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How to install themes on your Windows 10 PC in 2021

Free or paid, give your taskbar a makeover

Man using desktop PC
(Image: © Gorodenkoff / Shutterstock)

Changing the desktop theme in Windows has been around ever since the days of Windows 98. In 2021, it’s easier than ever to install a full 4K theme for your PC that transforms your icons and windows, not just the color-scheme. 

There’s plenty of methods to install a Windows 10 theme, such as from the Microsoft Store, or by using other applications that can change the color-scheme to your windows and taskbar.

With rumours of a refresh to the user interface coming to Windows 10 21H2 ‘Sun Valley’, or even Windows 11, there’s plenty of opportunities right now to change the look and feel of your PC into something tailored to you.

With this in mind, here’s how to install some themes to make your PC shine even more, and not just on the outside with your RGB.

How to install official themes

Before Windows 8, there really wasn’t an official method to install new themes, but with the introduction of the Microsoft Store, it was made much easier. 

Go to the themes section in the Microsoft Store. Browse the section and if you want to install one, just click on a theme, press ‘Get’ and it will install. Navigate to Settings > Personalization > Themes and it will show alongside the existing themes, ready to give your PC a change in looks.

However, as the store isn’t the greatest in displaying what a theme can look like across the whole PC, alongside its clunky user interface, it’s almost a needle in the haystack of finding one that you will like.

How to install unofficial themes

This is where third-party themes come in. An application called UltraUXThemePatcher needs to be downloaded first in order for third-party themes to be installed. It modifies certain files in Windows 10 that are responsible for modifying the user interface, but it does restore these back to normal if UltraUXThemePatcher is uninstalled.

Once installed, you can head over to DeviantArt or ThemePack and look for a theme that best suits you.

Once you’ve found a theme you like, drop them into ‘Windows\Resources\Themes’.

Restart your PC, then go to Settings > Personalization > Themes, and they will show up alongside the official variants, ready to take effect.

There’s also another application that we need to mention that can showcase your desktop even further.

 Wallpaper Engine

Wallpaper Engine app, available on Steam.

(Image credit: Wallpaper Engine)

Wallpaper Engine features a plethora of animated backgrounds, where you can download even more, thanks to the Steam Workshop integration where many users have contributed their own designs. You can have it scheduled to feature a different wallpaper for each day if you wish, or certain times throughout the day.

You can customize the colors, the objects, the speed in which the animations play, and much more. It even works on multiple monitors, so you could have a wallpaper that has an animation that runs across all of your screens, making for a striking effect.

Our pick of the best Windows 10 themes

Simplify Orange Blue

Simplify Orange theme for Windows 10

(Image credit: dpcdpc11)

The Simplify theme flattens the user interface but gives it a warm gradient that makes it looks like a modernized theme of Windows XP. Everything looks tidier and very clean when browsing File Explorer, while everything in this theme is optimized for 4K displays. The theme does cost $2.99 (about £2 / AUS$4), but you gain a very sophisticated theme with a deep color-scheme for your PC.

macOS Big Sur

Windows 10 Theme of macOS Big Sur

(Image credit: Skinpacks)

Want to have the look of Apple’s operating system without owning a Mac? Here’s the best of both worlds for you. This macOS theme transforms your entire Windows 10 theme into the latest macOS Big Sur release, with icons, wallpapers, and even a dock where you can drag and drop application shortcuts into it, ready to go. It’s very easy to install while transforming your PC into an iMac.

Nemo Skin

'Nemo Skin' Theme for Windows 10

(Image credit: KDr3w)

Back in 2003, Microsoft was working on the Windows XP successor codenamed Longhorn, with concept art that showcased how it was going to redefine the user interface. While it didn’t work out, this theme looks as close as how that vision was, with hues of dark blue and green across the theme as a great contrast to give the user interface sophistication.

Papryos

Papryos theme for Windows 10

(Image credit: niivu)

Instead of one theme, you get five themes here, with each one showcasing bright, vibrant colors that look like a cross between Linux and the now depreciated Material user interface from Google’s Android.

XP Themes

Windows XP themes for Windows 10

(Image credit: Cleodesktop)

The themes of Windows XP, now on Windows 10. Some of these were once exclusively available on certain versions of Windows XP, with the Royale theme being a particular nostalgic throwback to 2004.

The taskbar and the color scheme are the two important points here, easily mixed into the Windows 10 of today. Even in 2021 with the latest 20H2 update, the themes all work here, Royale especially looks fantastic with its almost fluorescent blue and green colors, while Zune brings a great mix of black and orange to the desktop. 

As they’re all optimised for displays up to 4K, all of these look very sharp for any monitor. While it does cost $11.99 (about £8.49 / AUS$15.49), it's a small price to pay for a complete, elegant makeover of your Windows 10 PC from 2001.

Daryl Baxter

Daryl had been freelancing for 3 years before joining TechRadar, now reporting on everything software-related. In his spare time, he's written a book, 'The Making of Tomb Raider', alongside podcasting and usually found playing games old and new on his PC and iPad. If you have a story about a newly-updated app or one that's about to launch, drop him a line.