How to add a custom photo background to Gmail

Martin Brinkmann
Jun 21, 2012
Updated • Jun 21, 2012
Email, Gmail

Gmail back in 2008 launched a themes engine that allowed users of the service's web client to change the black and white design of the site to something that at times looked like a homepage from the 90s. Especially the themes that are now listed as classic themes in the interface fell into that category, while the plain color themes offered a professional looking design that changed the color scheme of the site but kept the backgrounds mostly in plain colors.

Google in 2011 introduced high definition themes which improved the site's theme engine further. The company basically added HD photos to Gmail's theme selection that offered custom background images that changed the look and feel of the inbox considerably.

Google yesterday announced another change to Gmail themes. Users can now select custom photo backgrounds for Gmail.

Custom Gmail photo backgrounds

gmail custom theme

Open the Gmail homepage and locate the settings icon at the top right. It should sit right underneath your profile photo on the page. Select the themes context menu item here to open the themes selection directly. Here you see all existing themes, and the new custom themes entry. Google has made available a light and dark theme template, which define how the background colors look like on the site.

gmail themes

Once you click on light or dark, a selection window opens that gives you several options to pick a custom photo background for your Gmail inbox. Google makes available featured images that you can select or use, your own photos that you have uploaded to other Google services such as Google+ or Picasa, photos from your phone or computer, from a web address, or photos that you have recently selected.

select gmail background

Featured photos for instance can be picked with a click on the photo and another on the Select button. You can alternatively double-click on a photo to use it as the custom background right away.  You can alternatively use one of the other options to add a custom photo to Gmail.

Once you have added a custom theme to Gmail, you can switch between light and dark styles directly in the interface. If you want to change the photo, you need to click on change your background image instead which opens the configuration menu anew.


I encountered a few issues when I tried to add bright photos as a theme, as they made several Gmail menus barely readable. This is a big issue, and it can generally be said that darker images, at least in the upper half of the screen, work better than lighter images.


Closing Words

Custom themes will certainly appeal to part of Gmail's user base. I on the other hand won't be using themes on Gmail, first because I mainly access my mailbox using Thunderbird, and second because I think it is adding too much noise to the page.

What about you? Do you like the custom theme option on Gmail? (Thanks Michael for the tip)


Tutorials & Tips

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  1. Vakil said on September 27, 2014 at 10:38 am

    Very easily change my background Thnx

  2. Ravi said on June 26, 2012 at 3:54 pm

    Thanks for info dear,

    It’s look great

  3. Ademas Z3MN said on June 22, 2012 at 6:04 am

    25,664 unread emails?! :P

    1. Martin Brinkmann said on June 22, 2012 at 7:01 am

      Well I use Thunderbird, and I suppose the read flag is not picked up by Gmail.

  4. montuos said on June 22, 2012 at 3:37 am

    I wish they would fix the custom theme the way it used to be. Back then it wasn’t just setting a background picture, you could also set the text color and text background color. I do not like the transparency effect it has now, and I want to use higher contrast text and background colors.

  5. Uhtred said on June 21, 2012 at 10:54 pm

    I’ve used themes in gmail for some time, but don’t use photo backgrounds, as you rightly point out, they can often as not visually get in the way, e.g. what works on a large monitor may not work so well on a small screen.

    It is a shame gmail restricts colour to their basic themes rather than allow users to pick custom colours. Even if they only offered the old “websafe” palette to choose from, I think it would be good.

  6. ódio said on June 21, 2012 at 10:00 pm

    i tryed it when was anuncied but cant use a custom background.. maybe it was now disponible to everyone yet. i will try again today.

    1. ódio said on June 22, 2012 at 12:21 am

      now its working

  7. PixelWizard said on June 21, 2012 at 8:52 pm

    Yes, yes, yes… I really like this. The Gmail UI is what I see almost all day on my screen; its theme is practically my wallpaper. Now I will never run out of options when one theme becomes stale for me.

  8. Damirora said on June 21, 2012 at 8:51 pm

    Doesn’t do anything for me. Like I said in other articles on here, I prefer Thunderbird. Sweet, delicious Thunderbird has been with me for years now, and will always be what I use to read mail.
    People can keep their extra perks and whatnot [adverts] out of my mail.

    1. PixelWizard said on June 21, 2012 at 8:57 pm

      I gave up on Thunderbird years ago. Too buggy and big-footprint.
      No ads appear on any Google page for me. Ever.
      Ad blocking on Google services is rather easy.

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