What Causes “Unsaved Theme” to Appear in Personalization window?

A desktop theme contains various settings such as cursors, icons, wallpaper, screensaver, and other UI settings. It’s obvious that when one of those theme parameters is changed, Windows saves the customized setting in a separate theme file named Custom.theme, which is displayed in the Personalization window as “Unsaved Theme”.

Unsaved Theme Appears in Personalization window

Unsaved Theme Appears in Personalization window

RELATED: Windows can’t find one of the files in this theme error

What Causes “Unsaved Theme” to Appear in the Personalization window?

The Unsaved Theme appears if some parameters of the theme (e.g., wallpaper, screensaver, cursor, or sound file, Window color setting, special folder icons, etc.,) are modified manually or by some third-party program. It could also be caused if you delete a background wallpaper file or any other element referenced in the theme file.

For instance, you may have changed the desktop background wallpaper and then deleted your old wallpaper image file which was once a part of the theme. The current theme or any other custom theme which stills points to the deleted wallpaper image will show up as Unsaved Theme. So, editing the Wallpaper filename (and/or other theme elements paths) in your custom *.theme files should fix the Unsaved Theme problem.

Another case: If you manually changed the icon of a shell folder like My Documents, My Music, etc., Windows had recognized the default theme as a changed theme and shows up as Unsaved Theme in the Personalization window.

A Microsoft forums user longnh said:

“Yep, I manually changed an icon of a folder a long time ago but I didn’t remember. Since then Windows 7 had recognized the default theme as “changed theme”. When I applied the Windows 7 default theme, that icon wasn’t restored and Windows 7 kept creating “Unsaved theme”. I just changed to icon to default and the problem was gone.

Thanks Ramesh again for the great suggestion.”

Additionally, if you use Bing Dynamic theme which automatically pulls down new wallpapers from the Bing servers periodically, it creates a background slideshow with the current set of downloaded images. It thus creates the Unsaved Theme containing only the currently displayed wallpaper.

If “Unsaved Theme” is reappearing automatically even after deleting the theme or by wiping out the custom.theme file, it could be a shell enhancement software running in the system and making changes to certain theme parameters (REF: Theme File Format). To know which setting is exactly being modified under the hood, you could do so using a text file compare utility like Compare It!.

  1. Start Compare It!
  2. Open the following folder:
  3. Select the first .theme file — the theme you were previously using.
    Unsaved Theme Appears in Personalization window
  4. Select the second .theme file Custom.themeUnsaved Theme Appears in Personalization windowAnd here comes the comparison… every change highlighted in green color.Unsaved Theme Appears in Personalization window
    (Fig 5, the SizeAll mouse cursor setting changed by an unknown program.)

Depending upon which theme parameter was changed and the resulting value data, you might have a clue about the program which changed the setting. If not, you may use Process Monitor to investigate.

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Ramesh Srinivasan is passionate about Microsoft technologies and he has been a consecutive ten-time recipient of the Microsoft Most Valuable Professional award in the Windows Shell/Desktop Experience category, from 2003 to 2012. He loves to troubleshoot and write about Windows. Ramesh founded Winhelponline.com in 2005.

5 thoughts on “What Causes “Unsaved Theme” to Appear in Personalization window?”

  1. Thanks Ramesh.

    I’d like to comment that for comparison, it is better to introduce a free piece of software instead of the commercial Compare It! For instance WinMerge and WinDiff are both free.

  2. Doesn’t work at all. Identifying the source of the unwanted “Unsaved Theme” file (Custom.theme) is more than just comparing two theme files. In short, it doesn’t help.

  3. I fixed this problem though I didn’t exactly catch the moment so I don’t have an exact fix.

    I was deleting the custom.theme file and opening personalization window. I did this in different orders a few times(opened personalization window, delete file, delete theme close it reopen it or just delete the file then open it etc.) At some point, the personalization window didn’t fully initialize(it was empty completely). I forced close it. Upon entering personalization again, the custom.theme was replaced by a third party theme located in my \Windows\Resources\Themes folder. It appears, this third party theme was trying to come back. 🙂 Now I have this third party theme listed too but I can choose my own themes without any problem.

  4. My experience: I changed my desktop background wallpaper and then deleted my old wallpaper image file. That may seem harmless, but I had two other custom themes that were still pointing to the now-deleted wallpaper image. That somehow caused an “Unsaved Theme” to appear, and was undeletable. So I manually edited the Wallpaper filename in all my other *.theme files. That fixed my “Unsaved Theme” problem.


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