6 things to look for in an icon pack

Want to make your phone look new without completely changing up your home screen layout or trying a bunch of new widgets? Just switch icon packs. Finding an icon pack that perfectly matches your theme is cool. You know what's really cool? Finding an icon pack that'll go with five themes, or 10. Or finding an icon pack that doesn't leave any awkward gaps in your app drawer.

Good icon packs are out there. Here's how I find them.


Icons need to look good before they wind up in themes like these.

Above all other things, a pack's icons have to look good to you. I don't care how awesome the support is. I don't care how masterfully they handle unthemed icons. I don't care if they have the best icon picker known to Android. If the icons don't look good to me, it's not going to matter because I will hardly ever use them.

Icons are something you look at every day, so the icons in a pack need to be something that you like and something you won't tire of too quickly. Don't get what's popular if you don't like it. I still haven't bought some of the most popular packs on the store because I personally just don't like them.

App/Launcher Support

Sometimes when an icon pack fails, it's not the pack, it's the launcher.

Icon packs are handled different ways by different launchers. That's why even if you buy an icon pack in Google Play, it might not work properly work in every Android launcher you try. Depending on what launchers accept the access intent required to see and act on masks and shaders, a launcher might take all, part, or none of the masking a developer has programmed for their pack. This is why icon packs may also look better on some launchers than others, like PLAY on Nova (right) versus PLAY on ZenUI (left).

There are also millions of apps out there. Icon pack developers don't have time to theme them all. While we'll get to unthemed icons in a minute, it is worth noting that when trying to see how many apps you use are themed in a pack, you cannot go strictly on the number of icons the pack contains. MY PACK HAS OVER 9,000 ICONS … but it's actually just 900 apps in 10 colors (Not that that isn't an accomplishment in itself). Look through the pages of sample apps in their Google Play listing, and if all else fails… . Buy the pack, apply it, and count the holes. You have 15 minutes to see if there are too many for your liking.

Speaking of holes...

How holey is your icon pack?

Holey crap, that's a lot of holes.

Again, you can't theme every po-dunk game some high schooler coded in class and put in Google Play on a dare. I get that. That's fine. But that doesn't mean that there have to be big gaping holes in my app drawer between your shiny silver icon pack and the boring old icon my app came with.

The way developers used to get around this was by putting a mask over the unthemed app icons. Most packs still do this, to varying levels of success. See the pack in the middle here? It's using square icon masks to tint all app icons, but the masks are almost worse than the holes. Now take a look at Noctum (opens in new tab). You see any holes? No? That's because instead of an old-school mask, MLV uses shader.xml to tint unthemed icons using the same color scheme as his pack. I wish all icon packs did this, but even if they did, not all launchers would support it.

Some packs with specialty shapes also have icon masks that will have the app conform to the shape of the pack. Sometimes, these work really well, like in PLAY (opens in new tab). Sometimes… not so much.

We also have variant or alternate icons. Alternate icons can be generic icons that you can use to sub in for apps that weren't themed. Some icon packs have a few dozen alternates, some packs have a few thousand alternate icons. I am still waiting for icon pack developers to start adding Google emoji to their alternate icons … Waiting and waiting ...

How many times can you use this pack?

Solid icon packs get a lot of use because they tend to go with more things.

I am perfectly fine blowing a few buck on an icon pack that I'll use for a month and never touch again… but I absolutely adore finding new packs that I can re-use from theme to theme. Golden Icons (opens in new tab) was a pack I downloaded for my Aladdin theme last Halloween, but I keep coming back to it when I find walls in Wallpaper Wednesday.

Solid color packs like Zwart (opens in new tab) and Whicons (opens in new tab) have been suggested multiple times in my previous articles, because solid white and solid black icons are easy to match to themes. I also keep Glim (opens in new tab) on my devices for when I want to use color-variants on my home screen for a theme.

What kind of support is the developer giving this pack?

Developers can get a little blunt sometimes...

Supporting an icon pack can be a full-time job if your pack is popular, but icon pack support isn't always quite as necessary as it is for other apps. If an icon pack has enough of my icons themed, enough custom/variant icons to fill the holes, and fits my theme, then it doesn't matter if it was last updated at the beginning of 2015 or 2014, I'm using it. I use what fits.

However, if an icon pack is getting decent support, I'm more likely to apply themes that'll use it. I'm not saying an icon pack needs monthly updates with 300 new icons, but the occasional 'we answered some icon requests, and we fixed these icons that've gotten updated designs' update really makes me happy to use a developer's pack. Icon requests are a double-edged sword for icon pack developers, because they help fill gaps that their users are seeing, but they also take up a lot of time if the tool is abused. If you're submitting requests, limit yourself to five apps.

I prefer paid packs.

I have no qualms spending money on icons I like. You shouldn't either.

Yeah, free icon packs are great, and considering icon packs are about as luxury an app as it comes, free icon packs will continue to be what the bulk of the market uses. The bulk of the market is wrong. Paid packs are where it's at.

Icon packs are exhausting to develop and maintain. Developers deserve to have that work compensated. If that's in the form of a separate paid pack or a donate button in the app, fine. But if you're turning away from an icon pack because it's three dollars, I'd like to throw something at you. Like some exploding kittens. Paid packs have a tendency to get more long-term support, better quality support, and better quality product. So skip your third Monster of the day and pay for the app. Or just download Google Opinion Rewards (opens in new tab) and use the rewards to pay for icon packs. That's what I did for a long time before my themes outpaced my surveys.

Do not confuse this for saying all paid icon packs are gems. They are not. There are a lot, a LOT of crap icon packs out there that cost money just like the good ones. But hopefully using the other criteria listed in this article, you can figure out which are which before you give them your money.

Ara Wagoner

Ara Wagoner was a staff writer at Android Central. She themes phones and pokes YouTube Music with a stick. When she's not writing about cases, Chromebooks, or customization, she's wandering around Walt Disney World. If you see her without headphones, RUN. You can follow her on Twitter at @arawagco.

  • Where did u get your wallpaper? Posted via the Galaxy Note 5
  • There's a lot of them in the article, but if you mean the one in the hero, that came from a Wallpaper Wednesday we did back in March. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Yes, I mean the superhero ones. And also what music and clock widget that you use on the spiderman theme? They looks cool. Posted via the Galaxy Note 5
  • They're coming. Posted via the Android Central App
  • i'd have put "icons" at number 1
  • Don't forget : avoid icon packs that require full network pp
  • That Spiderman setup tho.. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Patience. It's coming. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Because you know you are going to get the requests anyway, you might want to label each of the pictures here with their icon pack and maybe their wallpaper. Much of it can probably be figured out by looking up the icon packs in the text but it isn't always clear.
  • Most of the packs are mentioned in their sections or come from previous articles, but I don't mind answering inquiries. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Informative article. I've been enjoying your articles about themes, launchers, etc. I have learned a lot. I've thought many times about using icon packs haven't for several reasons. One I always figured some of my favorite apps probably are not supported. It was good to learn there are some that use methods to get around that somewhat. The other reason is though I like the finished look of them, I find the color and shape of icons helps me quickly locate the app I want. If they all looked the same, it would be difficult to find my apps quickly. I might download one or two of these to try them.
  • Lots of packs won't alter the shape, or if the alter the shape they often won't go crazy with the colors. Icon packs are fun to try, and on the matter of holes, that's part of why masks and alternative icons are so important. Falcon isn't themed in some packs, but Twitter always is so I just sub in that icon for it. Posted via the Android Central App
  • The first thing I look for is number of icons (preferably 3k+) and frequency of updates. I've seen so many packs abandoned after a couple updates. I now have a handful of devs that I purchase from that I know are active and professional. Posted via the Android Central App
  • I use Whicons for my "dark-themed" phones. Having white icons contrasting with a dark background actually looks pretty sleek. Utilizing it on a Samsung device right now, alongside the One M7. I've got a couple of paid icon packs. I like Rewun and Urmum because they resemble stock Android but with some tweaks. Right now, on my daily driver, I use Rondo, because the opaque circle with white icons actually fits my chosen theme, especially since there's a purple colored option, which perfectly matches the "Nep-Nep" nature of my theme.
  • I second Rewun and Rondo. Glim is also fantastic. Posted via my LG G5
  • Oh yeah, Glim. Love that too.
  • I love Glim, even if I haven't used it much recently. Whicons are the bomb. They go with so much. Posted via the Android Central App
  • I like Whicons. If your launcher let's you mix and match different icon packs, Whicons, Stamped and Flight are 3 very similar icon packs that between them cover a lot of things. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Thanks for the article, Ara! I tried looking at past ones, but I'm not able to find the Captain America wallpaper. Mind sharing where we can get it? Cheers!
  • Captain America is a preview for our Civil War themes, which will be coming very soon.
  • Aaaahhh OK I keep forgetting that Civil War isn't out in the US like it is in the UK (suckers!! haha) Posted via the Android Central App
  • The one thing I look for most in an icon pack is if the icons that the pack doesn't cover clash horribly with the ones that do get themed. Therefore something like the Nexus Circles pack that I'm using now that just adds on to the original icon is my preferred type. This way every one of my apps, even the obscure ones, can be themed! Posted via my Nexus 6P on VerLIEzon Wireless but without their shackles.
  • I've never understood theming phones. When you look on the forums at screenshots of themes 9 times out of 10 their theme is hideous. Posted via the Android Central app on my Nexus 5X with Project Fi
  • How many of the ones in my articles have been hideous?
  • I have only read this article and the deadpool article, but yours seem to be tastefully done. I'm not a fan of your starwars theme because of the chrome looking icons, but I wouldn't call it hideous. I was definitely exaggerating when I said "9 times out of 10 they look hideous" simply to make a point. I also tend to exaggerate pretty often. When you look at this theme you get an idea of what I'm talking about in my original post: http://www.phtheme.com/androidimg/allimg/121013/2_121013164151_3.jpg When you browse the forums the vast majority of the themes posted are like that one. Not many people have the skill to put together a good looking, tastefully executed theme. I don't even have that ability. The question I have when seeing themes that horrible is how one can use the phone and find anything when every app icon is the same color and there are no app names under them. Posted via the Android Central app on my Nexus 5X with Project Fi
  • Oh, my eyes! Yeah, dark red on black with an extra dose of clutter...
    Good thing about Ara's work is that she has good taste, but is not afraid to experiment. Posted via the Android Central App
  • That theme is from 2012, and the screenshot itself isn't doing it any favors. Most people pointing to terrible themes got that notion during the earlier days of Android when theming wasn't nearly as refined as it is nowadays. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Yeah, you definitely have a point, but you also have better design skills than most people. Since 2012 Android has become much more refined, but it still gets ruined with some people's themes. Don't even get me started on the ugly OEM UI changes. (*cough* LG *cough cough*) You tend to know what looks good together. I and most other people don't. That picture was just one example. I could find many more to show you. All I'm saying is that the themes MOST people create look like crap, and I can't figure out how those people can use their phones that way. P.S. I love that you comment on your articles. It's nice to communicate with the writers, and get feedback from them on various opinions. Posted via the Android Central app on my Nexus 5X with Project Fi
  • I like individualistic icon shapes, with color. I'm not at all interested in icons that are all shaped like a triangle, box or circle... With a little mini icon in the middle. That is boring... And besides with those I really need my reading glasses to see what I'm clicking on... A pain... I like Glim, Proton, Materialistic etc for an example. Posted via the Android Central App
  • Glim is just incredible Posted via the Android Central App
  • What is the icon pack with the triangles? Posted via the Android Central App
  • I believe that is PLAY
  • Yup! The one with the rounded triangles is PLAY.
  • Icon packs on my S7 now... Acorn icon pack
    Impulse icon pack
    Materialistik icon pack
    Matericons icon pack
    Polycon icon pack
    Ultra icon pack
    Urmun icon pack Had others like IrideUIishipster icon pack, Materis, but noticed I had almost 20 icon packs installed. You just don't need that many. I buy icon packs more than anything else from the PlayStore Posted via the Android Central App running on my Galaxy S7
  • Are there icons pack that can change icons on the edge panel? Posted via the Android Central App
  • Technically yes, because the icon packs included with Samsung Themes will do it... but the icon packs used there almost always ignore or very poorly mask third party apps. And I almost never like the apps that come with a Samsung Theme. Pity they're all or nothing...
  • Slightly off topic, but lately I've experimented with 'skinning' widgets... I'll explain. I don't know how many launchers allow you to do this, but Total Launcher allows you to adjust the transparency of widgets. So what I do is make the widget invisible, then make a widget in Kustom that looks the way I want. Functionality isn't important with the Kustom widget, because you simply overlap the 2 widgets, with the invisible widget infront of the Kustom one. This means all the original widgets inputs are still there, you've just made them look different. This doesn't work for all widgets, E.G the AC app has text content that all would be hidden. But I've used this technique to skin the Roku Remote widget. http://i.imgur.com/5o9Lda3.jpg Posted via the Android Central App
  • For me, the way I avoid the whole issue of it looking like non themed apps don't belong with the themed apps it's to go with a theme such as materialistik or phix that are very similar to the stock material design icons. This way, it's hardly even noticeable if an icon is on things because they already have a very similar Style. Posted via the Android Central App
  • URMUN is just amazeballs. My first priority with an icon pack is seamlessness, EVERY icon supported or not must not look out of place or stick out like a sore thumb. I'm not a fan of icon packs that have one or two colours and a very, err, unconventional deaign language, and URMUN is the only one that has satisfactorily done it. KAIP is also good. This Galaxy Note 3 with the AC App is On Fleek.
  • I mainly use the black and white round glassy series made by 3K03 Studios. It's been awhile since they were updated, but the masking is decent and most of the holes, I filled up myself by making my own PNG's and use them instead. Since they are white and black, they go with every theme and even used the glassy mask layer for a few objects on my KLWP wallpapers
  • I bought an icon pack that says it's compatible with LG Home but I can't figure out how to apply it. Does anyone know about icon support with LG Home?
    I'm using a LG G4. Posted via the Android Central App
  • LG Home doesn't support third party icon packs, but you can use apps like Awesome Icons to create custom shortcuts on the home screen at least: http://www.androidcentral.com/hate-app-icon-heres-how-change-it
  • Bagus