How to Change Interface Themes in GIMP 2.8

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How to Change Interface Themes in GIMP 2.8

How to Change Interface Themes in GIMP 2.8
Text and Images © Ian Pullen

This tutorial explains how you can change the appearance of GIMP on Windows computers by installing new themes. GIMP is a powerful free and open source raster image editor for working with photos and other graphics files. Thankfully, themes are available for free, too.

Until recently, I'd always thought that the feature for changing themes was little more than a gimmick. Then I was working on an image that was a similar tone to that of the interface background. It struck me that I found darker themes much more user-friendly. That was the driving force that inspired me to change the theme of GIMP on my Windows laptop, but the next few pages will show you how you can install and switch between themes if you're just in the mood for a change.

If you want your photos displayed on a darker or lighter background while you're working on them, I'll show you how you can do that, too, without installing any extra themes. 

If you don't already have GIMP installed on your PC but you're looking for a powerful and free image editor, check out Sue's Chastain's GIMP review. You'll find a link to the publishers' site where you can download your own copy.

Press on to the next page and we'll get started if you already have GIMP installed. 

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Install New GIMP Themes

Install New Themes
Text and Images © Ian Pullen

Get copies of one or more themes for GIMP. You can Google "GIMP themes" and you'll find a range available. I downloaded a set from 2shared.com. When you've downloaded some themes, extract them from the ZIP file format and leave this window open.

Now open another window in Windows Explorer and navigate to C: > Program Files > GIMP 2 > share > gimp > 2.0 > themes. Click on the window with your downloaded themes and select all that you want to install. Now you can either drag the themes into the other open window or copy and paste them: Right click and select "copy," then click on the other window and right click and select "paste." 

You can alternatively place the files in your own user folder if you get an error message that says you have to be an administrator. In this case, navigate to C: > Users > YOUR_USER_NAME > .gimp-2.8 > themes and place the new themes in that folder.

Next I'll show you how you can switch themes in GIMP.

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Select a New Theme in GIMP 2.8 on Windows

Select a New Theme in GIMP 2.8 on Windows
Text and Images © Ian Pullen

In the last step, you installed your themes into your copy of GIMP. Now I'll show you how to switch between the different themes you've installed.

Close GIMP and start it up again before proceeding if you have it running. Now go to Edit > Preferences. A dialog box will open. Select the "theme" option on the left side. You should now see a list of all of the installed themes that are available to you.

You can just click on a theme to highlight it, then click the OK button to select it. Unfortunately, the change does not take effect immediately. You'll have to close GIMP and restart it to see the change. 

Next I'll show you an alternative way of changing the GIMP user interface that doesn't require downloading and installing themes. This only affects the work space that surrounds the opened image, however. 

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Change the Padding Color in GIMP

Change the Padding Color in GIMP
Text and Images © Ian Pullen

If you don't want to install a new GIMP theme but just change the color of your workspace, it's easy to do. It's also very useful if you find yourself working on an image that is a similar tone to the workspace and you find it difficult to see the edges of the image.

Go to Edit > Preferences and click on "Appearance" in the left column of the dialog. Just click on the little arrow next to "Image Windows" if you can't see it. This will display the sub menu. You'll see two sets of controls that affect the appearance of GIMP when it's running in normal and full screen modes. You may or may not need to edit both settings, depending on which display modes you commonly use.

The settings you want to adjust are the canvas padding mode drop down menus which allow you to select from theme, light check color, dark check color and custom color. You'll see the interface updated in real time as you select options. Click on the custom padding color box below the drop down menu if you want to select custom color. This will open the familiar GIMP color picker. You can now select any color you like and click OK to apply it to the interface.