Icon packs have holes. Icon packs don't always fit your wallpaper. 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, especially in 2020 when apps like Icon Pack Studio exist. 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 E — and a little creativity.
Finding your image
Most third-party 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 — using color palettes or pictures based on a wallpaper — 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 decoded a million different ways. You can disguise apps by how they make you feel, what they remind you of, like a secret code only you can decipher.
- 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?
- 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.
- Vector sites: Want an emblem for a globe, or a lilypad, or bell bottoms? Icon sites and vector repositories are treasure troves of icon fodder, and once you download them, you can gussy them up with textures and color palettes. Flaticon has a fantastic selection of both free and paid icons.
If the image you find is a transparent and square image, congratulations! You can apply it as-is. If it isn't, there's a few edits you may need to make.
Editing: How to turn an image into an icon
Let's get one thing out of the way right away: you do not to pay for Photoshop just to make custom icons. You can absolutely use free photo editors, like Pixlr E and remove.bg to get the job done for free, and you can use them on your phone if you don't have a laptop handy.
Here's what can be wrong with an image and how to fix it:
- If your source image doesn't have a transparent background, you need to delete the background if you want to apply it on Android (or add a color palette background on iOS), you can use Photoshop, Pixlr E, or remove.bg to get rid of it and save it as a transparent PNG.
If your source image isn't a square image, you need to pad out the image and make it a square. You can do this in Photoshop or Pixlr E using the Image > Canvas size option and then expanding the canvas out into a square.
- If an image is too large — if it looks too jagged or busy — you can can resize it using Pixlr E, Photoshop, or even the built-in Gallery app in Chrome OS or Windows to resize the image to a smaller size. 500x50px is a good size for icons, as it allows them to look good even when screen zoom is turned up, but it's not so big that details will look janky.
Icon Pack Studio: Build your own icons seamlessly
If you're not interested in hunting down a new image for every single app on your home screen — to say nothing of all the apps in your app drawer — then let me share what I use for my home screen icons these days: Icon Pack Studio. This app doesn't make standalone icons, it creates a custom icon mask that it can then apply to every single app in most third-party launchers, though it's most seamless on Smart Launcher 5 since it's made by the Smart Launcher team.
You can choose the background shape, how big and what kind of app icon is used, and then add stroke, textures, gradients, and other fun effects to the mask before exporting it (for other launchers) or directly applying it (on Smart Launcher 5). You can set colors by hex code, allowing for the icon to be perfectly matched to your wallpaper or widgets.
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.
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!