Looking to beautify your Android icons, but don’t want to pay money? I tested out a large number of free custom icons packs and found five of the best you can find anywhere — without paying a dime!
Criteria for Evaluation
My criteria for evaluating icon packs focuses on three elements: First, how does the pack handle icons that it lacks an icon for? For example, some packs use a visual style that’s in line with the majority of default app icons. Others apply a template design to unthemed apps, which reduces or eliminates clashes between completely different looking icons. Second, how aesthetically well-designed do the icons look? Third, how large is the icon library?
The Mianogen theme icon pack includes a wide variety of Holo designed icons. The Holo design paradigm, as advocated by Google, combines high-contrast colors with minimal lines. Out of all the icons, I prefer Mianogen’s style.
- Unthemed icons: The design of the Mianogen icons is very subtle. You won’t even really notice the difference between Mianogen-themed and unthemed icons. Although, it does not apply a custom template to unthemed icons, I didn’t find this incongruous.
- Aesthetics: Mianogen’s minimal, colorful and high-contrast colors take the top spot, along with Holo Icons, for design quality.
- Number of icons: I didn’t get an exact count of Mianogen’s icons, but out of the 25 icons on the first page of my app drawer, nine were custom themed. Mianogen actually has the smallest number of custom icons out of all the packs I’ve tried.
#4 Holo Icons [No Longer Available]
Holo Icons, like Mianogen, uses the Holo design aesthetic in its icons. The work is quite beautiful and meshes well with unthemed icons.
- Unthemed icons: Holo Icons does not apply a template to the bulk of other icons.
- Aesthetics: Compared to the other packs, Holo Icons look amazing. Relative to the other free icons, Holo Icons uses a slightly less minimal style than Mianogen. I rank it first among all icon packs in terms of the quality of its design.
- Number of icons: I didn’t get an exact count of Holo Icons’ icons, but out of the 25 icons on the first page of my app drawer, ten were custom themed.
The Elegance theme is one of the best looking free icon packs around. Its template for unthemed icons looks fantastic.
- Unthemed icons: Elegance applies one of the most colorful and well-designed template modifications to unthemed apps. It adds a rounded box, with a colorful background, to each icon. The color of the rounded box varies depending on the color composition of the icon.
- Aesthetics: Elegance uses a unique visual style. I compare it to MIUI’s design, which uses rounded boxes to give its icons a uniform appearance. For theming, Elegance provides a very uniform appearance on lighter, brighter colored wallpapers.
- Number of icons: Out of the 25 icons on the front page of my app drawer, 11 were custom drawn. Although, considering the great job Elegance does with applying templates to unthemed icons, it’s a little hard telling the difference between custom and themed icons.
#2 MIUI v5
Based on the custom icons available in MIUI fork of Android, MIUI v5 ranks highly among the best of the Android launchers. It includes an extraordinarily large icon library, at over 200 – huge for a free app.
- Unthemed icons: MIUI v5 applies one of my favorite design templates to unthemed icons. It increases the size of icons, applying a crop and boxes each icon with a solid colored background. There’s actually a lot of MIUI v5 variants out there – of these, this particular app provides the best template to unthemed icons.
- Aesthetics: The aesthetics of MIUI v5 are great for wallpapers with brighter colors. While not as simplistic as the Holo themed icons, MIUI v5’s visual style includes a fair amount of subtlety and texture. While not appropriate for a darker wallpaper, it still looks good against almost any background.
- Number of icons: Out of the 25 icons on the first page of my app drawer, an astounding 19 were custom themed. And these looked great.
I consider DCikonZ’s larger portfolio of icons and themes as one of the finest in the Play Store, paid or not. On the other hand, its dark design feels aesthetically incongruous with my lighter wallpaper. Even, so DCikonZ is the best of all free icon packs. I strongly suggest checking out his larger body of work which includes wallpapers, widgets and more, for free. He’s also an XDA Senior Member; XDA has been the source for some of the most astounding Android apps.
- Unthemed icons: DCikonZ applies the absolute best template theme to unthemed icons.
- Aesthetics: DCikonZ’s minimal, dark, low-contrast colors don’t go well with colorful backgrounds. However, for darker wallpapers, there’s no better free icon pack.
- Number of icons: It’s difficult telling DCikonZ’s custom icons away from his template-applied icons. It appeared that 14 out of 25 were custom created, giving it the second highest number of icons out of all those spot checked in this review, next to MIUI v5. However, his larger portfolio appears to include hundreds, if not thousands of icons.
How to Apply Custom Icons
For most launchers, applying icon pack theme requires only a couple steps. In the easily customizable Nova Launcher, adding an icon pack means either firing up the launcher itself or from the homescreen going to “Nova Settings” -> “Look and Feel” -> “Icon Theme” and then selecting the icon theme pack that you already installed.
Another method of applying a custom theme is by opening the theme’s app. While some custom themes do not allow this, many do. Just fire the app up and for most icon packs, tap on your launcher. These icon packs frequently require either Apex, GO, ADW or Nova. Nova Launcher, which I recommend, possesses extraordinary theming capabilities.
For the aesthetically oriented, try your hand with building a custom widget, using the acclaimed UCCW widget builder.
Spicing up your visual life in Android only takes two apps: a launcher and a custom icon pack. I prefer the visual styles in Mianogen and Holo Icons, but the overall best icon theming experience comes from DCikonZ. DCikon’s work shows a great deal of visual complexity, albeit primarily for darker wallpapers.
Anyone else love free custom icon packs? Got a favorite? Let us know in the comments!