How to Make Debian 9 MATE Desktop Pretty (Themes, Icons, Fonts)

In this post I’d like to share with you the steps I took to make Debian 9 MATE desktop pretty. I will show you what GTK theme, icon theme, font and wallpaper I’m using. They are very easy to install and configure. You are also going to learn how to customize the login screen.

Enable sudo for Standard User Account

Some commands in this tutorial are prefixed with sudo. If your user account isn’t in the sudoer list, you can use the following command to switch to root user, assuming you know the root password.

su -

If you want to add the standard user account into sudoer  list, run the following command as root. Replace username with your actual username.

adduser username sudo

Then install sudo utility.

apt install sudo

Log out and log back in for the change to take effect. From now on, the standard user can use sudo to manage the system.

Some packages will need to be downloaded from Launchpad. Generally speaking, Debian 9 is compatible with PPA packages made for Ubuntu 16.04 (Xenial).

Installing MATE Desktop Environment

MATE is a lightweight and fast desktop environment that preserves the traditional user interface of GNOME 2. To install MATE desktop on Debian 9, simply run the following commands in terminal.

sudo apt update

sudo apt upgrade

sudo apt install mate-desktop-environment-extras

Then log out and select MATE desktop at the login screen to log back in. You can change GTK theme, icon theme and font by going to System -> Preferences -> Look and Feel -> Appearance. Now let’s install some beautiful themes.

Top 5 Nice-Looking GTK themes

Arc GTK theme

This is a flat theme with transparent elements. Install it from Debian 9 repository.

sudo apt install arc-theme

Numix GTK theme

It’s a modern flat theme from the Numix project. You can install it from Debian 9 repository.

sudo apt install numix-gtk-theme

Paper GTK theme

Paper is a modern, flat desktop theme suite. Download deb package from launchpad and install it with dpkg.


sudo dpkg -i paper-gtk-theme*.deb

Adapta GTK theme

Adapta is an adaptive Gtk+ theme based on Material Design Guidelines It supports Gtk 3.18.x, 3.20.x and 3.22.x. Download deb package from launchpad and install it with dpkg.


sudo dpkg -i adapta-gtk-theme*.deb

Flat Remix GTK theme

Flat Remix GTK  theme is a pretty simple gtk window theme inspired on material design following a modern design using “flat” colors with high contrasts and sharp borders. Download deb package from launchpad and install it with dpkg.


sudo dpkg -i flat-remix-gtk*.deb

Top 5 Nice-Looking Icon Themes

Before installing new icon themes, you may want to install the Gnome icon theme, which is required by some of the following icon themes.

sudo apt install gnome-icon-theme

Moka icon theme

Moka is a stylized Tango-esque Linux desktop icon set. You can install it from Debian 9 repository.

sudo apt install moka-icon-theme

Numix icon theme

The Numix icon theme is designed to look fresh, swishy and modern using white symbols on vividly coloured background for applications and simplistic devices, toolbars and status icons. You can install it from Debian 9 repository.

sudo apt install numix-icon-theme

Paper icon theme

Paper is simple and modern icon theme with material design influences. Download deb package from launchpad and install it with dpkg.


sudo dpkg -i paper-icon-theme*.deb

Papirus icon theme

Papirus is a SVG-based icon theme, drawing inspiration from Material Design and flat design. Download deb package from launchpad and install it with dpkg.


sudo dpkg -i papirus-icon-theme*.deb

Flat Remix icon theme

Flat Remix is a pretty simple icon theme inspired on material design. Download deb package from launchpad and install it with dpkg.


sudo dpkg -i flat-remix*.deb

Changing Themes on MATE Desktop

Once the above GTK themes and icon themes are installed, go to System -> Preferences -> Look and Feel -> Appearance. First, select your preferred GTK theme. For example, I like the Adapta Nokta theme.

debian 9 theme

Then click Customize button and select Icons tab to choose your preferred icon theme. For instance, I choose Papirus-Adapta-Nokta.

debian install theme

Installing Ubuntu Font on Debian 9 Stretch

The Ubuntu font is my favorite font on Linux. Follow the steps below to make your Debian system look prettier.

Download ubuntu-font-family deb package from Ubuntu website. Or use wget to download it in terminal.


Then install it with dpkg.

sudo dpkg -i ttf-ubuntu-font-family*.deb

Then go to System > Preferences > Look and Feel > Appearance. In the Fonts tab, make changes as shown in the screenshot below. Choose Ubuntu Regular for the first four types of font and set the font size to 11. Choose Ubuntu Mono Regular for the last type of font, which is used in terminal, and set the font size to 13.

debian 9 stretch ubuntu font

Installing a Wallpaper Changer

You can install the awesome variety wallpaper changer from Debian 9 repository.

sudo apt install variety

Then start it from your application menu. It’s in the Accessories category. Click continue button on the first screen. Click No Thanks button on the second screen because VRTY.ORG has been shut down. Configure it to your liking. Then click the variety icon on the upper-right corner and click Next to choose your favorite wallpaper.

So far so good 🙂

debian 9 wallpaper

Terminal Prompt Color

By default, terminal prompt color is disabled on Debian 9, but some folks like to use it to quickly determine the beginning and end of terminal outputs. To enable colorful terminal prompt, open your .bashrc file.

nano ~/.bashrc

In nano text editor, you can press Ctrl+W to search for strings. In this case, search for force_color_prompt. and uncomment force_color_prompt=yes.

debian 9 terminal prompt color

Press Ctrl+O, then press Enter to save the file. Press Ctrl+ X to exit.  Press Ctrl+D to exit the current terminal session and re-open a terminal window. Now you have enabled terminal prompt color.

debian 9 force color prompt

Changing Main Menu Icon

Since we are using Debian, we like to see the Debian swirl logo on the main menu, right? But most themes ship with a different logo. It’s very easy to display the Debian swirl logo on the upper-left corner of your desktop.


Every icon theme comes with a file named start-here.svg. It’s this file that determines the icon used on the upper-left corner. You need to find this file and link it to a Debian swirl logo file. The gnome-icon-theme package installs the Debian swirl logo file at /usr/share/icons/gnome/scalable/places/debian-swirl.svg.

To find the start-here.svg file used by your icon theme, run the following command. Replace Papirus-Adapta-Nokto with the name of your icon theme.

find /usr/share/icons/Papirus-Adapta-Nokto/ -name start-here.svg

Once you find that file, create a symbolic link pointing to the Debian swirl logo file like below.

sudo ln -sf /usr/share/icons/gnome/scalable/places/debian-swirl.svg /usr/share/icons/Papirus-Adapta-Nokto/16x16/places/start-here.svg

Log out and log back in, you should now see the Debian swirl logo at the upper left corner.

Customizing Login Screen

MATE desktop comes with lightDM display manager. You can make the login screen pretty with LightDM GTK+ Greeter.

sudo apt install lightdm-gtk-greeter-settings

Once it’s installed, go to System -> Control Center and search for LightDM GTK+ Greeter. You can choose a GTK theme, icon theme, font and background image for the login screen. Save your changes, then log out to view the result.

install themes on debian 9 stretch

If previously you are using another desktop environment like GNOME, then lightDM will not be automatically installed when you install MATE desktop environment. In that case, you can install it with the following command.

sudo apt install lightdm

It will ask you to choose a display manager. Press Enter.

debian 9 mate lightdm

Then select LightDM and press Enter.

debian 9 lightdm display manager

After it’s installed, configure login screen with LightDM GTK+ Greeter. Then restart your computer to see the result. You can choose which desktop environment to log into at the upper-right corner. Below is my Debian login screen. What do you think?

debian 9 make login screen pretty

The last tool I’d like to share with you is mate-tweak.

sudo apt install mate-tweak

Once installed, run


Using this tool, you can hide the default desktop icons, customize panels, move window control buttons to left or right, and so on.

debian 9 mate tweak

I hope this post made it easy for you to use Debian 9 MATE desktop. As always, if you found this post useful, then subscribe to our free newsletter to get more tips and tricks. Take care.

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3 Responses to “How to Make Debian 9 MATE Desktop Pretty (Themes, Icons, Fonts)

  • Many thanks .. very useful.

    To my dismay Linux Mint is ending Mate support going forward to version 3 in the Debian Edition.

    I plan to take the plunge to straight Debian now and your guide will help with the transition.

  • Dominik
    5 years ago

    The download link for flat remix does not work ;(

  • Thorough and has good explanations for each command. Love that this doesn’t assume too much familiarity from the user.

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