How to install desktop themes on Ubuntu 18.04 LTS

Ubuntu 18.04 LTS, which uses the GNOME Shell desktop by default, has no way of changing your desktop theme. Whether you’re looking for a bright blue theme or a nice dark theme, here’s how to customize your desktop.

Although it doesn’t come with many customization options by default, the GNOME Shell desktop is very customizable. To the example, you can even use extensions and themes to make Ubuntu look very much like Windows.

How to change desktop themes

We recommend installing the GNOME Tweaks application, formerly known as the GNOME Tweak Tool, to change your design.

To graphically install it, open the Ubuntu software application, search for “tweaks”, and then install the GNOME Tweaks application.

To install GNOME Tweaks from a terminal window, run the following command instead:

sudo apt install gnome-tweaks


After installing this tool, you can launch the Tweaks shortcut in the desktop application menu to open it.

In the Tweaks window, select the “Appearance” category and use the options under Themes to change your theme settings.

By default, Ubuntu uses the “Ambiance” theme for applications (this is also known as the GTK3 theme), the DMZ White theme for your mouse cursor, and the Ubuntu Mono Dark Icon theme.

The Shell Theme option is not available by default, but it controls the desktop shell style – for example, the control panel at the top of the screen and the application menu.

Several other themes are already installed. To the example, you can activate the standard Adwaita and Adwaita-dark themes of the GNOME desktop with just a few clicks. These themes use more shades of blue and are great choices if you want something spruced up but without the standard Ubuntu orange colors. The Adwaita design uses white and blue tones while the Adwaita Dark design uses dark gray and blue tones.

You can also enable the Adwaita icon design from here, although the Adwaita icons are incomplete by default.


To install the full Adwaita icon design, open a terminal window from the desktop’s applications menu.

Run the following command and enter your password when prompted:

sudo apt install adwaita-icon-theme-full

How to install the popular Arc theme

arc is one of the most popular Linux GTK themes. It’s a modern flat theme with some sheer elements and uses blue accents instead of Ubuntu’s normal orange accents. It is available in both light and dark versions.

To install the arc theme, open a terminal window and run the following command. Enter Your password and enter “Y” to confirm when prompted:

sudo apt install arc-theme

You can choose the Arc, Arc-Dark or Arc-Darker themes from the Tweaks application. If the Tweaks application is already up and running, you will have to close and open it again after installing your new theme.

The Arc theme is blue and white, the Arc Darker theme is blue and dark gray, and the Arc Lighter theme is the standard blue and white theme, but with dark gray title bars and sidebars. The full Adwaita icon theme goes pretty well with this application theme.

How to install additional themes

There are several ways to install additional themes. You can install them from Ubuntu’s software repositories, get them from a personal package archive (PPA), download .deb packages that contain themes, or install manually extracted themes from downloaded .zip or .tar.gz files.


You may want to search for lists of Ubuntu themes online so you can decide which ones to install. Each topic has instructions on how to install it, often in its README file or on its download page. Always follow these instructions as some themes require additional software or special installation steps.

How to install theme packs

To install themes that are in Ubuntu’s standard software repositories, just use a regular one apt Command and give it the name of the theme’s package. Both GTK (application) and icon themes are available from here, although there are only a handful of themes in the repositories.

To the exampleto install the Numix GTK and icon design, which uses more red accents, run the following command:

sudo apt install numix-gtk-theme numix-icon-theme

You can then activate your installed theme through the Tweaks app.

Other topics reside in personal package archives or PPAs. You need to add the PPA to your system and then one apt Command to install the theme from the repository. When you find a topic that requires a PPA, it will give you the address of the PPA and instructions on how to add it to your system. After you’ve added the PPA, just do the appropriate apt Command to install the theme package on your system – the theme’s installation instructions usually also tell you which command to run.


In some cases, designs can be distributed as .deb files. In that case, you can simply download the .deb file, double-click it, and tell Ubuntu to install it on your system. Make sure to download a .deb file made for the version of Ubuntu you are running.

Note that you should only add PPAs and install software from trusted sources.

How to extract topics manually

Some topics including some on the GNOME-Look.org Theme website, you have to manually extract them to their respective folders. as example, let’s demonstrate this process with the Ant theme.

To install it, we first go to the download page, click the “Files” link, and then download one of the files. The Ant theme has many different files that you can download – this is because there are so many different variations – but we only download the default Ant theme, the Ant.tar file.

Double-click the downloaded file to open it in the Archive Manager tool.

Next, open your home folder in the file manager, then press Ctrl + H to reveal hidden files. Double-click the .themes folder when you see it. If you don’t, right click here, click New Folder, then name your new folder “.themes”.


Extract the theme folder from the downloaded archive into the .themes folder. The theme should be in its own folder with its own name – for example, the Ant folder should be under .themes / Ant.

To install an icon theme, you must instead create an “.icons” folder in your main user folder and then place the theme file there.

In other words, application themes (GTK themes) are included in .themes while icon themes are included in .icons.

To prevent the file manager from showing hidden files and folders, press Ctrl + H again.

As usual, you can activate your installed theme through the Tweaks application. If Tweaks was running when you installed the theme, you have to close and open it again.

How to change shell designs

Hopefully by now you’ve found a theme you like and installed it. There’s only one problem: the rest of your desktop. While it’s easy to change your desktop background – just right-click the desktop, choose Change Background, then choose any image – but changing the default oranges and dark grays, used in the GNOME Shell control panel require a little more work.


To enable the option of the grayed out shell icon in Tweaks, you need to install a GNOME shell extension. To do this, run the following command in a terminal window:

sudo apt install gnome-shell-extensions

Enter Your password, and then enter “Y” for confirmation when prompted.

Log out and log back in after installing the extensions. If you don’t, GNOME Shell and GNOME Tweaks won’t see your newly installed extensions.

Launch the Tweaks application, click Extensions in the sidebar, then enable the User Themes extension.

Close and reopen the Tweaks application. You can now click on the “Shell” field under Designs and then select a design.

To the exampleIf you installed the Arc theme, you will see the Shell Theme option “Arc” in this menu.


If you don’t have any installed themes to choose from, or want more, you’ll need to download a GNOME shell theme. To the example, we tested the Adwaita-based one Nextik theme and thought it was good. Look in the Category GNOME Shell Themes on GNOME-Look for more.

Download the zip file with the shell theme to your system.

In the Tweaks app, click the “(None)” button to the right of the Shell Theme option, navigate to the theme’s downloaded zip file, and double-click it to load it.

You can then click the box to the right of “Shell” and select your installed theme.

Although the theme options are hidden by default, they work very well. It’s easy to drastically change the look of your Ubuntu system running the GNOME Shell desktop.

Related Posts