To tile or not to tile? One of the most divisive elements of Windows 8 is the Start screen’s tiles. These square or rectangle-shaped buttons are effectively shortcuts to launching apps, and are often displaying additional data about the app they represent. This makes them vital, whatever you might think of them, and far superior to shortcut tiles.
However, creating your own Windows 8 Start screen tiles isn’t easy without the assistance of some third party apps and scripts. This can put users off keeping the Start screen tidy – hardly an incentive to use the interface.
There are, however, several very easy to use apps and utilities that can be used to create “proper” Windows 8 Start screen tiles. These might be completely functional or purely aesthetic. But they will look better than shortcut tiles.
Automated Shortcut Tiles Suck
The tools featured here are useful as Windows 8 ‘s default shortcut tiles don’t blend well; essentially, they suck.
Sandwiched between groups of “we-don’t-call-it-Metro-anymore” tiles, many of which will be displaying both the name of the app and some related information, the shortcut tiles are created when you install a desktop app. They are basically desktop shortcuts, “Metro-ized” into square tiles that do little other than use space inefficiently.
These shortcuts display the app logo and name, but are unable to display any “live” information. To all intents and purposes they’re pretty useless as they launch desktop applications, so would be best off being added to the desktop display rather than the Start screen.
Creating Custom Start Screen Tiles with OblyTile
You can create your own Start screen tiles for your favourite desktop apps using OblyTile, available via the XDA-Developers website.
Once downloaded, you can run OblyTile by double-clicking the executable – there is no installation, although you will notice the Microsoft Smartscreen check .
To create a new tile, add a name, file path (or URL) to launch the program (or website) concerned, and the paths for the 2×1 tile image and 1×1 image (the latter is optional). You can also select tile background and tile text colours, and there are options to launch the related app as Administrator and to run it in the background.
Images should be 120×120 or 30×30 pixels. You can either create your own or take advantage of the increasing number of Windows 8 tile packs that can be downloaded from places like this Neogaf thread, or on .
As you can see, I used OblyTile to create a new tile for Guild Wars 2. Once I clicked Create Tile, a toast notification informed me that the tile was ready on the Start screen.
Custom Tiles Maker
For a less functional but equally stunning effect, there is a free app on the Windows 8 Store called Custom Tiles Maker. This lets you choose from one or more photographs stored on your PC which can then be split up and converted into tiles in virtually any four-sided grid format from a single tile to 5×6, with one column of tiles occupying a 2×1 space if necessary.
The process is very simple – boot up the app, choose your option (Simple Tiles, Random Tiles or Changing Tiles) and Select Photo, choose the row/column format and make any cropping adjustments. Tiles should then be tapped to add to the Start screen. Unfortunately you can’t use Custom Tiles Maker to create tiles that are in any way functional – unless you want several shortcuts back to the app itself – but it can be used to create some stunning effects.
In addition, Custom Tiles Maker offers a couple of in-app purchases. The first is the Buy All Tiles Pack while the second, Buy Changing Tiles Feature, enables you to set two photos for the same group of tiles. The tiles will switch between the two photos in unison, creating that Windows 8 “live tile” effect.
Run a Website? Create Pinned Shortcut Tiles for Your Readers
While you can set custom tile images for your website shortcuts using OblyTile, you might have noticed that by default a website shortcut tile just displays the browser logo.
Like favicons, however, you can set an image that will be used by Windows 8 users when your site is pinned to their Start screen. To do this, open BuildMyPinnedSite.com and follow the instructions as displayed to upload an image to use on the pinned tile, set a title and a background colour.
Click Let me see the code to grab the code you will need to add to your website between the <head></head> tags – it will look something like this:
<meta name=”application-name” content=”[NAME]”/>
<meta name=”msapplication-TileColor” content=”[BGCOLOR]”/>
<meta name=”msapplication-TileImage” content=”[IMAGEPATH]”/>
All you need to do then is Download the image and upload it to your web server, ensuring that the [IMAGEPATH] in the meta code above matches the path to your uploads folder.
Customising Tiles is Easy!
Probably the most surprising thing to take away from all of this is that customizing Windows 8 tiles is remarkably easy.
Whether you opt for the striking tiles-as-image approach of Custom Tiles Maker or the customized tiles for launching apps and websites that OblyTiles can create, the process is fast and fuss-free.
Even creating a Windows 8 tile for your own website should it be pinned to a user’s Start screen is simple thanks to the streamlined wizard on the BuildMyPinnedSite.com website.
If you’re using Windows 8 and have done little Start screen customizing of the tiles beyond resizing, reorganizing or unpinning them, now is the time…