I have just started using the zenburn theme in emacs on my macbook and I really like how it looks. It looks like this:


However when I put it on my ubuntu pc (my .emacs.d directory is synced with git and I double checked it was working properly by copying it over through dropbox as well and the files should be identical in both .emacs.d directories) it looked like this:


Can anyone suggest what's going on here and how I can get emacs to look the same on my ubuntu machine as on my macbook?

  • 3
    It looks like your terminal on Ubuntu is only set up to use 16 colors. Check out this answer for more details: stackoverflow.com/a/64585/1590790
    – nispio
    Oct 4, 2016 at 15:35
  • 1
    Are you running emacs inside a terminal? If so, run it outside of a terminal; you'll be happier over all.
    – db48x
    Oct 4, 2016 at 15:36
  • 1
    Ahhh, yeah, I did M-x list-colors-display in emacs and my macbook terminal has 256 colours while my ubuntu terminal has only 8, that'd explain it. Thanks Oct 4, 2016 at 15:43

1 Answer 1


The problem was that the terminal on my ubuntu computer was only using 8 colours, and as such couldn't use the colours shown on my macbook.

You can find out how many colours your terminal has in emacs using M-x list-colors-display

The solution was either to run it outside the terminal or add [[ $COLORTERM = gnome-terminal ]] && TERM=xterm-256color(found at stackoverflow.com/a/64585/1590790/) to my .bashrc file so that it could use 256 colours.

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