How to Customize Windows 10’s Appearance

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Windows 10 includes bunch of personalization settings that let you change your desktop background, windows colors, lock screen background, and more. Here is what you need to know to get your computer looking exactly how you want it.

We’re going to be talking about the Personalization settings Windows makes available at Settings > Personalization, so you might as well go ahead and fire that up now. There are certainly other ways you can customize your computer’s look, though, such as configuring folder options to display files the way you want or setting up Action Center how it makes sense to you.

Change Your Windows Background

The first set of options you can change controls your desktop background and they should look pretty familiar to you if you’ve been using Windows for a while.

To use a picture as your background, choose “Picture” from the “Background” drop-down menu. Just like in previous versions, Windows 10 comes with a few pictures to choose from or you can click “Browse” and locate your own picture.

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Once you choose a picture, you can decide how your picture will fit on your desktop—whether it fills, fits, stretches, tiles, and so on. If you’re using multiple monitors, you can also choose a “Span” option that uses a single picture across all your monitors.

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If you want to rotate through a set of pictures for your background, choose “Slideshow” from the “Background” drop-down menu. To create a slideshow, you’ll need to select a folder from which Windows can draw pictures. You can’t select individual pictures–only folders–so go ahead and set up a folder with your favorite background pictures before selecting this option. After selecting your folder, you can also specify how often Windows changes the background picture, whether it shuffles the pictures randomly, and how the pictures should fit your desktop.

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And if you prefer to keep things simple, you can just use a solid color as your background. Choose “Solid color” from the “Background” drop-down menu and then choose one of the offered background colors.

If you want a little more control, you can also click the “Custom Color” button on that last screen. In the popup window, use the controls to select the exact color you want, and then click “Done.”

Unfortunately, the Personalization screen only lets you select one background, no matter how many monitors you have. If you do have multiple monitors, you can set a different background picture for each monitor by using File Explorer. Of course, there are also third-party utilities like John’s Background Switcher and DisplayFusion, both of which can control images better on a multiple monitor setup. They also both provide more advanced tools for working with backgrounds on a single monitor.

Change What Colors Windows Uses and Where

The next set of personalization options control how Windows uses color for various on-screen elements. You’ll start by picking an accent color. You can pick an accent color from the predefined pallet of colors, or you can click “Custom Color” to get exactly the color you want. Alternatively, you can select the “Automatically pick an accent color from my background” to have Windows automatically match a color based on the picture you’re using as your background.

After picking an accent color, your next step is choosing where that accent color gets used. Your two options here are “Start, taskbar, and action center” and “Title bars.” The first option uses the accent color as the background for your Start menu, taskbar, and action center and also highlights certain items on those elements—such as app icons on the Start menu—with the same accent color. The second option uses the accent color for the title bar of your active window.

Unfortunately, the Start menu, taskbar, and Action Center elements are grouped together for color selection and you can’t make them different colors. We do, however, have a quick registry hack that can at least let you keep a black background on your Start menu and action center. The second option uses the accent color on the title bar of active windows, though we also have another hack for you if you want to use the accent color on inactive windows, as well.

Back on the Colors personalization screen, you’ll also find a “Transparency effect” option for making your Start menu, taskbar, and action center transparent or not. This option does not affect the accent color if it’s used on those elements.

And finally, with the Windows 10 Anniversary Update, you can now enable a dark mode for settings and apps. While this app mode setting doesn’t affect every app, we do have some tricks you might enjoy for using a dark theme almost everywhere in Windows 10.

Change Your Lock Screen

Next, we move on to the Windows lock screen settings. The lock screen, remember, is the screen you click to slide out of the way so you can get to the sign in screen where you enter your user name and password. By default, your lock screen background is set to “Windows Spotlight,” which downloads and displays a rotating set of backgrounds from Microsoft.

You can also set the lock screen background to be one of your own pictures or a slideshow of pictures in a folder on your computer. It works the same way as setting your desktop background. Choose the option you want from the “Background” drop-down menu. If you select a picture, just point Windows to the file you want to use.

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If you decide on the slideshow option, you’ll first need to select one or more albums (or folders) with pictures to use for the slideshow. Click the “Add a folder” button to add new folders until you’re satisfied with your selections. You can also click the “Advanced slideshow settings” link to access some additional options.

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The advanced settings let you include your camera roll as a source for pictures, use only pictures that fit your screen, and select whether to show the lock screen instead of turning off the screen when the PC is inactive. If you select this last option, you can also set the screen to turn off after a set amount of time, or not at all.

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Back on the lock screen settings, you also have a few more options available. Turn off the “Get fun facts, tips, and more from Windows and Cortana on your lock screen” option if you prefer not seeing that stuff on your lock screen. You can also specify that the lock screen background picture get used as your sign in screen background as well, though we have some other ways you might prefer to change your sign in screen background instead.

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The other two settings, “Choose an app to show detailed status” and “Choose apps to show quick status,” let you control what apps provide status information on the lock screen. You can remove apps that are already there by clicking them and then choosing “None” or change them by picking any of the preselected apps from the pop-up menu. Add an additional app by clicking one of the plus (+) icons and choosing apps from that same menu.

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And for reference, here’s where all that stuff shows up on your lock screen.

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Use a Theme to Change Multiple Personalization Settings at Once

With the Creators Update, Windows finally brings control of themes into the Settings app instead of the Control Panel app. Themes let you coordinate and save a desktop background, accent color, sound scheme, and mouse cursors as a set you can reload more easily.

You can click each of the theme categories—Background, Color, and so on—to set what you want to use. These links really just take you to other places in the Settings app where you can make the changes. When you’ve got things set up the way you like, click the “Save Theme” button and give your theme a name.

If you scroll down a bit, you’ll see that Windows also comes with a number of preselected themes and gives you the option to download more from the Windows Store. Just browse through the list and pick the theme you want to use or click the “Get more themes in the Store” link to see what else is on offer.

Change Your Start Menu Options

Next up are the Start menu options. There aren’t a whole lot of options available right on the Start personalization screen. You can use them to control whether to show extra tiles on each column of tiles, whether things like your most-used and recently-added apps show up above your full list of apps, and whether to open the Start menu in full screen mode.

We’re not going to spend a lot of time here, though, because we’ve already talked about all the ways you can customize your Start menu in Windows 10. That includes what you can do on the Personalization screen as well as a bunch of other things you customize elsewhere in Windows.

Change Your Taskbar Options

Just like with the Start menu options, we’re not to going into detail about the Taskbar options available here because we’ve already covered those options and more that you can do to customize your taskbar in Windows 10. In short, though, this is where you’ll come to customize options like whether the taskbar is locked from moving, automatically hides when you’re not using it, uses small or large icons, and how the taskbar is handled if you have multiple displays.

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As you can see, while Windows 10 may not provide quite the depth of customization options you had in Windows 7, it still provides enough to make it pretty easy to get Windows looking the way you want. And hey, if you can’t get things just the way you want and you’re willing to put in a bit more work, you can always try a tool like Rainmeter, which provides near endless customization opportunity.

Walter Glenn is a long time computer geek and tech writer. Though he's mostly a Windows and gadget guy, he has a fondness for anything tech. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter.