How to Install Themes in Ubuntu

There are tons of themes with which you can personalize your Ubuntu workstation and getting them up and running is a breeze – especially with Ubuntu’s latest Bionic Beaver release.

Before we get to how to install themes, however, it is important to be clear on the differences between the themes available for Ubuntu – they include GTK ThemesIcon Themes, and GNOME Shell Themes.

  • GTK Themes change the overall appearance of an application’s interface provided it is a GTK application. Ubuntu currently uses GTK3 framework so any themes you download to personalize the UI of your installed GTK apps should be GTK3 themes.
  • Icon Themes are packages that contain stylized application icon sets. Setting a new icon theme will change the look of the app icons on your system but will not change its overall look. It is important to always use icon themes that support a wide range of applications so that your icons don’t look out of balance.
  • GNOME Shell Themes change the appearance of your desktop environment e.g. desktop notifications, top panel, activity overview, etc.

Sometimes, themes are packaged to contain all 3 theme categories in order to provide a uniform UI/UX across distributions and other times, developers release work for one or two theme categories. A good example of this is the Numix project.

Since we can now be sure of which themes we will be installing, let’s move on to the available installation methods.

1. Install Ubuntu Themes via PPA

This is probably the most common way to install themes in Ubuntu and it is straightforward and its main benefit that the themes are automatically updated as soon as a new version is released.

In this example, we are installing Flat Remix GNOME Theme, once installation, you can activate the theme using GNOME Tweak Tool.

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

2. Install Ubuntu Theme Via .deb Packages

Some themes are available in the form of .deb packages (the Ubuntu alternative to .exe files on Windows) and all you need to do after downloading theme is to double-click to install them or install using following command.

$ sudo dpkg -i theme-file.deb

The themes will be installed like any other software and ready for activation using GNOME Tweak Tool.

3. Install Ubuntu Theme Via Archive Files

Some themes also come in .zip or .tar archive files and they contain more than one file when the theme has multiple variants.

All you have to do is download the theme archive file and extract its content into your respective .themes and/or .icon directories which are typically located inside the home directory.

Both directories are hidden so press CTRL + H to reveal them. If you still can’t see them, create them using the following commands in your terminal.

$ mkdir ~/.themes
$ mkdir ~/.icons

Just like in the first 2 methods, you can now activate the newly added theme and/or icons set using GNOME Tweak Tool.

Possible Hiccups

If you see an error triangle next to the Shell icon you will discover that you can’t customize the GNOME Shell theme and that means you need to install at least the minimal GNOME extensions package curated for Ubuntu distros using the command below:

$ sudo apt install gnome-shell-extensions

Next, restart your system and navigate to Extensions in GNOME Tweak Tool and enable the User themes option. You can now change your GNOME Shell theme.

Which theme installation method do you find more convenient for your workflow and have you gathered a list favorite themes so far? Feel free to share your experience with us in the comments section below.

Divine Okoi is a cybersecurity postgrad with a passion for the open-source community. With 700+ articles covering different topics in IT, you can always trust him to inform you about the coolest tech.

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