How to Change the Color of Gnome Panel Text, Handles, Buttons, and More

An issue you will run into when customizing your Ubuntu/Gnome system and playing with themes is not having an easy way to change the color of your text and other aspects of your panels. The gnome-theme-manager applet doesn’t have those options, yet. Not being able to change the color is a problem when using transparency or dark themes; the default color for text is black.

But there *is* an easy way to change the color of your panels’ text, handles, window list button colors (hover, active, and normal), background, etc.

Don’t believe me? Brent Roosshowed us how last year . UPDATE: You can find instructions here:

Smart Quotes versus Straight QuotesMy only addition to his post is that you must change all the double-quotes when you paste the information to the file in your home folder by typing them in again. Why? Because WordPress’s format for quotes is to use smart quotes instead of straight quotes (see picture) and your changes won’t work if you don’t manually change them all to straight quotes.

Also, play around with the different options in that file by un-commenting the lines (removing the #) and changing the hex color code. You will find that you can change the colors for many different aspects of your panels. Just remember that you must do a ‘killall gnome-panel’ or use a “Refresh GUI” button every time you change and save the file.

You may also want to change the color of your tooltips.

Take a look at my Gnome Panels below (click to enlarge). I was able to change the text color from the default black so I can read it against my dark theme. By playing around with the other color options in the .gtkrc-2.0 file, I was also able to change the window list button hover color (Amarok) and the active color (The Gimp). The normal buttons (Kopete and Swiftfox) are simply from the theme itself, but they are changeable, too.  You can also see that my tooltip color was changed (Amarok).

Gnome Panel Color Changes

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9 responses to “How to Change the Color of Gnome Panel Text, Handles, Buttons, and More”

  1. Brent says :

    I’m glad to have helped.

    I will say again, as I have time and time again, use the text file that I have included in the post to make the .gtkrc-2.0 file.

    I think part of the problem is that people do not read instructions carefully and fully. It clearly says what to do. If you follow the instructions exactly as suggested in the tutorial, it works flawlessly.

  2. Kevin Guertin says :

    Yes it does work perfectly… 🙂 I think there is a trend (especially with blogs) to just skim through articles and extract what you think you need. Mind you, I think your instructions about the quotes are in the comments section only… Myself, I don’t always read the comments. 🙂

    Anyhow, I want to thank you too for your blog post! I love playing around with my themes and colors and this tip is awesome!

  3. Brent says :

    You and everyone else who found this tutorial helpful are quite welcome. It is my pleasure to share knowledge (especially in return for blog traffic, lol). Seriously though, I posted it because it took me forever to figure this out on my own, and I figured I’d do the world a favor by posting it so they didn’t have to Google for as long as I did.

    This is a nice blog to add to the blogroll and feedreader. Keep up the good work friend.

  4. taragui says :

    I found the tutorial rather useful, although I think that mention could be made of the fact that these changes are not permanently linked to a given theme unless one edits ~/.themes/$THEME/.gtk-2.0/gtkrc instead of ~/.gtkrc. Now, I have an additional question: I’ve changed the color of my tooltips easily, but I’ve found that notification balloons (such as those from notification-daemon or rhythmbox) do not use the same widget class (gtk-tooltips), and the inconsistence in their colour is rather jarring. Do you know the class they belong to?

    Thanks again for the tips.

  5. Linux tips says :

    Thanks for the tips, I am hoping that I will learn Linux someday and I wanted to have that kind of knowledge regarding operating systems.

  6. Eric says :

    The link is broken! 😦

  7. alex says :

    yep, link is broken. another source?

  8. n1c0ds says :

    I third this: need another source!

  9. RCWatson says :

    As of Ubuntu 8.04 (Hardy), if you create a custom theme (named “RCW” in my case) using the Gnome GUI utilities provided and alter the background colors, a file named index.theme will be placed in a directory like ~/.themes/RCW and it will contain the color values for the desktop. If you don’t mess with the colors using the GUI tools, no color values will appear in the file (as it’s using the defaults for the base theme).

    Mine looks like…
    [Desktop Entry]


    The GtkColorScheme= line contains the color settings you need with fg_color: controlling the panel font color.

    However, the downside is the the same value is used in numerous places that have light colored backgrounds thus a change of the text to white would make it disappear. You may be able to adjust background colors, etc. to values that you can live with but it’s not as straight-forward as I had hoped.

    I wound up adjusting the transparency of the panel background with the GUI tool so that the black text showed up well enough despite my almost black desktop.

    Good Luck!

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