After a lot of searching I cannot find a way to get gnome-terminal to display italic fonts. I'm running version 3.6.2.

Specifically I would like vim to display comments in italics; I've added

highlight Comment cterm=italic

to my .vimrc but it doesn't work.

Does anyone know if this can be done?


Gnome terminal does support italics (at least in version 3.8.4). You can test terminal support for italics by executing $ echo -e "\e[3mfoo\e[23m". If you see foo printed in italics, foo, then terminal supports it.

Then you have to insert the following in .vimrc:

set t_ZH=^[[3m
set t_ZR=^[[23m

Note that ^[ is a single character and can in vim insert mode be inserted by typing <ctrl>-v <esc>.

After that you have to tell vim to italicize comments. You can quickly test if it works by executing :highlight Comment cterm=italic in vim when file with some comments is open. Comments should get italicized right away.

I found the above instructions on reddit (Italics in terminal vim and tmux), but I didn't have to follow all the steps listed there. My answer is the distilled version of instructions that worked for me.

  • Thank you! The set commands were what I was missing in my vimrc. Now my comments in terminal vim are italicized, just the way I like 'em. – Chronos Aug 23 '14 at 1:48
  • Don't miss that Note about ^[ or you'll be confused for a long time! – Jeremy West Mar 6 '15 at 8:06
  • 1
    gnome terminal 3.6.2 does also support italic! finally, i have italics in markdown, thanks! – Ayrat Nov 7 '15 at 11:55

No. I read man 5 terminfo to find out what the terminal ESCape sequences (what you send the terminal to cause the behavior) dealing with italics were called:

man 5 terminfo | egrep 'italics|Cap-|Code'|head -n 10| tail -n 4
               Variable                   Cap-            TCap               Description  
                String                    name            Code  
       enter_italics_mode                 sitm            ZH             Enter italic mode  
       exit_italics_mode                  ritm            ZR             End italic mode  

Then, I used infocmp to dump each terminal description so I could see which terminals supported italics:

for i in $( find /usr/share/terminfo -type f ) ; do 
    j=${i##*/}; hdr="$( infocmp $j | head -n 1)";  
    infocmp $j | egrep -q 'sitm|ZH' 
    if [ $? = 0 ] ; then echo $hdr; fi; 
# Reconstructed via infocmp from file: /usr/share/terminfo/r/rxvt-unicode-256color
# Reconstructed via infocmp from file: /usr/share/terminfo/o/opus3n1+
# Reconstructed via infocmp from file: /usr/share/terminfo/i/iris-color

So, these three terminal-types (rxvt-unicode-256color, opus3n1+, iris-color) support italics. Others do not.

Since I could not find a terminal definition for "gnome-terminal" (see ls /usr/share/terminfo/g/, I looked for italics in all. Try infocmp $TERM to see what capabilities your terminal supports. Read man tput to see how to emit control sequences.

  • Thank you for your answer, and apologies for not acknowledging it sooner. I have switched to using Urxvt; it is highly customizable, and with a bit of effort I was able to make it look almost exactly like my old gnome-terminal set-up. – Chronos Aug 1 '14 at 13:17

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