Theming Your Android Device with Substratum

Theming Your Android Device with Substratum

Android stands as the world’s most popular OS, distinguished by its unparalleled customization options. Among its defining features is the ability to tailor your device extensively to suit personal preferences. This flexibility has been a focal point for both Google and third-party developers alike. Central to this customization landscape is theming, a pivotal element that allows users to personalize their Android experience. Today, we delve into Substratum, a leading choice for theming contemporary Android devices. But first, let’s dissect what Substratum entails.

Understanding Substratum

Sony has long been recognized for its robust theming capabilities within the Xperia lineup, primarily facilitated by its proprietary framework—Runtime Resource Overlay (RRO). In 2014, Sony contributed this framework to Google, integrating it into Stock Android. This framework birthed Layers, a rudimentary application designed to manage RRO and aid users in theming their devices, albeit with certain limitations. Concurrently, Sony refined its approach with Overlay Manager Service (OMS), an advanced client for overlay management, offering dynamic control over priorities and overlay activation. OMS superseded Layers, heralding the development of Substratum—a comprehensive solution that replaced its predecessor and introduced enhanced efficiency and functionality.

Substratum carries forward the simple usability of the Layers manager while leveraging the power of OMS. Compared to traditional Layers, overlays are installed as normal apps to the /data/app partition, making the theming process entirely dynamic.

Substratum Modes

Google merged the basic RRO framework into their Android OS with Marshmallow. However, OMS has not been officially merged into Android. Nevertheless, developers creating custom ROMs have integrated OMS into their builds. Consequently, Substratum operates in 2 modes: Legacy and Full.

Legacy mode merges only RRO’s source code, similar to Google’s AOSP. Full mode merges Substratum’s OMS code within the OS base code, providing greater scalability.

Installing Substratum and Theming Android


  • Android Marshmallow or higher (6.0+)
  • Root Access

1. Install “Substratum Theme Engine Root” (Free) from the Play Store like any other app.

2. Open the app and grant root access and necessary permissions. If using Legacy mode, expect limited support.

Theming Your Android Device with Substratum

3. Return to the Play Store and download a Substratum theme you like. In this tutorial, we’ll use the Greyce theme, available here. Other excellent themes include Compound, Default Dark, and PitchBlack. After installing the theme, you’ll receive a notification from the Substratum app confirming its installation with the message “Theme successfully installed“.

4. Install a theme, then install overlays through the Substratum app. Choose the Greyce theme and your desired overlays, which customize elements such as Android Settings and various app interfaces. Tap the brush icon and select “Install Selected” to proceed with installation.

5. Once the overlays are successfully applied, you’ll receive a notification.

Note: If using Substratum in Legacy mode, reboot your device to apply the changes.

6. Your theme is now applied, and you should see changes on your device. Substratum enables you to install font packs, change boot animations, sounds, and wallpapers.

Uninstalling Selected Overlays

If you want to revert to the stock theme, open the hamburger menu from the left, and navigate to “Advanced Manager” or “Overlay List” (depending on your Substratum mode). Choose the overlays to uninstall, then tap the brush icon in the bottom right corner and select “Uninstall Selected.” Substratum will remove the selected overlays. You may need to reboot your device depending on your mode.

Distinguishing Substratum Theme Engine from CyanogenMod’s

For users familiar with Cyanogen Mod ROMs, CMTE, CyanogenMod’s theming engine, may ring a bell. However, with the advent of Substratum, CMTE’s prominence has waned.

CMTE alters resource code extensively, whereas Substratum overlays apps, rendering it faster, simpler, and safer. Additionally, Substratum allows dynamic theming without device reboot, a feature lacking in CMTE. Moreover, CMTE’s development halted after Android Nougat, while Substratum’s progress persists.

Exploring Android with Substratum Theme Engine

Substratum is a powerful framework enabling dynamic theming and personalization of devices. It extends beyond system resources, allowing customization of third-party apps, thereby broadening users’ theming options. Following the launch of Android Nougat, CyanogenMod ceased CMTE development. With Cyanogen no longer in the picture and LineageOS declaring no intention to create a CMTE alternative, Substratum’s permanence seems clear.

Share your views on the Substratum Theme Manager and your preferred themes and device setups. Android customization, particularly with Substratum, is limited only by imagination. Let your thoughts be heard in the comments below.