Theming icons with a pack is pretty awesome. But they can't do everything.
Icon packs have holes. Icon packs sometimes miss. And when you're theming your phone, maybe what you need isn't in an icon pack at all. That's OK. We don't need no stinkin' icon packs. We can edit together our own custom icons! It's easy. All you need is some kind of photo editor — be it the latest Photoshop or free cloud-based editors like Pixlr — and a little creativity.
Finding your image
Most customization-oriented launchers like Nova Launcher let you set any image you want as an app icon. With that kind of freedom, it can be a bit daunting finding inspiration for your icons. While most custom icons are theme-driven, here are some more ideas for custom icons or where to pull them:
- Game elements: Inventory items in a lot of games, like these Dark Souls items, are easy to set as icons because most are designed to fit into a square and transparent PNG images of the items are easily found on fan sites and game wikis.
- Emoji: Emoji are already square images that are mobile friendly and can be seen as an otherworldy code by a large portion of the population. Using emoji as custom icons means you can disguise apps by how they make you feel, what they remind you of, or one of the hundreds of symbols that you feel represent the app in your eyes.
- Music: If you want to show off your intense love of your favorite group or band, make their already-square album covers into custom icons. ABBA's SOS for the dialer? Metallica for Chrome? Can You Feel The Love Tonight for Tindr? Wait, that one could be a problem…
- Logos: Sports teams, name brands, heck even a lot of movies and bands have their logos online in transparent PNG images, ready to be set as a custom icon. If you're a sports fan, your team's logo is the easiest app drawer icon in the theming world, and in most cases it won't need any editing at all.
If the image you found was a transparent, square image, congratulations! You can apply it as-is. If it isn't, there's a few edits you may need to make:
- If your image doesn't have a transparent background, you need to delete the background that is there and re-save the image as an image type that supports transparency, such as PNG.
- If your image is a rectangle rather than a square, you will only be able to set the center square as your icon, as Android icons must be square. Most image editors will add extra blank space around your icon by increasing the Canvas Size until the height and width numbers match. Also make sure your icon is centered within the square so you're not doing a lot of repositioning while setting the icon in the launcher.
- Image sizes aren't quite as important to custom icons as they are to wallpapers, but there are a few things to remember. If an image is too small, the app icon will be blurry on your home screen. If an image is too big, its fine details could get lost in the small shortcut it displays in. I tend to aim for 500-pixel square, transparent PNG images.
Applying a custom icon
The method for applying a custom icon can vary a little depending on the launcher you use. Here are the processes for applying a custom icon on the most popular launchers, and how to apply a custom icon even if your launcher doesn't support custom icons itself.
- Long-press the shortcut you wish to change.
- Tap Edit.
Tap the icon box to edit the icon.
- Tap Gallery apps.
- Tap Documents.
Navigate to and select your custom icon.
- Make sure your icon is centered and completely within the bounding box before tapping Done.
- Tap Done to commit the changes.
Enjoy your new icon
- Long-press and hold the app shortcut you'd like to edit.
- Drag the icon up to Edit.
Swipe up the menu to reveal the list of sources for your icon.
- Tap My photos.
- Navigate to and select your custom icon.
Return to the home screen to enjoy your new icon.
Have a launcher that doesn't support custom icons but want one anyway? Not a problem! Just use Awesome Icons to create a home screen shortcut with a custom icon.
- Open Awesome Icons.
- Tap Create shortcut.
Tap the app icon under Launch.
- Tap your desired app.
- Tap the app icon under Icon.
- Navigate to and select your custom icon.
- Make sure your icon is centered and completely within the bounding box before tapping Crop.
Tap OK to create your new custom shortcut.
The only limits for custom icons are your own tastes and your imagination! What custom icons have you used in a theme? Got a great idea for some custom icons but don't quite know how you could pull it off? Leave your ideas in the comments below!