How to Change GIMP to Dark Theme

Customizing your GIMP interface is a rite of passage for any dedicated image editor. The recent interface design trend toward ‘dark mode’ options reduces eye strain and helps your content really “pop” from the interface, which is why you’ll find these themes in virtually every major image editing program released in the last 5 years.

With the release of GIMP 2.10, the default interface changed dramatically. A much darker theme became the default option, paired with a set of symbolic icons that you’ll recognize from my other guides on TGT.

I leave the GIMP interface in the default configuration so that new users will be easily able to follow along with my screenshots, but there’s a wide range of theme and icon pairings available in GIMP so you don’t have to stick with the defaults unless they work best for you. Experiment!  

Changing GIMP Themes

If you want to explore your options or if you’ve changed the default look, here’s how you can customize your GIMP dark theme to your heart’s content.

Step 1: Open the Edit menu and choose Preferences (on a Mac, you’ll find it in the GIMP application menu next to the Apple menu)

Step 2: In the left pane of the Preferences window, find the Interface category and then click the entry titled Theme. The right pane of the window will show you all the available themes, although in my case I don’t have any third-party themes installed. 

This old default theme feels almost painfully bright compared to the newer, darker themes

Step 3: Select the theme you want to use from the list, and GIMP will immediately update the interface to show you how it looks. The Dark theme is right at the top! 

Back to the Dark theme for some much-needed eye relief

There’s all there is to switching themes in GIMP! If you want to use other themes, keep reading and check out how you can download them. 

Downloading New Themes

Switching between pre-installed themes is easy, but there are also other themes available online that might suit your style a bit better. They’re a much different beast – they’re harder to track down, and they’re not always easy to get working. 

This is the kind of moment that shows off the best and worst sides of free software. Anyone can make a theme for GIMP with the approval of the developers, but they don’t all have to do it the same way, and each method has a different setup process when installing the resulting theme. 

The ClearLooks GIMP theme
Image Source

As a result, a user who’s more familiar with the App Store or Google Play Store will be blown away by the complexity involved in simply changing your GIMP theme – even as someone who’s used GIMP for years, I have to say I was a bit surprised myself. 

There are third-party theme engines that are required for some themes, which is a concept I’m not even sure I understand. If you wanted to install the nicely-designed ClearLooks GIMP dark theme shown above, take a look at the installation instructions on the homepage and you’ll see what I mean – and that’s just for one theme! 

Feel free to explore what’s available – just be careful, because installing themes designed for older versions of GIMP might cause some wild and crazy results – or just not work at all. 

The Ultimate Reset

If you download a theme that doesn’t work properly, you might have a bit of trouble getting GIMP back to a usable state. Fortunately, there’s a way to completely wipe all of your settings and start over with all the defaults GIMP uses the very first time you run it. 

If you customize a lot of your GIMP settings, you’re going to want to use this as a last resort only. But if you’re usually happy with the default settings and you just got a bit out of your depth experimenting with themes or settings, this is a great way to put the pieces back together. 

If all seems lost, it’s time for a full reset

It’s a simple process, with only one step. In the Preferences window that you opened earlier, click the Reset button. You’ll be asked to confirm that you really want to do this (thankfully), so just click Reset again and your GIMP will be as good as new – not only that, it will be also using the Dark theme since that’s the new default setting. 

About Thomas Boldt
I’ve been working with digital images since the year 2000 or so, when I got my first digital camera. I've tried many image editing programs. GIMP is a free and powerful software, but not exactly user-friendly until you get comfortable with it, and I wanted to make the learning process easier for you here.

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