Windows has always had an active community of enthusiasts who customize everything about it, including its desktop theme. Although Microsoft tries to prevent this, Windows 8’s desktop can be themed just like Windows 7’s. We’ve covered tweaking your Windows 8 PC’s appearance before, but you can go much farther than just changing the desktop theme’s colors.
Many of these Windows 8 themes also include custom desktop backgrounds and icons that you can use if you like them. They don’t just change your desktop’s colors — they change the look of the window buttons, the appearance of interface elements like buttons, menus, checkboxes, and much more.
How to Install and Use Desktop Themes
Like previous versions of Windows, Windows 8 doesn’t support third-party desktop themes out of the box. You’ll need to patch some system files. This isn’t is scary as it sounds — all you need to do is download and run UltraUXThemePatcher. You’ll be prompted to reboot your computer after running the installer.
You can now download and install third-party themes, which have the .theme file extension. To install them, place them in the C:\Windows\Resources\Themes directory on your computer. They’ll appear in the standard theme window — right-click the desktop and select Personalize to view your installed themes and switch between them. They’ll appear in the Installed Themes section. You can also double-click a theme’s .theme file to apply it once it’s installed.
Note that many of the themes below also include icons, which must be installed separately. Some themes include other system modifications, such as Ribbon Disabler, which disables the new ribbon in the File Explorer. Such themes will look ugly if you don’t disable the ribbon, as they don’t change its appearance at all. Read the theme’s readme file or download page for further instructions on setting up each specific theme.
Some themes also include custom Start button images, which can be used by Start8 and other Start menu replacements for Windows 8.
Base uses a dark taskbar and window borders along with light main area, drawing attention to the content of your windows. It also includes a variety of high-quality background images for your desktop wallpaper, which rotate automatically by default.
Simplex offers a simple, light theme with minimal window buttons. It requires a third-party tool that makes its window borders transparent, offering transparencies that aren’t possible on Windows 8 without such third-party hacks.
Royale was a Microsoft-created theme for Windows XP. If you miss that Windows XP look, you may want to try Royale 8, a port of this Microsoft-designed theme to Windows 8. It’s not as easy to create themes that mimic Windows 7 or Windows Vista because Microsoft removed the code that allows for Aero-style transparency.
Many theme-creators create themes that mimic other operating systems, bringing foreign looks to the Windows desktop. Platinum is a pack of themes inspired by Mac OS X. If you prefer that Mac look but find yourself using Windows 8 for some reason, give one of these themes a try. It also offers OS X-style icons, which you can choose to install.
Work for Windows 8
Work for Windows 8 is another theme with dark window borders. Unlike Base, it uses more gray colors and gradients, reducing the contrast between the borders and content. It ships with a flat-color background, emphasizing that the Work theme is for getting down to work.
WhiteDior is one of the more popular themes available. It’s very high-contrast, offering almost solid-white window themes paired with a black taskbar and a black line at the bottom of each window. The minimize and maximize buttons are invisible until you mouse-over them, which demonstrates just how aggressively minimalist this theme is.
areao4.8 has a slate-colored taskbar and titlebar along with bright blue window buttons. It uses a gray background with bright blue elements for its content areas, and even bundles a set of included icons that fit the theme. Like Base, it includes rotating wallpaper images.
The Glow theme offers a brighter theme with more use of white and gray gradients, contrasting with many of the darker themes available for Windows 8.
Some people just like dark themes. If you’re one of them, give Dark8 a try. It’s different from the other dark themes above because it goes full-on dark, replacing even the typically-white content areas with dark backgrounds and gray text. It’s definitely not for everyone, but some people will love it.
Finding More Desktop Themes
You can find many more Windows 8 themes in deviantART’s Windows 8 Utilities section. This section also includes a wide variety of other user-created customizations for Windows 8.
Windows 8 and previous versions of Windows can also use customized mouse cursors if you feel like tweaking your Windows 8 desktop even more.
Have you found any other awesome desktop themes for Windows 8? Leave a comment and share them!