How to Customize Themes on Ubuntu Desktop with Gnome Tweaks

All UI oriented operating systems have a certain look and feel to them depending on the theme they are using. You may or may not like the default theme of an OS and might want to customize the entire user experience by initiating a new look of almost all desktop features. The Ubuntu desktop offers powerful customization options in terms of desktop icons, the appearance of the applications, cursor and, the desktop view. This is how your default desktop looks like as a result of using the following themes:

  • Applications Theme: Ambiance
  • Cursor theme: DMZ-White
  • Icons theme: DMZ-White
  • Shell theme: Default Gnome Shell

Ubuntu Default Theme

In this tutorial, we will describe how to change the above-mentioned themes in order to customize the desktop, the way you want to see it.

The Gnome Tweaks Utility: Your go-to Solution for Desktop Customization

The Tweaks utility allows you to play with your desktop look and feel to a great extent. It can install and manage themes and extensions, change power settings, manage startup applications, and enable desktop icons among other settings. Hence, the first step in the customization process is to install the Gnome Tweaks utility on your system in case it is already not installed.

Open the Terminal application by pressing Ctrl+Alt+T and then enter the following command as root:

$ sudo apt install gnome-tweaks

Install GNOME Tweaks


Open the Ubuntu Software utility from the desktop Activities menu and search for Gnome Tweaks and then install it.

Ubuntu Software Installer

When the Tweaks utility is successfully installed on your system, you can access it through the Dash or through the list of applications on your Ubuntu.

Start GNOME Tweaks

In the Appearance tab of Tweaks, you can see the default themes for applications, cursor, icons and Shell under the Themes category.

Appearance tab

Changing these four themes will give your Ubuntu Desktop a totally new look.

Now let us start customizing the themes one by one.

1. Customizing the Applications (GTK3) Theme

By default, your Application or GTK3 theme is set to the Ambiance theme. This theme mostly uses orangish and grey colors. You can change this theme by selecting another one from the Applications drop-down under the Themes category. For example, the Adwaita-dark theme that we selected in the following image is responsible for the dark grey and bluish theme that you can see here:

Customize Application Theme

You can also select any other theme according to your liking.

2. Customizing the Cursor Theme

By default, your Ubuntu cursor uses a DMZ-White theme, responsible for its white color in applications and black color on the desktop. You can change the color and feel of the cursor by selecting an option from the Cursor drop-down under the Themes category.

You can see how changing the Cursor theme to DMZ-Black has changed the cursor from the default white to the customized black color in the following example:

Customize Cursor Theme

3. Customizing the Icons Theme

The following image shows your default Ubuntu desktop icons located at the Applications toolbar. The responsible theme for this look of these icons is the default DMZ-White icons theme.

Custom Icons

In order to change how these icons look, you can select another theme from the Icons drop-down under the Themes category. For example, let us change this theme to Ubuntu-mono-dark as follows:

Change look of Icons in GNOME

Now your Activities icons will look like this:

New Icons

Another popular theme for icons is the Adwaita(default) theme but it is incomplete by default. However, you can install a complete version of this theme via the Ubuntu Terminal as follows:

Open the Terminal through Ctrl_Alt+T and then enter the following command as root user:

$ sudo apt install adwaita-icon-theme-full

Install new Theme

When the complete version of Adwaita icon theme is installed, you can select it through the Tweaks utility and enjoy it for your desktop icons.

You can download more themes from the internet and use them on your desktop. For example, you can download a very popular theme called Arc through the following command:

$ sudo apt install arc-theme

4. Customizing the Shell Theme

Let us present an example here on how to change the Shell Theme. We will download and install a theme called Transparent Shell theme.

If you also want to change the grey and orange panel theme, open the Tweaks utility and switch on User Themes from the Extensions panel.

Customize Shell Theme

Then download the above-mentioned theme from the following location as a .zip file:

In the Tweaks utility, Appearance panel, change to the theme you just downloaded by clicking None adjacent to Shell.

Tweaks utility, Appearance panel

This theme will give your desktop a lighter Windows-like look and feel.

So in this article, we have presented examples on how you can change the customizable themes of Ubuntu desktop in order to give it a totally new look and feel. You have seen that all of this was possible because of the powerful Tweaks utility. Apart from the examples used in this article, you can download and use hundreds of Ubuntu themes available on the Internet in order to view a desktop that best pleases your eyes.