering where the pre-configured stock template files are located. Apple doesn't want you to go mucking about with them, plus you really don't need to do so. They are hidden as resource files within the app's package file. However, you can open any of the stock templates using the app's Template Chooser, make your modifications, then save your new document based on the template. Alternatively, do a File > Save as Template to save your own custom version of the stock template for future use.

Now… let's say you're an organization freak like me, and you want to organize your own templates within sub-folders. Here's how I do it: I prefer to manually go into the "Templates" folder following the path via the Go menu as detailed above. I then create the folders which will apply some logical organization to the templates; for example, a folder for each school or project.

A Finder view of the Templates folder located in the User Library.

My folder organization inside the Templates folder in my User Library. This is reflected in the Templates Chooser.

As I save and organize my templates – and start actually using them – it's quite satisfying to see all of their thumbnails nicely organized and displayed in my app's Templates Chooser. I can easily pick-and-choose the one I need to create my final document or presentation.

The Templates Chooser in Pages, showing the author's custom templates.

Once I create my school and other templates, I can organize them as desired.

It goes without saying that your custom template files – especially when you have worked so meticulously to create them in the first place – may need to be considered as files of critical importance when thinking of your backup strategy, so plan accordingly. If using Time Machine, you're covered, since your all-important User Library is automatically backed up.

Templates have been around for a long time, and for good reason. Why not see for yourself how this feature can save you time, while allowing you to create professional-looking, consistently formatted documents and presentations.