How to Install Themes in Ubuntu Linux

This beginner’s guide shows you how to install themes in Ubuntu. The tutorial covers the installation of icon themes, cursor themes, GTK themes and GNOME Shell themes.

Ubuntu looks good but it can be tweaked to look better.

One of the reasons why I like using Linux is the flexibility of customization. Changing themes gives the system an entirely new look and feel. And the best thing is that there are tons of good themes for Ubuntu and other Linux at your disposal. You can play with them as you like.

In this tutorial, I’ll show you various types of theme customization and ways to install them. Of course, I’ll discuss how to change the themes in Ubuntu.

Let’s start with the type of theme elements.

Theme elements: Icon themes, GTK themes and GNOME Shell themes

This is the default look of Ubuntu 22.10:

Default look of Ubuntu 22.10 with some appliaction opened
The default Ubuntu 22.10 Look

And if I change all three theme elements, the same may look like this:

Look of Ubuntu desktop after applying Orchis theme to apps
After applying themes

Icons: Icons are pretty straightforward. Changing the icon theme will change the looks of the icons of applications. You should opt for an icon theme with support for a wide range of applications; otherwise, some icons remain unchanged and look out of place. You can refer to this article to find the best icon themes for Ubuntu.

GTK theme: GTK is a framework used for building the graphical user interface of an application. Basically, it determines how an application interface will look (if it is a GTK application). At present, Ubuntu uses GTK3/4 so you should download GTK themes, with some additional tweaks manually for GTK4 apps, which will be explained here.

GNOME Shell theme: Changing the GNOME Shell theme will change the Shell elements such as the top panel, activity overview, desktop notifications etc.

Cursor theme: As evident from the name, you can change the cursor of Ubuntu to something that you like more.

Some theme packages provide all types of theme elements to give you a uniform experience. On the other hand, you’ll also find a standalone icon or GTK or Shell themes.

Of course, you can combine them to give your Ubuntu system an attractive look.

Now that you are familiar with the terms, let’s move further. There are two parts here:

  1. Get the themes on your system
  2. Changing the current theme through the GNOME Tweaks tool

Step 1: Install themes in Ubuntu

Just for your information, I’ll use the term ‘themes’ for all four i.e., icons, GTK, cursors and GNOME Shell themes, unless individually specified.

I have also made a video about installing themes in Ubuntu 18.04 which is valid for 20.04 and some higher versions as well. You can watch the video to see the things in action. Do subscribe to our YouTube channel for more Ubuntu tutorials.

Install themes in Ubuntu 18.04 and 20.04

There are three main ways you can install themes in Ubuntu:

1. Using PPA to install themes

My favourite way of installing themes is to use a PPA. This way, you get the themes updated automatically. All you have to do is to use three lines of code, one by one.

Let’s take Flat Remix for example. This is a beautiful theme package developed by Dani Ruiz. You can install the theme package using the command below:

sudo add-apt-repository ppa:daniruiz/flat-remix
sudo apt update
sudo apt install flat-remix-gnome

This will install the Flat Remix Shell theme. You don’t have to do anything else. You now have the new themes available in your system.

We’ll see how to change themes in Ubuntu slightly later in this article. Let’s move on to other ways of installing themes.

2. Using .deb packages to install themes

Some theme developers provide a .deb executable for their theme. You only need to download the .deb package and double-click on it to install the theme like any other software.

This is perhaps the most common way of providing themes. If you go to the GNOME Look website in search of themes, you’ll find that themes come in zip or tar archive form. Don’t worry; installing themes this way is also not a big deal.

Let’s download the Ant GTK theme or Orchis theme. You’ll have to go to the Files section. If you see more than one file, it’s because this theme has some variants. These variants are similar but varied a little in terms of looks. For example, there could be a dark variant of a theme.

Download archive files of GTK themes from "Files" section of each theme in GNOME Look website
Download GTK themes from GNOME Look

Once you have downloaded it, you’ll have to do one extra stuff here.

Go to your Home directory and press Ctrl+H to show hidden files and folders. If you see .themes and .icons folders, you are good. If not, create new folders named .themes and .icons.

You can use the command below if you want:

mkdir ~/.themes
mkdir ~/.icons

Now, remember that when you download the archived version of GTK or GNOME Shell theme, extract it and copy the extracted folder to the .themes folder in your home directory. If you download an archived version of an icon or cursor theme, extract it and copy the extracted folder to the .icons folder in your home directory.

To summarize:

  • .themes – for GTK and GNOME Shell themes
  • .icons – for icon and cursor themes

Well, you have just learned how to install themes in Ubuntu. It’s time to see how to change the themes here.

Step 2: Change themes in Ubuntu GNOME desktop

You’ll have to use the GNOME Tweaks and Extension manager app for this purpose. It is available in the software center. Just search for it and install it.

If you prefer using terminal, you can use the command below to install GNOME Tweaks:

sudo apt install gnome-tweaks gnome-shell-extension-manager

Once installed, just search for Extension manager and open it. Go to the Browse tab and install the user themes extension.

Install "User Themes" extension from GNOME Extension Manager application
Install User Themes Extension through the Extension Manager

Now, open GNOME Tweaks.

When you start Tweaks, you’ll see the options to change the icon, GTK and Shell theme under the Appearance section. GTK theme is changed from the Legacy Applications option and the shell theme is changed from the Shell option.

Change Ubuntu themes using the GNOME Tweaks app
Change Ubuntu themes
💡
Some themes have a nested directory structure. If you copy them all in ~/.themes, they might not be visible in GNOME Tweaks. In that case, you should try to copy the correct folder, which may be down in the hierarchy.

Troubleshooting: Theme doesn't change for GTK4 apps

When you change themes using the above method, you may sometimes notice that the themes of some apps are not changed, especially in Ubuntu 22.10 and later version, where GTK4 versions of the Nautilus file manager, system settings etc. are used.

You can apply your theme to these apps also. But for the moment, it needs manual intervention.

Firstly, you should ensure that the theme supports GTK4.

If it supports GTK 4, you may find a folder named gtk-4.0 inside the extracted theme folder.

Copy the contents of this folder to the ~/.config/gtk-4.0 directory.

Copy the items in gtk-4.0 directory of the theme folder to gtk-4.0 directory in your .config directory  inside HOME
Copy GTK4 theme elements

Many themes that support the GTK4 libadwaita, provide a way to install their themes on their respective repositories. So, you can visit your favorite theme repo to learn more.

You may have to do special efforts for Flatpak applications as well if you want a completely changed look for all elements of your system.

Flatpak Apps Look Out of Place? Here’s How to Apply GTK Themes on Flatpak Applications
Flatpak applications don’t play along well with system themes because of their sandbox nature. With a little effort, you can make them work with system themes.

Customize as much as you like

Changing the theme in Ubuntu is not a complicated process. You just have to download the icon and theme files and extract them to the designated locations.

Looking for some recommendation?

25 Best Icon Themes For Ubuntu and Other Linux
Bored with the same old look of Ubuntu? Why not try one of the best Ubuntu themes listed here? Icon themes are the best and perhaps the easiest way to change the looks of your Ubuntu desktop. It literally transforms the entire look of your desktop. If you don’t

Here are some GTK themes you can try.

18 Best GTK Themes for Ubuntu and other Linux Distributions
Brief: Let’s have a look at some beautiful GNOME themes that you can use not only in Ubuntu but other Linux distributions that use GNOME. Even though we have plenty of Linux distributions that offer a good user experience, using a custom theme can take you for a rollercoaster

And if you are looking for dark themes, we've got a separate list for you:

13 Best Dark GTK Themes for Your Linux Desktop
With the near infinite customization options you have on any given Linux distribution, the most visually noticeable difference is customizing the theme. Let’s take a look at some of the GTK themes with dark mode. Yeah, we have covered the best Linux themes in the past but this one

Changing themes is just one way of customizing Ubuntu. There are several other ways you can try.

15 Simple Tips to Customize Ubuntu GNOME
Some basic and interesting GNOME customization tips for enriching your experience and getting more out of your Ubuntu desktop.

Furthermore, you can try installing GNOME extensions.

I hope you find this tutorial helpful. Let me know if you need any help.

About the author
Abhishek Prakash

Abhishek Prakash

Created It's FOSS 11 years ago to share my Linux adventures. Have a Master's degree in Engineering and years of IT industry experience. Huge fan of Agatha Christie detective mysteries 🕵️‍♂️

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