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Category Archives: GNOME Themes

In perusing the Ubuntu forums, I have run into a ton of posts asking how to install gnome themes (gtk themes / metacity themes, icon themes, emerald).  I have decided to share what I’ve gathered over the last couple years.  Although it’s rather simple, I couldn’t find this information anywhere.

GTK / Metacity Themes

To install GTK and Metacity themes, all you need to do is extract the archive to the correct place.  Both GTK and Metacity themes can go into the same themes folder.  The thing most people don’t realize, and nobody mentions for the most part, is that to properly install a theme you need to put it in the /usr/share/themes directory.  The reason is so that it’s installed for all users.  The reason you want to install it for all users is so that when you run an application with root privelages it uses your theme.  So, pretty much anything in the System -> Administration will not use the theme if you do not install it into the /usr/share/themes directory.  Before you install, you need to determine the type of archive.  Most archives are in tar.gz format.  There are some that are in tar.bz2 format as well though.  To install a theme that’s packaged in a tar.gz file run the following command:

sudo tar xzvf name-of-archive.tar.gz –directory=/usr/share/themes

To install themes packaged in a tar.bz2 file run this command:

sudo tar xjvf name-of-archive.tar.bz2 –directory=/usr/sahre/themes

Once the extraction is complete, all you need to do is go to System -> Preferences -> Themes, click customize and pick the new GTK / Metacity theme.

Icon Themes

Installing an icon theme is equally simple.  The same deal applies, you just need to extract to the correct location so that programs run as root use the correct icons.  Also, see my post about Nautilus and emblems, it will make your icon themes much prettier.  The correct directory for icon themes is /usr/share/icons.  To install a theme that’s packaged in a tar.gz file run the following command:

sudo tar xzvf name-of-archive.tar.gz –directory=/usr/share/icons

To install themes packaged in a tar.bz2 file run this command:

sudo tar xjvf name-of-archive.tar.bz2 –directory=/usr/share/icons

Emerald Themes

If you don’t know what Emerald is, you should check it out.  It’s a window decoration manager that does a really nice job.  To use it you’ll need a compositing manager such as compiz.  To install emerald simply run this command:

sudo aptitude install emerald

To install a theme for Emerald go to System -> Preferences -> Emerald Theme Manager, click the Import button, and select the .emerald file.  Your new theme will show up in the Emerald Theme Manager theme list, to apply it just click on it.

That’s pretty much it, installing a theme is really easy but again I didn’t see any comprehensive guides so I figured I’d share what I know.  Hopefully this helps people customize Ubuntu to their liking.

I use Ubuntu, and for anyone who hasn’t tried it (especially if you use windows) give it a shot.  You will be very impressed.  This weekend I was looking for a really good icon pack.  After the upgrade to hardy I stopped using Thunar for my file manager.  This is because the new version of Nautilus has fixes for a lot of the things I had problems with.  However, there were a few issues with the icon themes I have been trying.  I’m actually using an icon theme that’s in the ubuntu repositories.  The icon theme is used by Ubuntu Studio, which is a version of Ubuntu aimed at multimedia development.

Obviously when picking an icon pack the most important thing is how they look graphically.  A lot of new icon themes have issues with emblems.  Most noticeably the desktop emblem which you see in your home folder on the desktop folder.  A lot of icon themes are missing this emblem, so what you see is the default gnome desktop emblem.  A lot of times the default emblem just doesn’t fit well.  What I’ve found is that most icon themes actually have a desktop icon, they just aren’t duplicated in the emblems directory.

Lame Desktop Emblem

So, what you can do is copy the desktop icon into the emblems folder and rename it to emblem-desktop.svg (or png depending on the type of theme).

After this change, it looks like this:

Much Better Desktop Emblem

There’s also a bug in Nautilus that will cause the emblems to be cut off if the icons are sized above 100%. You can see this in action here:

Cut Off Emblems

There’s a pretty simple fix for this problem.  All that is needed to fix this issue is to create a single file that instructs Nautilus to render the emblems on the righthand side of the icons.  The bug seems to only occur when the emblems are close to the right edge of the icons.  The file needs to be called folder.icon, and it needs to go in your /usr/share/icons/{ThemeName}/{IconSize}/places/ folder.  The file should look like this:

[Icon Data]

After the fix the emblems will look something like this:

Nice Full Emblems

You can tweak the attach points to your liking, but keep the x value near the left side.  The braces separate the position of each of the potential emblems.  Three should be enough, most icons won’t have more than two emblems.  Like I said, tweak away.  Hopefully this picky people out there (like me).

I recently came across another really nice theme pack for GTK / Emerald.  It’s called Overglossed.  The theme is really well put together.  I have had a really hard time finding a decent dark theme.  This is the first that I have come across that I can really tolerate, and that doesn’t cause any issues with applications.  Some dark themes create problems with certain applications (text being unreadable).  Well, have a look.

Overglossed GTK / Emerald Theme with Crashbit Icon Theme

Download the theme pack here


This is the first post in what I hope to be a series which highlights the best themes out there for GNOME (GTK, Emerald, GNOME Icons). There are a couple of good sites to find themes, however they don’t do a very good job highlighting the themes that are really worthwile. There are so many to look at, and the ratings aren’t all that accurate. Also, for the most part, everything out there is so piecemeal. Granted, it’s nice being able to pick and chose every element of your desktop, but it’s nice to find themes that work well together.

My first theme package contains a very nice GTK theme by freakcode at deviantART. The theme is based on the Aurora engine, which in my opinion is the nicest looking engine out there. It is very well put together. All of the details are really well done. The progress bars are animated and I love all of the rounded edges. Have a look:

I like the fact that it’s not too dark, but it’s not so bright that it’s hard to look at. The icon pack is called Elementary, by DanRabbit again at deviantART. It’s a macish looking icon pack that is really well done. The icons are svg based so no matter the size they look fantastic. Here’s a look at some of the icons, it should give you a good idea of the quality.

Elementary Icons by DanRabbit

Lastly, the emerald theme I have included in this pack is called Aero-Aqua mix. Let it be known that I am not a fan of Vista, or Microsoft for that matter. But this theme does a good job of taking two different looks and combining them into something that looks really nice. It gives Emerald / Compiz a chance to show off its blur and transparency effects. Props to the guys that created these themes.

This is what I am currently using for my desktop. All of these themes really come together well and create a very impressive look. I am always looking for something better, when I find another combination that works well I will write another one of these hogs.

Download the theme pack