How to Use Custom Themes and Icons on Windows

Custom theme settings for Windows

The default Windows theme is simple and is generally preferred by an average user. But, what if you want to use a custom theme? Fortunately, the process to create a custom Windows theme is easy and doesn't require you to be a geek. We'll look into the step-by-step method to create such a theme. We'll also see how we can apply custom icons to application shortcuts. This too is not that hard. The process for customizing both the themes and icons is more or less similar on Windows 10 and 11. Let's see how we can create a unique desktop experience on Windows through custom themes and icons.

Custom theme settings for Windows

While creating a custom theme on Windows, make sure you do not pick extremely dark and jazzy colors. It may put unnecessary strain on your eyes. Try to keep it subtle and minimal, if possible.

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There are some predefined themes as well on Windows. Before creating a custom theme, check out the predefined ones or you can pick one from the Microsoft Store too. Let's get started!

Creating a Custom Windows Theme

To get started, go to the Start → Settings → Personalization → Themes option. You can access this option through another path.

Another way to access is by right-clicking on the desktop and selecting the Personalize option from the context menu. Thereafter, select the Themes tab.

Windows theme customization options

Here you get 4 different options to customize the background, color, sounds, and the mouse cursor.

1. Selecting a Custom Background

Let's get started with the background.

Choose background picture for the Windows custom theme

There are 3 different ways to customize the background of your theme. The first one is the picture (image) of your choice. Make sure the image you're selecting is at least the size of your desktop.

Choose predefined flat color for the Windows theme background

The second option gives a collection of a predefined array of flat colors to choose from. You can quickly pick one of them. The default is the blue one. If you're not using a picture, go for this one.

Choose custom color for the Windows theme background

The last one enables you to pick a custom color from the picker. While using this option, make sure you thoroughly test the custom color. Avoid choosing an extremely dark color as it may put a strain on your eyes.

2. Selecting Custom Colors for Windows and Apps

The next step is all about customizing the colors (including accent colors), app mode, and transparency effects. To get started, click the Color option on the Themes tab.

Windows and App mode settings

Windows applications and websites—in general—decide their mode based on the preference activated in this setting. You can either prefer to view apps and websites in a dark mode or a lighter one.

These settings can be overridden if the viewer explicitly opts for a specific mode (other than the activated one) in the app or on the website.

Accent colors for Windows

Accent colors are used on the taskbar, windows title bar, and the borders. Pick the one you want you use for your custom theme. Though this option is available for the users, I'll recommend skipping it as it may create an extremely jazzy theme that may look like an overkill.

Settings for customizing surface accent colors

This finishes all the options available for customizing the colors of your custom theme. Carefully pick the background picture and the colors. Feel free to experiment and refine your theme.

3. Customizing Sounds

The next one is the Sounds option on the Themes tab. Although default sounds are good enough—if you're looking to change everything related to your custom theme, go for it.

Customizing sounds on Windows

You can change the sound for almost every major Windows action or UI behavior. Test and relate the sound with the action you're assigning it to.

4. Customizing Mouse Cursor

And last but not least is the Mouse cursor option on the Themes tab. Once again, I strongly recommend against customizing default mouse cursors. It can confuse other users of that computer.

Mouse customization settings in Windows

If you're sharing the same account with other users, do inform them before changing the mouse cursors. I think the default mouse cursor state should never be changed. The rest of the mouse cursor states can be experimented with.

Applying Custom Icons to Applications' Shortcuts

If for some reason you want to change the default icon associated with a Windows application, changing it is not a difficult task. First, you need an icon you want to use instead of the default one.

You can either get a readymade custom icon of your choice from the internet, or you can create one on your own. Let's see how to go ahead with the latter approach.

The ideal size of an application shortcut icon is either 48px or 64px and it should be square as well.

To start with, pick the image you want to use as an icon. Reduce it to one of two sizes mentioned above with both width and height of the same length. Now you have to convert it into a .ico file.

To make things simple, use an image to icon file convertor. These online tools to convert images are generally free to use.

Save your icon file to a safe location on your hard drive. I'll suggest creating a separate folder for all the custom icons. Or, you can create an application-specific folder too.

Application properties option in the context menu

Once your .ico file is in place, right-click on the application's shortcut and click the Properties option in the context menu.

Icon changing option for the application shortcut

Switch to the Shortcut tab in the dialogue box and click the Change Icon... option. Click the browse button and select the .ico file you've saved earlier. Click OK and Apply buttons to complete the icon-changing process.