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

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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 Resolution.
  • 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).

Change the “underscan” option

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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).

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 1 : 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.

Note 2 : Raspberry Pi imager also have a hidden feature to configure this when flashing your SD card. Press CTRL+Shift+X to open the advanced options and set the default value:

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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 /home/pi/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 /home/pi/Images/wallpaper.jpg

Change the default theme on Raspberry Pi OS

I have a video about it where I show you all the steps to do this, you can watch it, and then read the following to get more details.

Use Another Desktop Environment

First of all, you need to know that there are several graphical environments on Linux, and so on Raspberry Pi
A graphical environment is a package of display options, which allows you to manage most of the graphical aspects of your desktop differently

Here are some examples of graphical environments that you might know:
– Gnome
– LXDE
– Mate
– KDE
– …

Each of them has some specificities: KDE looks a bit like Windows, with the start menu at the bottom left. Gnome is the default one on Ubuntu. Raspberry Pi uses a custom desktop environment (PiXeL) based on LXDE.

Install a new desktop environment

Anyway, if you want to try installing a new desktop environment on your Raspberry Pi, you are at the right place.
Trying different environments will allow you to choose the one that suits you the best, and then you can look for themes associated with this environment.

Let’s take an example and see how to install MATE on Raspberry Pi OS.
It will be pretty much the same thing for other environments:

  • Update apt:
    sudo apt update
  • Install mate:
    sudo apt install mate-desktop-environment
  • Add mate as default environment for your user by typing this command line:
    sudo update-alternatives --config x-session-manager
    session manager raspberry pi
    In the wizard, type the number corresponding to the desktop environment you want to use.
  • Reboot:
    sudo reboot

After that, MATE (or the desktop environment you installed) should open:

Find a new theme

Now that you have found the desktop environment of your dreams, you can move on to installing a theme.
Each desktop environment has different themes available. There is not a great tool to help you with this, so the only way is to use apt or the package manager.

For example, I have done this search:
sudo apt search mate | grep "\-theme"
And got these results:

There are also many sites that will give you a link to download more themes via .deb files or PPA repository.
Feel free to do your search online to find the ideal design, and most of the time it will allow you to see a preview.

Install it

If you find something you like in apt, you can install the theme with the usual command. For example:

sudo apt install arc-theme

If you have downloaded a theme online, follow the instructions on the download page.

To enable a theme with Mate, go to System > Control Center (you should have something similar in other environments). Then choose Change Theme in the left menu, and select the theme.

So we are veiling on a new desktop environment, with a custom theme, and our favorite wallpaper, we start to feel good no?

Change splash screen

Here is the last challenge for those who want to go after this “Pimp my Raspberry Pi” thing.

What is a splash screen?

The splash screen is the big picture that appears when you start your Raspberry Pi, just before starting the desktop interface:

Change splash screen

The splash screen is now managed by Plymouth on Raspberry Pi OS and this makes everything easier.
Before it was complicated to edit this picture, now you just have to do this:
sudo cp /home/pi/Images/splash.png /usr/share/plymouth/themes/pix/splash.png sudo reboot

/home/pi/Images/splash.png must, of course, be replaced by the name and location of your original image.
The default size of the picture is 1024×768. Find a picture with this resolution (or close to it) and in PNG format, and you can use it as your custom splash screen.

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Conclusion

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And that’s it. I think you’ve learned enough for today.

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.

Yes!

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

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Patrick Fromaget

I'm the lead author and owner of RaspberryTips.com. My goal is to help you with your Raspberry Pi problems using detailed guides and tutorials. In real life, I'm a Linux system administrator with a web developer experience.

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