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How to Customize Your Gmail Interface Look With Themes

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This post is part of a series called How to Use Gmail (Ultimate Beginner Guide).
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If you’re like most small business people, you spend a lot of time on your computer. You probably have a custom screen saver set up already. You may have decorated your office space to help make it more personal. You probably keep some personal items on your computer desk.

Then there’s your Gmail. You spend a large part of your day in Gmail. It’s too bad you’re stuck with that boring mostly black on white Gmail interface. Or, are you?

In this post, I’m going to let you in on a little “secret.” What most people don’t realize is that you can personalize your Gmail interface using one of the many preset Gmail themes, or even with one of your own favorite pictures. But you can.

In this tutorial, I’ll show you how to do it. I’ll share everything you need to know about customizing your Gmail interface. I’ll explain how to use the Themes settings to change how your Gmail looks. I’ll also explain which settings options to select to change the appearance of your Gmail.

How to Apply a Gmail Theme to Your Email

In the screencast above learn how to quickly apply Gmail themes to your Gmail interface. Or, read on for comprehensive written instructions to help you change your Gmail theme.

1. Find and Apply an Existing Gmail Theme

Step 1

From the main Gmail screen, click on the Settings icon in the upper right corner. A drop-down menu appears:

Gmail settings
Gmail settings.

Step 2

Select the Themes option from the drop-down menu. The Themes screen displays:

Gmail theme options
Gmail theme options.

The Themes screen includes dozens of pre-defined Gmail theme options. Use the up and down scroll bar on the right to find an option you like.

If you don’t see a theme you like, select the image that says the words “More Images” on it to see even more themes:

Gmail theme options More Images
More images in Gmail theme options.

When choosing a theme, avoid the following types of images:

  • Cluttered Images. An image with two much going on might be too distracting to use in your Gmail background.
  • Images With Lots of Text. Images with too much text could also be distracting.

Step 3

When you find the theme you like, click on it to select it. Now click the Save button in the lower left of the screen to apply the theme to your Gmail interface:

As you can see Ive chosen a restful beach scene with a surfer as my Gmail theme
As you can see, I’ve chosen a restful beach scene with a surfer as my Gmail theme.

You’re not limited to pre-defined Gmail themes, however. You can use one of your own images for your Gmail interface. Let’s learn how.

Use One of Your Own Images as a Gmail Theme

Step 1

From the main Gmail screen, click the Settings icon in the upper right corner. A drop-down menu appears:

Gmail settings
Enter Gmail settings.

Step 2

Select the Themes option from the drop-down menu. The Themes screen displays:

Gmail theme options
Gmail theme options.

Step 3

There’s no need to scroll though the pre-defined themes since we are going to use our own picture for the Gmail interface. Click the My Photos option on the lower right of the screen. The Select your background image screen appears:

Gmail My Photos background image
Select My Photos background image.

Step 4

If you have saved photos to your Google+ profile, you may see those images on this screen. You could select one of these photos if you wanted to.

To use a photo from your own computer, select the Upload a photo option from the menu at the top of the screen. You should see the following:

Gmail Theme Upload a photo option
Upload a photo.

Step 5

You could drag a photo from your desktop. To select a photo from your computer files, click the Select a photo from your computer option. The File upload window displays:

File upload window
File upload window.

Step 6

Click the image you want to use and click the Open button to the right of the File upload window. The Themes screen displays again with your selection in the upper left. Click the Save button on the left of the screen to apply your picture to your Gmail interface. Your photo is applied to your Gmail interface:

The image I selected now appears as the background on my Gmail interface no matter which Gmail screen I use
The image I selected now appears as the background on my Gmail interface, no matter which Gmail screen I use.

The image I’ve chosen as our Gmail theme looks pretty good with white text box for messages, but what if it didn’t?

You can also change the color of the text box on your Gmail interface.

2. Change the Text Box Color on Your Gmail Interface

Step 1

From the main Gmail screen, click the Settings icon in the upper right corner. Select the Themes option from the drop-down menu. The Themes screen displays:

Enter the theme screen again
Enter the theme screen.

Step 2

From the center of the Themes screen, click on the Text icon (it looks like the letter “A”). The Text background popup appears:

Select the Text settings
Select the Text settings.

Step 3

Since the Text box is currently light, select the Dark option to change to dark Text box background. Click Save in the lower left to apply your change. You should see the following:

Apply dark text
Apply dark text.

When choosing a dark or light text box background, keep in mind the background of your theme.

3. Darken the Corners of Your Gmail Interface

Step 1

Now that you’ve chosen an image, you can also choose to darken the edges of the image.

From the main Gmail screen, click on the Settings icon in the upper right corner. From the drop-down menu, select the Themes option. The Themes screen displays:

Enter the Gmail Themes screen
Enter the Gmail Themes screen.

Step 2

From the Themes screen, select the Vignettes icon in the lower center of the screen. (It looks like a picture frame.) The Add vignette popup displays:

Select the Add vignette option
Select the Add vignette option.

Step 3

Use the slider bar to determine how dark you make the edges. The further right you move the slider, the darker the edges of the background on your Gmail interface. Click Save when you are done. Your screen should look something like this:

Apply darker edges to your Gmail theme background
In this image , I slid the slider all the way to right to darken the edges as much as possible.

There is one more change you can make to your theme. You can blur the background image.

4. Blur Gmail Theme Image

Step 1

From the main Gmail screen, click on the Settings icon in the upper right corner. From the drop-down menu, select the Themes option. The Themes screen displays:

Enter theme settings
Enter the theme settings screen.

Step 2

From the Themes screen, select the Blur icon in the lower center of the screen. (It looks like a square filled with dots.) The Adjust blur popup displays:

Select the Blur icon
Select the Blur icon.

Step 3

The further to the right you move the slider, the greater the blur. Click the Save button in the left corner when you are done. Your screen will look something like this:

Apply the blur effect
In this example, I pushed the slider all the way to the right to maximize the blur effect. 

Even after you’ve made a lot of changes to your Gmail interface, you can return to the default Gmail theme if you get tired of your changes.

5. Return to the Default Theme

Step 1

To return to the default Gmail theme, click the Settings icon in the upper right corner of the main Gmail screen. Click Themes on the drop-down menu. The Themes screen appears:

Go to the Gmail themes screen
Go to the Gmail themes screen.

Step 2

Using the up and down scroll bar, scroll until you see the default Gmail theme on the left of the themes screen:

Locate the default Gmail theme
Locate the default Gmail theme.

Step 3

Click the theme to select it. Click the Save button in the lower left corner of the screen to apply the theme to your interface. Now the default Gmail theme is restored:

Apply the default Gmail theme and Save
Apply the default Gmail theme and Save.

How to Use Settings to Change Your Gmail Interface

In addition to changing your Gmail theme, you can affect the way your inbox looks by changing the display density or configuring your inbox layout.

1. Change Your Display Density

Step 1

From the main Gmail screen, click on the Settings icon in the upper right corner. A drop-down menu appears:

Enter the Gmail Settings screen
Click on the Gmail Settings icon.

Step 2

At the top of the drop-down menu, three options are listed under Display density:

  1. Comfortable
  2. Cozy
  3. Compact

Depending on which one you select, the spacing between menu options and messages changes. To select an option, click on it.

Here is what my email draft box looks like with a compact density:

Example of Gmail Inbox with compact density
Example of Gmail Inbox with compact density.

Here is what it looks like with a comfortable density:

Example of Gmail Inbox with comfortable density
Example of Gmail Inbox with comfortable density.

Note: The size of your browser window affects your density. If you have a small browser window, the display density may be cozy or compact regardless of what you selected from the drop-down menu.

2. Configure Your Inbox Layout

Step 1

Start from the Settings drop-down menu. Click the Configure inbox option. The Select tabs to enable screen displays:

Enter the Select tabs to enable screen
Enter the Select tabs to enable screen.

Step 2

Message categories are listed on the left of the screen. Choose which message categories appear as tabs in your Gmail inbox by checking the checkbox next to the category. The tabs also sort messages, so incoming messages from your social media accounts, for example, would display under the Social tab and not under your Primary inbox.

For example, if I uncheck all the boxes except the Primary category, no tabs display across the top of my Gmail inbox and all messages appear in the inbox. (You cannot uncheck the Primary category.)

The Select tabs to enable screen also allows you to send starred messages directly to your Primary inbox even if they would normally appear under another tab.

Conclusion

Your email can look as unique as you are. There are five ways you can customize your Gmail using themes. You can:

  1. Apply a preset Gmail theme.
  2. Apply your own picture as a Gmail theme.
  3. Change the background of the Gmail text box.
  4. Darken the edges of your Gmail background image.
  5. Blur your Gmail background image.

And if you don’t like the way your Gmail looks when you are done changing it, you can always change it back to the default. You can also change your Gmail interface using the Settings menu.

To learn more about Gmail, review these posts:

Have fun personalizing your Gmail interface!

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