The Zenburn colour theme ported to Emacs
Emacs Lisp
Clone or download
10ne1 and bbatsov Fix widget-field face on 24bit color text terminals
If it's not explicitely set, the face gets an ugly yellow inherited
from the default palette which hurts the eyes (I see it constantly in
notmuch while reading e-mail).

Signed-off-by: Ioan-Adrian Ratiu <>
Latest commit eea429c May 31, 2018

License GPL 3 MELPA MELPA Stable Patreon


Zenburn for Emacs is a direct port of the popular Zenburn theme for vim, developed by Jani Nurminen. It's my personal belief (and that of its many users I presume) that it's one of the best low contrast color themes out there and that it is exceptionally easy on the eyes.

This theme uses the "new" (it used to be new several years ago when I created this package) built-in theming support available starting with Emacs 24.1.



Download zenburn-theme.el to the directory ~/.emacs.d/themes/. Add this to your .emacs (or init.el):

(add-to-list 'custom-theme-load-path "~/.emacs.d/themes/")

Now you can load the theme with the interactive function load-theme like this:

M-x load-theme RET zenburn


Zenburn is available in both MELPA Stable and MELPA.

You can install zenburn with the following command:

M-x package-install zenburn-theme

To load it automatically on Emacs startup add this to your init file:

(load-theme 'zenburn t)

Emacs Prelude

Zenburn for Emacs is already bundled into Emacs Prelude. If you're a Prelude user - you're probably already using Zenburn, since it's Prelude's default color theme. You can load Zenburn at any time by M-x load-theme zenburn.

Debian and Ubuntu

Users of Debian 9 or later or Ubuntu 16.10 or later may simply apt-get install elpa-zenburn-theme.


If you'd like to tweak the theme by changing just a few colors, you can do so by defining new values in the zenburn-override-colors-alist variable before loading the theme.

For example, to customize just the lighter background colors, you could add to your init file:

(setq zenburn-override-colors-alist
      '(("zenburn-bg+05" . "#282828")
        ("zenburn-bg+1"  . "#2F2F2F")
        ("zenburn-bg+2"  . "#3F3F3F")
        ("zenburn-bg+3"  . "#4F4F4F")))
(load-theme 'zenburn t)

To see the full list of color names you can override, consult the zenburn-theme.el source file.

Ugly colors in the terminal Emacs version

If your Emacs looks considerably uglier in a terminal (compared to the GUI version) try adding this to your .bashrc or .zshrc:

export TERM=xterm-256color

Source the .bashrc (or .zshrc) file and start Emacs again.

Bugs & Improvements

Please, report any problems that you find on the project's integrated issue tracker. If you've added some improvements and you want them included upstream don't hesitate to send me a patch or even better - a GitHub pull request. These contributors have done so.

You can support my work on Zenburn and all my other projects via Patreon.