Customizing Gnome 3 Desktop Environment in Arch Linux



Arch Linux is known for being a lightweight do-it-yourself distribution. Unlike some other distributions like Ubuntu and Linux Mint that come with a preconfigured desktop and all the programs installed, Arch Linux let's you build things up from the ground up yourself. For the uninitiated this can be an intimidating task, but it's not that once you wrap your mind around it. I'm going to go over customizing a Gnome 3 desktop environment including icons, cursors, themes, wallpapers, etc.

If you would like to learn more about useful programs and packages, and general set up of Arch Linux refer to my article Installing, Configuring, and Customizing Arch Linux. In that article I cover installation, basics like networking, sound, file system mounting, adding users, and include a list of packages that I would include in a typical day-to-day workstation. If you don't want the full desktop involved with Gnome 3 and want to simply use a lightweight Window Manager check out my article Customizing Openbox Window Manager in Arch Linux. The benefit to using only Openbox is the performance. Windows will open really quickly and the system overall will use less resources. Gnome 3 on the otherhand comes with a bit of eye candy and animated effects and things like that. Gnome 3 is my desktop of choice in the end. I hope this article provides some insight into customizing Gnome 3 to your liking.

Resource Downloads

You will need to create or download the actual resources for your theme. This means you'll need to find GTK themes, icons, cursors, and wallpapers that fit your design. I will include links to the resources I chose for my desktop. I went with a dark theme with a light blue/aqua accent. The Delorean theme actually comes with 4 colored versions. Note that many themes come with both GTK2 and GTK3 packages together.

Installing Gnome 3

Install the following packages. In Arch Linux use pacman -S.

  • gnome - Gnome 3 base
  • gnome-tweak-tool - Gnome configuration tool (very helpful)
  • gtk-engines - Prerequesite for Delorean theme I chose. Your theme may not require it.
  • gtk-engine-murrine - Prerequesite for Delorean theme I chose. Your theme may not require it.


Gnome comes with the Cantarell font which I think is very nice. You can install additional fonts using packages or manually copy font folders to /usr/share/fonts. Once you put a font in that folder, it becomes accessible through the gnome-tweak-tool. In that tool you can choose and customizing the font choices and settings.


Move the icon folder to /usr/share/icons and use the gnome-tweak-tool to set the Icon Theme under the Theme Tab.

Mouse cursors

Mouse cursors are treated similar to icons. Move the cursor folder to /usr/share/icons and use the gnome-tweak-tool to set the Cursor Theme under the Theme Tab.

Gtk+ Theme

Move the theme folder to /usr/share/themes and use the gnome-tweak-tool to set the Gtk+Theme under the Theme Tab.


There is an easy way to do this and a thorough way. The easy way is to use nautilus to find the image on your computer you want to use as your wallpaper. Right click it and choose Set as wallpaper. This will copy the file to your ~/Pictures folder and set it as your wallpaper. The thorough way is to edit /usr/share/gnome-background-properties/gnome-backgrounds.xml to include the path and info about your wallpaper file, or to create your own .xml file and drop it in the same folder. It will automatically load all .xml files in that folder. Then you can change the wallpaper from Settings -> Background.


Install conky and then add the line conky & to your ~/.xinitrc file. Configure conky with your ~/.conkyrc file. I posted my .conkyrc in the article Customizing Openbox. There are tons of conky configs available online. I strongly suggest looking around and experimenting. If the background on conky is messed up, try installing feh and add this line to your ~/.xinitrc file: feh --bg-center /path/to/background.jpg

Gnome Terminal

Gnome terminal allows for custom profiles to be created. You can find the profiles by going to Edit -> Preferences. Go to the Profiles tab and edit a profile. Customize your colors, fonts, preferences, etc. I usually choose a color scheme that matches my themes. I also like to turn the menu bar off for a clean terminal. There are a few keyboard shortcuts that make gnome-terminal much easier to use. In particular, it's handy to know how to fullscreen (F11), new window (CTRL+SHIFT+N), new tab (CTRL+SHIFT+T), switching between tabs (CTRL+PAGE UP/DOWN) or directly with (ALT+#). Also, resizing the console text with CTRL+- and CTRL++ is helpful. Knowing just those few shortcuts can be incredibly helpful for getting around with just the keyboard, assuming you like consoles. I know I do!

Gnome Extensions

Gnome extensions can be browsed at You can actually just click a button on the webpage and turn the extensions on and off (pretty neat!) These are all personal preferences so browse and find ones you like. They can also be managed from the gnome-tweak-tool. A few that I particularly like are:


Hopefully this article gave you a good feel for what you can do with the Gnome 3 Desktop as far as theming. It is a good feeling to have a consistent look and feel and color scheme throughout your whole desktop experience, especially if you picked it out or designed it yourself. I would love to see what some of you have come up with!