Folders are functional, and with a little work they can be beautiful, too.

Android folders aren't just places to put apps. Here's what you need to know! {intro}

Folders are by no means a new concept for launchers, but they come with no small amount of stigma, especially when it comes to their looks. Thankfully, there are a few tricks for both using them and theming them that might help you learn to bite the bullet and fill up some folders.

Making folders in Android launchers

Folders are easy and awesome

Creating a new folder on your home screen is as easy as dragging one app shortcut on top of another in most launchers. Getting rid of a folder is just as simple: you can either drag it to the trash, or if you drag all but one app out of the folder, the folder will revert back to a single app shortcut.

While most launchers don't have a limit to how much to can put in a home screen folder, as a rule of thumb you should keep it between two and nine. Once you get over ten apps in a folder, things can get a little hectic.

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Dock folders

Dock folders double the fun

While most users stick a folder or two on their home screen, a few years back I took it a step further and never looked back: I put them in my dock. Today, my dock is almost entirely made of folders. Putting a folder in the dock means that rather than having to swipe over to my entertainment apps or my work apps, my folders are there in the dock on all home screen pages. It also frees up space on my home screens for more widgets or a cleaner home screen.

To see if your dock will support your newly-made folder, long-press-and-drag one of the icons already in your dock out in order to make room, then drag a folder down to the newly-opened space. If the folder is placed in your dock, congrats, your launcher supports it. If it doesn't, take a look at some launchers that do.

If you give your folder an action, that folder in your dock can be doubly useful.

Folder actions

Covers rock

Folders can be more than a simple space to dump apps, they can be gesture shortcuts. Gestures mean that folders can pull double-duty. For instance, in Action Launcher, folders can be converted in Covers. Covers make the first app in the folder both the folder icon and the tap action for the folder, hiding the folder until you swipe on that app icon.

Activating Covers in Action Launcher

  1. Tap a folder on your home screen.
  2. Tap the three-dot menu icon in the bottom right corner of the folder.
  3. Tap Make Cover.

They're pretty cool, right? Nova Launcher Prime does Covers, too, just without the catchy name and the singular configuration.

In Nova, you're given a choice of assigning your shortcut to either the tap or swipe on your folder. I say shortcut because Nova lets you set any Nova action, app, or system shortcut instead of just the first app in the folder.

Adding Swipe actions to folders in Nova Launcher

  1. Long-press on a folder.
  2. Tap Edit.
  3. Tap Swipe action.

    Long pressEditSwipe action

  4. Select the app or shortcut you wish to open with your folder gesture.
  5. (Optional) To switch your Swipe action to a Tap action, tap Swipe to open folder.
  6. Tap Done.

    HangoutsSwipe to openDone

Swipe actions have made folders a convenient place to hide some of my Tasker shortcuts over the years, but you can also use Swipe actions to direct-dial a contact, open a favorite playlist, navigate to a frequent destination, and much more. You can also add a swipe action to any app icon on your home screen in Nova Launcher, not just folders.

Theming folders

One of the many qualms people can have with folders is that they look ugly, and in a lot of instances on a lot of launchers, they're not wrong. Background can be garish — or worse, bland — and folder icons can be busy and mismatched. But don't worry, we can fix that!

Theming folder backgrounds

Quicktheme folder colorsNova folder colors Action Launcher's Quicktheme and Nova Launcher's Folder background picker

Most theming-oriented launchers allow you to change the color of your folder's icon and background away from the boring white/grey they start off with. Action Launcher lets you select one of several shades and transparencies in Quicktheme, but these shades are based on colors it extracts from your wallpaper, so it's easier to get stuck with shades you don't want, especially if you're using a live wallpaper.

Nova Launcher gives you the freedom to pick whatever color and transparency under the hex-code sun you wish. While Action Launcher can have separate colors for the icon and actual folder background, Nova Launcher makes you use the same hue for both.

Theming folder icons

Folder icons get a bad rap because some older versions were cluttered, clunky, and some were straight-up ugly. But new folder icon styles come every few years, and last year's Pixel-style 'porthole' folder icon is actually a folder icon that's not just bearable but beautiful. Choosing a folder icon style that suits your theme can do wonders, but at the end of the day, folder icons tend to look smaller and busier than single app icons.

Folder icon optionsGlim is glamorousSetting a better icon

The easiest way to overcome this is to change your folder icon to the icon of a single app within your folder. In fact, in Action Launcher, this is really your only option as Action Launcher doesn't allow you to set a custom folder icon.

In Nova Launcher, you can set a folder icon separate from any swipe gestures or apps within, which allows you a little more freedom in not only the theming of your folder, but also the placement of apps within it. Because you can set any icon you want for your folders, you can set your icon as a blank PNG file and make your folder invisible, allowing you to put your sensitive apps at your fingertips while keeping them from prying eyes.

Green with envy

We hope these tips encourage you to give folders a chance. Say no to massive grids of apps. Say no to swiping across your home screen pages to find the app you're looking for. Say yes to folders. And stay tuned for Android Central for more home screen tips and tricks!

Updated November 2017: This article was updated to reflect changes in launcher UIs and the continual evolution of home screen folders.