Customizing figure toolbar background

In one of my projects, I needed to present a radar (polar) plot. Such plots are usually drawn on a black background and I wanted all the plot controls to blend into this background.

Matlab figure having black toolbar background

Matlab figure having black toolbar background

For the plot itself I used a variation of Matlab’s buggy polar function, which I modified to enable proper dynamic resize / zoom / pan, bypass figure-renderer issues with patches and data-cursors, and other similar annoyances. Pretty standard stuff.

For the slider I’ve used a javax.swing.JSlider having a continuous-movement callback. Again, for readers of this blog this is nothing special:

[jSlider,hSlider] = javacomponent('javax.swing.JSlider',[0,0,.01,0.1],hFig);
set(hSlider, 'Units','norm','pos',[.15,0,.7,.05]);
set(jSlider, 'Background',, ...
             'Value',0, 'Maximum',duration, ...

Setting the background color for all the GUI components to black was easy. But setting the toolbar’s background to black turned out to be a bit more interesting, and is the topic of this week’s article.

Standard Matlab figure toolbar - yuck!

Standard Matlab figure toolbar - yuck!

The first step, naturally, is to get the toolbar’s handle:

hToolbar = findall(hFig,'tag','FigureToolBar');

In my case, I programmatically create the figure and use the default figure toolbar, whose tag value is always ‘FigureToolBar’. If I had used a custom toolbar, I would naturally use the corresponding tag (for example, if you create a custom toolbar using GUIDE, then the tag name will probably be ‘toolbar1’ or something similar).

Since I’m setting the figure programmatically, I need to manually remove several unuseful toolbar controls. I do this by directly accessing the toolbar control handles:


For setting the bgcolor, we get the toolbar’s underlying Java component, then sprinkle some Java magic power:

% ensure the toolbar is visible onscreen
% Get the underlying JToolBar component
jToolbar = get(get(hToolbar,'JavaContainer'),'ComponentPeer');
% Set the bgcolor to black
color =;
% Remove the toolbar border, to blend into figure contents
% Remove the separator line between toolbar and contents
jFrame = get(handle(hFig),'JavaFrame');

Unfortunately, this is not enough. The reason is that some of Matlab’s standard toolbar icons use non-opaque Java button controls (thereby showing the new black bgcolor), whereas other icons use opaque buttons, with a hard-coded gray background (I feel like spanking someone…). I’ve already touched upon this issue briefly a few years ago.

Matlab figure toolbar with black background, some opaque buttons

Matlab figure toolbar with black background, some opaque buttons

Luckily, all is not lost: we simply need to loop over all the JToolBar’s components and force them to be non-opaque with a black bgcolor. In cases where the component is compound (e.g., the Brush Data uisplittool), we need to set the bgcolor for all the sub-components:

jtbc = jToolbar.getComponents;
for idx=1:length(jtbc)
    for childIdx = 1 : length(jtbc(idx).getComponents)

…finally ending up with the blended appearance that appears at the top of this article.

Categories: Figure window, GUI, Java, Medium risk of breaking in future versions, Undocumented feature

Tags: , , , ,

Bookmark and SharePrint Print

6 Responses to Customizing figure toolbar background

  1. Zheng Liu says:

    Hi Yair:

    Thank you for your contribution, it is an excellent work, if my figure is a GUI (created by GUIDE), how should I change my customized Toolbar’s backgroundcolor? suppose my Toolbar’s Tag is uitoolbar1, thank you very much.

    • @Zheng – follow the steps outlined in the article, simply modify

      hToolbar = findall(hFig,'tag','FigureToolBar');


      hToolbar = findall(handles.hObject,'tag','uitoolbar1');

      in your *_OutputFcn() function that is generated by GUIDE.

      The rest of the code in my article should follow this line (use handles.hObject wherever it says hFig in my article).

    • Zheng Liu says:

      Dear Yair, thank you very much for your timely reply, your suggestion gave me a very critical help, wish you good luck.

  2. Zheng Liu says:

    Dear Yair:

    I put the two techniques ( and designed by you together, I hope to change the background while floating the toolbar, this effect has been achieved in function, but there are a few small issues to be resolved, the questions are as follows:
    (1) How should I do to specify the location of the toolbar while floating? unfortunately, my way (jTbar.getUI.setFloating(true,java.awt.Point(0,0));) does not work;
    (2) How should I do to control the emergence and disappear of the toolbar via right-click menu(for example attached to the current GUI figure)? I currently take a drag-and-off style.

    Yours Sincerely.

    My code (in the “*_OutputFcn()” that is generated by GUIDE) is as follows:

    % --- Outputs from this function are returned to the command line.
    function varargout = toolbar_demo_OutputFcn(hObject, eventdata, handles) 
    % varargout  cell array for returning output args (see VARARGOUT);
    % hObject    handle to figure
    % eventdata  reserved - to be defined in a future version of MATLAB
    % handles    structure with handles and user data (see GUIDATA)
    % Get default command line output from handles structure
    varargout{1} = handles.output;
    jTbar = get(get(findall(handles.figure_main,'tag','uitoolbar1'),'JavaContainer'),'ComponentPeer');
    color =;
    jtbc = jTbar.getComponents;
    for idx=1:length(jtbc)
        for childIdx = 1 : length(jtbc(idx).getComponents)
    jFrame = get(handle(handles.figure_main),'JavaFrame');
    jTbCon = jTbar.getParent;
    jLayout = java.awt.FlowLayout(0,0,0);
    jCpts = jTbar.getComponents;
    for i = 1 : length(jCpts)
        jMls = jCpts(i).getMouseListeners;
        for j = 1 : length(jMls)
            if ~isempty(strfind(get(jMls(j),'type'),'FlyOverListener'))
                jCls = jCpts(i).getChangeListeners;
                if ~isempty(strfind(get(jCls(1),'type'),'FlyOverListener'))
    hjTbar = handle(jTbar,'CallbackProperties');
    function dockUndockCallbackFcn(src, ~, jTbc)
    if src.isFloating
        jWin = src.getTopLevelAncestor;
  3. masi says:

    Which polar coordinate system did you use for your solution in MATLAB 2013?

    I am trying to integrate your code to MATLAB 2016b `polaraxes` + `warp` in the thread here

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *