Is there a way to turn off the boxes around the icons in Unity?

Clarification: I do not mean the backlight color -- there are plenty of questions about turning that off. I want the icons, and just the icons, to appear in the Unity bar, without any lights and shadows and borders. Can this be done?

up vote 19 down vote accepted

The launcher icon overlays such as borders and highlights can be removed quite easily by changing 4 icon overlays in Unity.

  1. Make a backup of the following image files in the folder /usr/share/unity/4/:

    launcher_icon_back_54.png
    launcher_icon_edge_54.png
    launcher_icon_glow_62.png
    launcher_icon_shine_54.png
    
  2. Either make your own transparent images of the same size or download the files at

    wget -O transparent54.png "https://i.stack.imgur.com/MiFpK.png"
    wget -O transparent62.png "https://i.stack.imgur.com/0NvP0.png"
    
  3. Replace those 4 files with the same 4 files downloaded from the above link.

  4. Restart unity by pressing Alt+F2 and typing setsid unity (or logging out and in again).

  5. If you don't like it then just replace the icons with the backed up icons and restart unity.

Example:

Launcher with no borders around icons

  • 5
    In 12.04, a bit of this has changed. The folder for the icons is now /usr/share/unity/5/ (as Unity has changed versions for 12.04), and there is now one additional icon to replace: launcher_icon_shadow_62.png. Using the method described above, one can simply copy any of the other blank icons to launcher_icon_shadow_62.png, so now there are five blank icons, and then use all five of them to replace the corresponding icons in /usr/share/unity/5/. – Kelley Mar 19 '12 at 15:06
  • 2
    In 14.04 images are stored in /usr/share/unity/icons. All have svg format instead of png. Additionally replace launcher_icon_shadow_62.svg, to get rid of a shadow. – ezpn Jul 8 '14 at 22:13
  • I cannot get replacement files in given link - may you update link URL please. Thank you. – Nam G VU Jul 20 '16 at 6:53

It is possible, and rather simple.

  1. Install compizconfig-settings-manager:

    sudo apt-get install compizconfig-settings-manager
    
  2. Then run about:config in the run dialogue in Unity: press Alt+F2 and enter about:config.

  3. CCSM will pop up with the Unity plug-in open. Navigate to the experimental tab:

    ccsm. it is open.

  4. Now change the Backlight Mode to "Backlight Always Off".

  5. Problem solved.

In light of your comment, the box never 100% goes away (by design).

Small note from @ccpizza concerning 16.04.1.

  • In ubuntu xenial 16.04.1 the Experimental tab is gone, and the setting is now under the Launcher tab and the dropdown is called Launcher Icon Backlight Mode.

  • This should be the selected answer. Thanks a ton @RolandiXor – Nam G VU Jul 20 '16 at 6:56
  • 2
    In ubuntu xenial 16.04.1 the Experimental tab is gone, and the setting is now under the Launcher tab and the dropdown is called Launcher Icon Backlight Mode. – ccpizza Oct 22 '16 at 9:59

I scripted the removal of the boxes around the applications and the one around the Ubuntu button (for 12.04):

cd /usr/share/unity/5
wget -O transparent54.png "https://i.stack.imgur.com/MiFpK.png"
wget -O transparent62.png "https://i.stack.imgur.com/0NvP0.png"

for name in squircle_shine squircle_edge squircle_base squircle_base_selected launcher_icon_back launcher_icon_edge launcher_icon_shine
do 
    sudo mv ${name}_54.png ${name}_54.ori.png \
        && sudo ln -s transparent54.png ${name}_54.png
done

for name in squircle_shadow launcher_icon_glow launcher_icon_shadow
do 
    sudo mv ${name}_62.png ${name}_62.ori.png \
        && sudo ln -s transparent62.png ${name}_62.png
done

Then to restart Unity, press Alt+F2 and run setsid unity. The result looks much cleaner to me.

Before:

with boxes

After:

without boxes

To switch back:

cd /usr/share/unity/5
for name in squircle_shine squircle_edge squircle_base squircle_base_selected launcher_icon_back launcher_icon_edge launcher_icon_shine
do 
    sudo rm ${name}_54.png \
        && sudo mv ${name}_54.ori.png ${name}_54.png
done

for name in squircle_shadow launcher_icon_glow launcher_icon_shadow
do 
    sudo rm ${name}_62.png \
        && sudo mv ${name}_62.ori.png ${name}_62.png
done

To do this locally, we don't have to modify the files in the folder /usr/share/unity/. Instead we can just copy these files in the gtk theme folder under a folder "unity" that you create. This will override the files in /usr/share/unity/ and also, this way, a system update will not remove the change. But I have a different question. After removing the border, it looks like there is too much space between the icons and also between the icons and the border of the launcher. Is there a way to reduce the spacing inbetween?

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