How to Change the Way Unread Messages Look in Outlook

Use conditional formatting to make unread messages stand out

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Microsoft Outlook, by default, shows unread messages in the same font style as messages that have been read. If you want unread messages to really stand out, use conditional formatting to change their appearance with a different color, font, or style. For example, set a conditional rule that specifies all unread messages appear in red.

Here's how to use conditional formatting to make unread Outlook messages stand out.

Information in this article applies to Outlook 2019, 2016, 2013, and 2010, as well as Outlook for Microsoft 365. Outlook.com instructions are included, as well.

Apply Conditional Formatting to Unread Messages

Here's how to specify conditions and formatting for incoming messages.

  1. Go to the View tab and select View Settings.

    Screenshot of View Settings in Outlook
  2. In the Advanced View Settings dialog box, select Conditional Formatting. A set of default rules appears.

    Screenshot of Conditional Formatting in Advanced View Settings
  3. In the Conditional Formatting dialog box, select Add.

    Screenshot of Adding Conditional Format in Outlook
  4. In the Name text box, enter a descriptive name for the new conditional formatting rule, such as Custom unread mail.

    Screenshot of naming new conditional format in Outlook
  5. Select Font to change the font settings.

  6. In the Font dialog box, change the Font, Font style, Size, or Color. In this example, we're changing the settings to a different font, bold, and the color red.

    Screenshot of selecting Font for unread items
  7. Select OK.

  8. In the Conditional Formatting dialog box, select Condition.

    Screenshot of selecting formatting condition in Outlook
  9. In the Filter dialog box, go to the More Choices tab.

  10. Select the Only items that are checkbox and choose Unread.

    Screenshot of setting up an unread filer in Outlook
  11. Select OK.

  12. In the Conditional Formatting dialog box, select OK.

  13. In the Advanced View Settings dialog box, select OK.

  14. Go to your Inbox.

    Screenshot of unread messages displayed with conditional formatting
  15. All unread messages now follow your new conditional formatting rule.

In Microsoft Outlook 2007, the Organize feature enabled you to create conditional text formatting rules for email messages.

Make Unread Messages Stand Out in Outlook.com

If you're using the free webmail version of Outlook, there's no way to set conditional formatting. You can, however, use Rules to make unread messages stand out.

  1. Open Outlook.com and select Settings (the gear icon in the upper-right corner of the screen).

    Screenshot of settings in Outlook online
  2. Select View all Outlook settings.

    Screenshot of View all Outlook settings in Outlook online
  3. In the Settings window, select Mail > Rules.

  4. Select Add new rule.

  5. Enter a descriptive name for your rule.

  6. Select the Add a condition dropdown arrow and choose Apply to all messages.

  7. Select the Add an action dropdown arrow and choose Categorize. Then select the category to apply to all new messages.

    Screenshot of applying rule to all unread messages.
  8. Select Save, then close the Settings window. Your unread messages will now appear in the color category you selected.