Creating launcher icons for Android

In Android it’s very easily to set your application icons. These are the icons the user sees when browsing their phone menu.  In this post I discuss how you can set your custom icons via the Eclipse tool and I share some best practices and tools you can use to develop your own icons.

For Android your Eclipse project gets the standard launcher icons pre-set in your project. When you have created a new Android Project ( via: new –> other –> new android application project) Eclipse generate all necessary project files automatically for you. The standard launcher icons sits in your resources folders (res):

  • drawable- hdpi
  • drawable-ldpi
  • drawable-mdpi
  • drawable-xhdp

These folders are meant for the various screen-resolutions which are part of the Android eco-system. Ranging from a small android handset (ldpi) to large screen android device like the Galaxay Note. I would strongly recommend to optimize your icons for each of these screen-resolutions otherwise your icons might look stretched on some of the larger devices.

The icons sizes for each of the resolutions are:

  • 36×36 for low-density screens (ldpi)
  • 48×48 for medium-density screens (mdpi)
  • 72×72 for high-density screens (hdpi)
  • 96×96 for extra high-density screens (xhdpi)

Project Explorer Android Eclipse

Step 1: Making the naming convention similar

When you have made your own icons, make sure the naming convention is similar to the standard icons which are already part of your project: ic_launcher.png.

Step 2: Drag and drop or copy/past them in the correct folders.

Now just drag and drop the icons in the respective folders in your android project. Save your project and run your application on your device or emulator and you will see that the icons are replaced by your custom icons.


Android Asset Studio:

You can also use the Android Assest Studio to easily generate the icons required for the different screen-resolutions. The tool is free to use and is a web-application. You can upload your images and the tool will generate the corresponding icons in a zip-file. The icons are already correct labeled and can directly added to your project. This tool is very easy, but the options for customizations are limited.

You can find the tool here:

Launcher icons are an important aspect of your Android Project if not a crucial part of the success of your app. With thousands of apps in the Android Play store you need to make yours to stand-out. Search the app store to similar apps were you are working on and try to analyse how your competition tries to attract the user. My advice is try to stand-out! Think how your icon can be significant different from your competition and what you need to do to catch the eye when your potential user is browsing through all search results. It’s pretty much coming down to how you can catch the eye of the Play store user.

Also realize that when your app is installed on a person’s device that your have conquered a small piece of personal real-estate from that person. Remember that the mobile phone is one of the most personal electronic-device a consumer has. It includes their contacts, agenda, email and pictures. Consumers might remove your app just because they don’t like the icon or they dont get any visual reminder that they have the app and consequently forget to use your application. Also when your icon is appealing and better looking than the other installed apps, your app might be a strong candidate for a consumer home-screen. Just because it looks great or cool!. I am not arguing that the icon design and look and feel is more important than what your app does in terms of functionality! Functionality and a useful app should be your number one priority, but just dont underestimate the importance of a good looking icon!

Here are some general thoughts you can keep in the back of your mind while designing your launcher icon:

  1. Review the icons from your competition, and realize that many users search the play store and you will show up in a list together with your rival apps. Stand-out!
  2. Making something appealing, maybe even a bit controversial to win a premium spot on a device (homescreen). But make sure it appeals to a large number of potential users.
  3. Make the icon in such away that people are attracted by the design but at the same time know where it stands for! This way people get reminded that they have your app installed and therefore more likely to use it!

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