How to Install Desktop Themes and Icons in Linux

Customize nearly any Linux distribution and desktop environment

Install Custom Themes on Linux

The freedom to customize Linux to fit your own preferences and needs shouldn’t stop at customizing your desktop. Linux offers a wide range of icon and desktop themes you can easily apply to change the entire look and feel of your system. Because Linux is built for customization, it's really simple to download and install these themes on virtually any Linux system.

How to Install Desktop Themes on Linux

  1. Begin by finding a theme you want to use on your system. OpenDesktop.org is a great place to start to find a theme you’d like to try.

    Opendesktop.org open on Ubuntu

    There are plenty of places online where you can find GTK themes, which are compatible with GNOME, XFCE, Cinnamon, and most other Linux desktop environments, with the exception of KDE Plasma.

  2. When you’ve located a theme you want to use, select the Files tab.

  3. The page will shift to show the complete list of available files. They’ll all be tar archives, each containing a variant of the theme. Pick one you want to try, and select the download icon to download it.

    Opendesktop.org Theme File Downloads
  4. Your browser will probably prompt you to either save or open the file. Pick whichever you’re more comfortable with.

  5. If you chose to download the file without unpacking it, you’ll need to do that now. Open a terminal. Change directories into your Downloads folder.

    $ cd ~/Downloads

    Then, locate the archive. Use the ls command to find your file by its name.

    $ ls | grep -i flat-remix

    When you find the file, use tar to unpack it.

    $ tar xJpf Flat-Remix-GTK_2.8.tar.xz

    This is entirely optional.

  6. There are two places where you can move your theme folder. If you just want to install the theme for yourself, you can place it in your /home directory at ~/.local/share/themes.

    If you’d rather install the theme system-wide so everyone can use it, place the theme folder in /usr/share/themes.

    The commands to copy it over look like this:

    $ cp -r ~/Downloads/Flat-Remix-GTK_2.8 ~/.local/share/themes/

    or

    $ sudo cp -r ~/Downloads/Flat-Remix-GTK_2.8 /usr/share/themes/
  7. Open your desktop environment’s settings. Look for the Appearance or Themes option. If you’re on GNOME, you’ll need to install gnome-tweak-tool. Open a terminal and use Apt to install it.

    $ sudo apt install gnome-tweak-tool

    When you have it, open it, and select the Appearance tab.

  8. Whichever desktop you’re using, use the theme menu to locate your downloaded theme. When you select it, you should see it applied immediately.

    Apply Your Theme Through GNOME Tweak Tool
  9. There you go! Repeat these steps to install as many themes as you want.

How to Install Custom Icons on Linux

The process for installing icons is almost the exact same, but you place the icons in a different folder.

  1. Start again by finding an icon theme that you want to use. OpenDesktop.org is once again a great place to look.

  2. Just like before, select Files to see any available variations.

  3. Download the set of icons that you'd like to install. Like before, you can unpack it graphically or via the tar command.

    $ tar xJpf papirus-icon-theme-20190203.tar.xz
  4. You’ll need to move your extracted icon folder into place. Once again, there are two options here. If you choose to install the for just your user, you can move the folder to ~/.local/share/icons/. For a system wide installation, place them in /usr/share/icons/.

    Again, open the terminal and use either of the following commands.

    $ cp -r ~/Downloads/papirus-icon-theme-20190203 ~/.local/share/icons/

    or

    $ sudo cp -r ~/Downloads/papirus-icon-theme-20190203 /usr/share/icons/
  5. Select the Appearance or Themes tab as before. It’s the same for GNOME Tweak Tool too.

    Select Your New Icons in GNOME Tweak Tool
  6. In just about every case, you’ll find an option to select your icon theme. Find and select your new theme to apply it.

  7. Follow this same process to install as many new themes as you like.