Creating a Plasma Style quickstart

A quick guide to creating your first Plasma Style

One of Plasma's features is the ability to theme desktop elements using Scalable Vector Graphics (SVGs). This means there is no need for theme authors to know C++ or any other programming language to create a great looking theme. They need only use common graphics tools like Krita, Inkscape, GIMP, etc. Depending on your prowess with such tools, a great looking Plasma Style can be created in under an hour.

A video tutorial is available to learn how to edit Plasma Styles.

Creating a Plasma Style in 7 Easy Steps

Step 1: Using an existing theme

Copy and rename an existing Plasma Style folder. The new folder name should be the name of the theme. Themes provided by your distribution are stored in /usr/share/plasma/desktoptheme/, while user-installed themes go in ~/.local/share/plasma/desktoptheme/. You can also find Plasma Styles on the KDE Store. Edit the metadata.json file in the theme folder to match your theme name.

See Theme Metadata if you need help.

# Create theme directory in home if it doesn't exist
mkdir -p ~/.local/share/plasma/desktoptheme
# Copy default theme to home directory so we can modify it
cp -r /usr/share/plasma/desktoptheme/default ~/.local/share/plasma/desktoptheme/
# Rename theme
cd ~/.local/share/plasma/desktoptheme
mv ./default ./mytheme
# Edit the relevant fields in the metadata.json
# with your theme information and credits.
# Remove any translation names or descriptions
# (entries like Name[fr] or Description[zh_CN]).

Step 2: Open a file

Open the SVG file associated with the Plasma element you would like to theme (panel background, clock, etc.) in an SVG editor (e.g. Inkscape).

See Theme Location, Structure and Definition to understand how Plasma Styles are organized, and the Theme Elements Reference to understand what each SVG file does.

Step 3: Edit each element

Each SVG file may have several elements (objects with element ID = left, right, top, topright, center, ClockFace, etc.). Modify existing elements OR delete and create replacement elements. Elements can be any SVG primitive or object group.

See SVG Elements and Inkscape to understand how to edit Plasma SVG elements.

Step 4: Use an Inkscape extension

To make renaming of the theme elements easier, it is possible to use an Inkscape extension provided by KSvg. See Inkscape Extensions for how to install it.

Step 5: Review element IDs

Make sure that the element ID for each new element is correctly set.

Step 6: Edit hint elements

Add or remove any element containing a hint ID you desire. It doesn't matter how the element looks, just that elements with IDs matching the hint elements either exist or don't exist. See Background SVG Format for a description of available hint elements.

Step 7: Save the SVG file.

Repeat steps 3 - 6 for any other Plasma element for which you would like to create a new theme.

Testing the Theme

  • If you have not already done so, copy your new theme folder to ~/.local/share/plasma/desktoptheme.

  • Choose the theme in System Settings -> Appearance -> Plasma Style or edit your ~/.config/plasmarc to point to the new theme. This may require restarting Plasma.

  • Carefully check the appearance of all new theme elements.

  • If you created separate themes that do not require compositing/desktop effects (SVGs in the opaque/ folder), remember to test your theme with compositing turned off (this can be toggled with the keyboard shortcut Alt+Shift+F12 on X11).

When you update the theme, you need to battle with Plasma's caching. To make sure you are running the latest version of your theme after updating its files, clear the cache:

rm -r ~/.cache/plasma*

Then restart the Plasma Shell. The easiest way to do so is by opening KRunner with Alt + Space and running:

plasmashell --replace

Theme Colors

  • You can provide a Plasma color scheme that will allow text, selected backgrounds and other items to blend well with your theme by supplying a colors file in your theme folder. See the colors file in the default theme for an example.

  • If the colors file is omitted, Plasma will use the current Plasma system colors.

Hints and Tips

  • Even a pixel or two out of place can make a difference over hours of use. It may not be obvious at first glance but the user may intuitively pick up that something is "just not right" and give up using your theme.

  • In Inkscape, turn off stroke scaling when elements are resized. Inkscape may default to scaling the stroke of an element when changing its size. This may show up in the rendered Plasma Style as thin, barely-there lines that you can't seem to get rid of.

  • If you prefer raster editors like Krita and GIMP, create your theme in these programs first, then import them into Inkscape (drag and drop of the files works fine). If you're working on a background with multiple elements, like widgets/panel-background.svg or widgets/background.svg, crop the raster image into the different elements (top, bottom, right, etc.) and save as separate files before importing into Inkscape.

  • Don't forget to embed imported raster images. By default Inkscape will import these as linked images that will not show up in Plasma (to embed the images, go to Effects -> Images -> Embed All Images).

  • Remember that the border elements of backgrounds (top, right, bottom, left) are tiled if the hint-stretch-borders element is not present in the SVG.

  • Remember that the center element of backgrounds are stretched if the hint-tile-center element is not present in the SVG.

  • To control how much colorization will be applied by Plasma when using the hint-apply-color-scheme element, make sure the color (HSV) Value/Intensity is closer to 0 or 255 for less colorization, and closer to 127 for more colorization. So, for example, to keep shadows from being colorized, use a color (HSV) Value/Intensity of 0.

  • When testing the theme, if it looks like portions of a multi-element SVG are missing (missing borders, etc.), check the SVG again to make sure the element IDs are correct.

  • Do not use more advanced SVG features since they will not be rendered properly. If you want to add blur or something similar, consider pre-rendering to PNG, and then importing the PNG into the final SVG file.

  • Perform this quick sanity check for background SVGs to help troubleshoot annoying lines and gaps between elements:

    • topleft, top and topright elements should have the same height
    • topright, right and bottomright elements should have the same width
    • bottomleft, bottom and bottomright elements should have the same height
    • topleft, left and bottomleft elements should have the same width