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In this paper, we propose a novel linear transmit precoding strategy for multiple-input, multiple-output (MIMO) systems employing improper signal constellations. In particular, improved zero-forcing (ZF) and minimum mean square error (MMSE) precoders are derived based on modified cost functions, and are shown to achieve a superior performance without loss of spectrum efficiency compared to the conventional linear and nonlinear precoders. The superiority of the proposed precoders over the conventional solutions are verified by both simulation and analytical results. The novel approach to precoding design is also applied to the case of an imperfect channel estimate with a known error covariance as well as to the multi-user scenario where precoding based on the nullspace of channel transmission matrix is employed to decouple multi-user channels. In both cases, the improved precoding schemes yield significant performance gain compared to the conventional counterparts.