how to change raspberry pi os appearance

How to Change The Desktop Appearance on Raspberry Pi?

Raspberry Pi OS is built for beginners, so developers try to keep things clean and simple. But by default, you don’t get the most exciting interface. If you want to improve the desktop appearance on your Raspberry Pi, you are at the perfect place, I’ll give you several tips to do this.

The default interface on Raspberry Pi OS can be highly improved by installing a new theme, desktop environment or by tweaking some settings like the wallpaper, splash screen or icons.

You’ll see how to do everything in this article, so keep reading if you want to pimp your Raspberry Pi :-).

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Adjust the Display Settings

There is no point in changing the desktop appearance to make it look better if you use the wrong resolution, so let’s fix the display settings first, if needed (for most users it should already be OK by default).

Fix the screen resolution

Depending on the screen and Raspberry Pi model you use, you may have some issues with the default resolution (if the elements are disproportionate or outside the screen, for example).

Here is how to fix it:

  • Open the main menu.
  • Go to Preferences > Screen Configuration.
  • Right click on the screen that needs an update, and test another resolution.

It looks like this:

Refer to the specifications of your screen to know what to choose in this list (or just try some, it will revert automatically if it doesn’t work).

If you need more guidance for this step, you can check this other article on the website: How To Change The Screen Resolution On Raspberry Pi

Change the “underscan” option

On Raspberry Pi, there is an option named “underscan” or “overscan”. Basically, the idea is to adjust the image to fit your monitor. By default, the underscan is disabled (so overscan is enabled).

Note: This option is no longer supported in the latest version of Raspberry Pi OS.

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Typically, you need to disable underscan if you have black borders around the edges of your screen.
I think since Buster there are fewer issues with this option, but just in case, you can change it easily on the Desktop edition:

  • Open the main menu.
  • Go to Preferences > Raspberry Pi Configuration.
  • Open the Display tab.
  • Enable or disable the underscan:

By the way, they are other options that you can try, like pixel doubling which will make everything bigger, or screen blanking which is a kind of sleep mode for the Raspberry Pi monitor (more details here).

After restarting the Raspberry Pi, see if it’s better than before, or adjust these options again if necessary.

Note : you can edit the /boot/config.txt file to adjust the overscan setting, or disabling it. Might be useful on a Lite version or to streamline the installation process for multiple Raspberry Pi.

Are you a bit lost in the Linux command line? Check this article first for the most important commands to remember and a free downloadable cheat sheet so you can have the commands at your fingertips.

Change the desktop wallpaper

From the Desktop interface

To change the background of the Raspberry Pi, you can either use one of the images provided or download a new one on the Internet. If you download one, save it somewhere on your Raspberry Pi to find it later (In ~/Pictures for example).

To change the wallpaper, right-click on the desktop, then Desktop Preferences. A window like this will show up:

And now you have to change the image in the Picture field.
By default, it will display the system folder where the Raspberry Pi stores all the default wallpapers.
If you have downloaded an image elsewhere, browse to the file location and open it.

With command line:

I don’t really see the point of doing this with the command line, but know that it is possible.

First, download your wallpaper image with wget:
wget https://raspberrytips.com/wallpaper.jpg

Then change the wallpaper with this command:
pcmanfm --set-wallpaper wallpaper.jpg

Use Another Desktop Environment

The first thing you need to know is that there are different graphical environments on Linux and Raspberry Pi. A graphical environment is a set of display options that allows you to manage most of the graphical aspects of your desktop differently.

Note: If you want to see all these steps in action, I have a video lesson available for the community members. You can join here and watch it directly if you are interested (with 20+ other lessons for Raspberry Pi and many other benefits).

Your options

Here are some examples of graphical environments that you might know:

Each of them has some specific characteristics: KDE looks a bit like Windows, with the Start menu on the bottom left. Gnome is the default on Ubuntu. Raspberry Pi uses its own desktop environment (PiXeL) based on LXDE.

Install a new desktop environment

It’s possible to manually install the packages needed for your preferred desktop environment. However, the easiest way is to use tasksel instead.

Tasksel is a tool, that helps to add new features to an existing Linux system. It’s the same interface as during a traditional Linux installation (on a standard computer or server).

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Use this command to start this wizard:
sudo tasksel

You’ll get a window looking like that:

Use the arrows on your keyboard to move the cursor, and the space bar to select/unselect an option.

Once done, press TAB to switch to the OK/Cancel buttons at the bottom. Select “OK” and press “Enter” to start the installation. The system will install all the required packages automatically.

Once done, you’re almost ready. Please don’t reboot the Raspberry Pi yet.

Install a new session manager

On Bullseye and previous versions, there was a way to configure easily which desktop environment will start by default on boot. I couldn’t find something similar on Bookworm yet, so the easiest solution I found is to switch the session manager.

By default, Raspberry Pi OS uses LightDM, and starts the Pixel environment with Wayland automatically (often without asking for your login or password).

If you want to use another desktop environment, you can install GDM instead:
sudo apt install gdm3

Once installed, and after a reboot, this will give you the option to choose which environment to use on the login prompt:

After picking the desktop environment you want, and entering your password, you’ll get access to a new interface. For example, with Cinnamon:

Find and install a new theme

Now that you have found the desktop environment of your dreams, you are ready to install a theme. Each desktop environment has different themes available and different ways to install them.

For example, Cinnamon has one of the best solutions to help you find, download and apply new themes, it looks like this:

  • You can open a tool called “Themes” in the System Preferences to select a new theme:
  • Once downloaded, it’s available in the first tab, so you can apply it with just a few clicks:
  • And get the results in real time:

But in most other environments, there is no great tool to help you with this, so the only way is to use apt or the package manager.

One solution is to use some kind of APT commands like that:
sudo apt search mate | grep "\-theme"

Check my documentation about the grep command if it’s new to you.

Install the corresponding packages. Then try to apply the new theme via System Preferences.

Another option is to find a theme online. Many sites will give you a link to download more themes via .deb files or PPA repositories. Feel free to search online for the ideal theme, and in most cases you will be able to see a preview.

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Change splash screen

Here is the final challenge for those who want to follow the “Pimp my Raspberry Pi” thing.

What is a splash screen?

The splash screen is the large image that appears when you start your Raspberry Pi, just before the desktop interface starts:

Change splash screen

The splash screen is now managed by Plymouth on Raspberry Pi OS, which makes everything easier.

The default image size is 1024×768. Find or create an image with this resolution and in PNG format. Then get it somewhere on the Raspberry Pi (in your home folder, for example). You can use SFTP to transfer it from your computer (as explained here).

Once you have the image, the main thing to do is to replace the existing one with your new file, in the system location. You can do this with a few command lines:
cd /usr/share/plymouth/themes/pix
cp splash.png splash.png.backup
cp <your_png_file> splash.png

Then, you’ll probably need to also run this one to update the cached image:
sudo plymouth-set-default-theme --rebuild-initrd pix

And after that, you’ll be good to go, and should get your custom boot image on the next reboot:

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Conclusion

And that’s it. You now know how to:
– Set the best resolution for your screen.
– Change the desktop wallpaper.
– Install a new graphical environment.
– Get a new theme.
– Change the splash screen display when starting the Raspberry Pi.

Another thing you can try is to install a screensaver on Raspberry Pi OS, you can find more details on how to do this by clicking on this link.

And I have many other tutorials on this site you might be interested in:

Whenever you’re ready, here are other ways I can help you:

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The Raspberry Pi Bootcamp: Understand everything about the Raspberry Pi, stop searching for help all the time, and finally enjoy completing your projects.

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11 Comments

    1. Hi Ken,
      Which part?

      I have used Mate recently without any issue

      If you have an error or something, I could help you

  1. Not sure where that comment came from. Your directions worked perfectly. I now have the Mate desktop on my Raspberry Pi 4.
    Thanks so much for the great article.

  2. *Amazing * splash screen actually shows up but only for less than 1 second,
    how can we show the Splash Screen for at least 3-5 sec long? what should be the image size for full screen?
    & can we change the boot up screen also & add our own image or .GIF file?

    1. Hi Gerry,

      Sorry, I never tried, but I would say that it should be the same instructions
      Even on Debian you can do the same thing

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