Don't settle for the icons and cursors that Microsoft built for you. Roll your own with downloadable software.
If you're not happy with the cursors and icons that XP ships with, don't despair. You can easily make your own with Microangelo, from http://www.microangelo.us. It's shareware and free to try, but if you continue using it, you're supposed to pay $54.95. You can create animated icons or regular icons?in both the standard 32-pixel and large 48-pixel sizes?and a variety of cursors as well. Use paint-type tools and build your icons and cursors on a grid, as shown in Figure 2-20. A preview is available, so you can see the effects of what you do as you work.
What I find most useful about the program is that you can import existing cursors, icons, or other graphics, edit them, and then save the edited version. I'm no great artist, so I find editing existing graphics much easier than creating ones from scratch. The fine art of pixel placement in tiny icon images can be trickier than expected.
For a big selection of cursors, get CursorXP Free from http://www.windowblinds.net, the same company that makes the interface-customizing program WindowBlinds [Hack #15]. CursorXP Free is free, as the name implies. Install it, and a new CursorXP tab is added to the Mouse Properties dialog box, shown in Figure 2-21.
The Mouse Properties dialog box lets you choose from a variety of new cursors that ship with the program. By clicking on the Options/Configure button at the bottom of the dialog box you can also customize how each cursor works and looks. (The button toggles between Options and Configure, depending on whether you click on the Configure button at the top of the dialog box.) You can also import cursors that you've created with Microangelo or another program.
If you want a more powerful version of the program that includes special effects?the ability to colorize cursors, add trail effects, and more?you can try CursorXP Plus from the same site. The Plus version costs $10 to register.
If you want to create cursors from scratch, your best bet is Axialis AX-Cursors (http://www.axialis.com). It's shareware and free to try, but it costs $14 if you decide to keep using it. In addition to drawing tools, it lets you convert any existing graphic into a cursor. It also lets you do a screen capture and convert what you've captured to a cursor, and it includes an exceptionally wide range of cursor-editing tools. To give you a sense of its power, I'll create a cursor from scratch and make it larger than normal. If you have a parent with poor eyesight, you can make custom cursors that he can easily see.
Since I'm not artistically inclined, I'm not going to use the program's drawing tools. Instead, I'm going to search the Internet for a graphic that I'll start with, then have AX-Cursors automatically turn it into a cursor. Then I'll resize it to be very large.
A rocket is a good shape for a cursor, so I search for a drawing of one by doing a Google image search by going to http://www.google.com, clicking on images, and then searching for the word rocket. Rather than a photograph, I find a bold-looking drawing of a rocket, with a limited number of colors; that will make the best cursor. Figure 2-22 show the results of the search. I'm going to use the rocket in the lower-right portion of the screen as a starting point.
I save the graphic to my hard disk by clicking on it to see the full-size graphic, then right-clicking on the large image, choosing Save As, and saving it to my disk. AX-Cursors can import graphics only in a handful of format: .bmp, .jpg, .dib, and rle. In this case, I have a .gif file. So, before importing it, I convert it to a .jpg file [Hack #86].
Now I run AX-Cursors. I want to create a large cursor, so I first set the cursor size by choosing Draw New Image Format. I have the option of saving it as an icon of 32 x 32, 48 x 48, 64 x 64, or 72 x 72. I choose the largest size and the 256-color option.
Next I choose Draw Import Bitmap, and choose the rocket image that I've just saved. The program lets me crop the image so that I can just import part of it, but in this instance I want the whole thing, so I don't crop it. I can also set the cursor's transparency. In this instance, because the cursor is going to be for someone with eyesight problems, I choose no transparency. After I'm done, the picture is converted into a cursor that I can edit, as shown in Figure 2-23. Notice that you're given tools to edit the cursor in the middle of the screen. In the right side of the screen, you can see a picture of the original graphic.
The cursor looks good to me, so I save it by choosing File Save. It's now ready to be used. So I exit the program, choose Control Panel Printers and Other Hardware Mouse Pointers Browse and choose the icon I've just created. It's done; you can see it in action in Figure 2-24.
For a collection of more than 7,000 free icons you can download and use, go to http://www.iconarchive.com. Also see http://www.iconbazaar.com for a collection of free icons.
For a collection of free cursors to download and use, go to http://www.1freecursors.com. Note that some cursor and icon sites use a lot of pop-up ads. To get rid of them, see [Hack #33].