Justin Duino / How-To Geek

If you’re tired of seeing the same old app icons on your iPhone or iPad home screen, you can customize their look by creating new ones and “replacing” them. The trick is possible using Apple’s Shortcuts app, which allows you to use any image as an icon.

How Does it Work?

Currently, it’s not possible to truly replace an app’s icon on an iPhone or iPad. Instead, you can achieve a similar result by using the Shortcuts app. We’ll be creating a custom shortcut that opens an app and then using a custom image as its icon on the home screen.

This technique has been possible since the introduction of Shortcuts in iOS 12, but it became popular following the release of iOS 14, which allows you to officially hide home screen icons in your App Library.

iPhone owners running iOS 12 or iOS 13—or iPad owners with iPadOS 12 or 13—can do this same trick and place the original icons they don’t want to see in folders to tuck them out of the way.

Preparing a Replacement Icon Image

Before we begin, you’ll need to decide which app icon you’re replacing, and you’ll need to locate or create the image you’d like to replace it with.

The ideal replacement icon will be a perfectly square image of about 512 x 512 pixels in size, although you’ll have the opportunity to crop any image to a square shape in the steps ahead. For this example, we’ve created a simple purple mail icon in an image editor by using a simple envelope outline.

Examples of custom images in iPhone Photos.

For your custom icon, you can use any image or photo you’d like as long as it’s in your device’s photo library. Try searching Google for custom icon designs and saving them, or you can draw your own icon and transfer it to your iPhone or iPad using AirDrop.

RELATED: How to Instantly Share Files with AirDrop on iPhone, iPad, and Mac

“Replace” iPhone and iPad App Icons With Custom Designs

First, open the “Shortcuts” app. If you don’t see it on your home screen, swipe downward with one finger in the middle of your screen to open Spotlight search. Type “shortcuts” into the search bar that appears and then tap the “Shortcuts” icon.

In the Shortcuts app, if you see the “Shortcuts” overview screen, tap the “My Shortcuts” tab and then select “All Shortcuts.”

Tap "My Shorcuts" and "All Shortcuts" on iPhone.

On the “All Shortcuts” page, tap the “+” button.

Tap the plus (+) button.

Next, you’ll see a “New Shortcut” page where you add the steps to the automation, sort of like a computer program. We’re going to add a single step that opens an app. Tap the “Add Action” button.

Tap "Add Action" in Shortcuts on iPhone.

When the actions panel appears, choose the “Scripting” option.

Tap "Scripting."

In the “Scripting” panel, select “Open App.”

Tap "Open app."

Back on the new shortcut page, locate the box for the “Open App” action. Tap “Choose.”

Tap "Choose"

In the “Choose App” panel that appears, select the search bar and type the name of the app you’d like to launch when you tap your custom icon. Then tap the app’s name in the results list. You can choose any app on your iPhone or iPad.

Search for the app you'd like to open.

Next, tap the three-dot menu button in the top-right corner. On an iPad, these dots are at the very top-center of the screen beside the “New Shortcut” name.

Tap the ellipses button (three dots).

A “Details” panel will appear. First, tap “Shortcut Name” and name the shortcut anything you’d like, so it will be labeled properly in the Shortcuts app. Then tap “Add to Home Screen.”

In the panel that pops up, locate the “Home Screen Name and Icon” section. Select the placeholder icon to the left of “New Shortcut.”

In the context menu that pops up, select “Choose Photo.”

Tap "Choose Photo."

Using the photo selection panel that appears, locate and choose the photo in your library you’d like to use as your new custom app icon. After you select it, you’ll have a chance to crop it to fit the square ratio of a standard app icon.

After that, tap the “New Shortcut” name. Enter the label you’d like to use for the icon on your home screen. Ideally, this will be the name of the app icon you’re replacing, such as “Safari” or “Mail.”

Type the name of the shortcut.

Finally, tap the “Add” button and your shortcut will be added to your home screen.

Tap "Add"

Once the custom icon is on your home screen, you can move the app icon wherever you like, including the Dock. To run the app, tap the shortcut icon you just created.

If you’d like to hide the original app icon (and you’re running iOS 14 or later), enter Jiggle mode by pressing and holding a blank area of your home screen and then move the icon to your App Library.

Tap "Move to App Library"

If you’re running iOS 12 or iOS 13, or using an iPad (which does not have an App Library), you can “hide” the original app icon by moving it to a folder that you can place on a different screen.

RELATED: How to Move iPhone Apps From a Home Screen to the App Library

The only downside of this technique is that when launching an app through your shortcut, you first make a quick detour through the Shortcuts app before the actual app appears. At the moment, this is a necessary drawback, but the behavior may change in a future update. Have fun customizing your device!

Profile Photo for Benj Edwards Benj Edwards
Benj Edwards is a former Associate Editor for How-To Geek. Now, he is an AI and Machine Learning Reporter for Ars Technica. For over 15 years, he has written about technology and tech history for sites such as The Atlantic, Fast Company, PCMag, PCWorld, Macworld, Ars Technica, and Wired. In 2005, he created Vintage Computing and Gaming, a blog devoted to tech history. He also created The Culture of Tech podcast and regularly contributes to the Retronauts retrogaming podcast.
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