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Themes are used to customize component styles to fit the specific aesthetic of a brand or product.

Theming basics

Themes are used to modify existing components to fit a specific visual style. By using Carbon’s tokens, developers can easily customize all of their components by changing a set of universal variables, eliminating the need to modify individual components.

Theme terms

ThemeA collection of visual attributes assigned to the tokens in order to create a specific aesthetic
TokenA role-based identifier that assigns a value to a theme. Tokens are universal and never change across themes
RoleThe systematic usage(s) of a token. Roles cannot be changed between themes
ValueThe actual style (such as a hex code) assigned to a token

Default theme

Carbon provides four themes as shown in the color usage page. When @carbon/react is downloaded and installed, the components are preset to use the default (White) theme.

To use the Gray 10, Gray 90, or Gray 100 theme as your default instead of White, configure the sass module usign with.

@use '@carbon/react/scss/themes';
@use '@carbon/react/scss/theme' with ($theme: themes.$g100);

Customizing a theme

The default theme acts as a starting point; from there designers and developers can define how their own components and styles deviate from the default. Altering one, some, or all of the default token values will result in a new theme. The developer configures these new values by configuring the sass module using with which can replace the values of the default theme or add new custom tokens as well.

@use '@carbon/react/scss/theme' with
$theme: (
background: #e2e2e2,
text-primary: #ffffff,
custom-token-01: #000000,


With tokens, the code only needs to be changed in one place to see the effect system-wide. Tokens are used across all components and help keep global patterns and styles consistent.

All tokens come pre-baked into the Carbon component source code. Tokens are denoted by the prefix $ (e.g. $layer-01). Tokens can also be nested within other tokens. For example, $interactive calls the IBM Design Language color palette token $blue-60 for its value in the default theme.

There are several token categories:

  • Color
  • Spacing
  • Typography
  • Global

The full list of tokens available can be found in the source of the @carbon/themes package per theme for white, g10, g90, and g100.


Each theme is assigned universal color variables, which are determined by common roles and usage. This allows for uniform color application across themes while maintaining full styling flexibility. For more information, see the color page.


Use the spacing scale when building individual components. It includes small increments needed to create appropriate spatial relationships for detail-level designs. For more information, see the spacing page.


Typography has four categories of type styles (universal, productive, editorial, and additional) that can be customized through tokens. These tokens are used both within components and across layouts. Type tokens are determined by their role across the system. For more information, see the typography page.


The other categories are global and component-specific variables. These control more general styling of components, such as layer usage or border width. The full list of tokens available can be found in the source of the @carbon/themes package.

Theming applied

The following example demonstrates the relationship between the different themes. Each theme shares the same variables and roles, with only the value changing for each individual theme.

Default theme applied
KeyTokenRoleWhite theme valueGray 100 theme value
1$text-secondaryLabel colorGray 70Gray 30
2$text-primaryPrimary text colorGray 100Gray 10
3$border-strongBorder bottom colorGray 50Gray 60
4$icon-primaryPrimary icon colorGray 100Gray 10
5$field-01Field colorGray 10Gray 90
6$backgroundPage backgroundWhiteGray 100