Create your own mouse cursor theme

Learn how to create custom mouse cursors.


Before getting started, we must make sure that you have all the required packages installed and ready for use.

For this tutorial you will need the following packages:

Package NameUsage

You can find the installation commands for some distributions below.

logo of Linux operating system ManjaroManjarologo of Linux operating system Arch LinuxArch
sudo pacman -S xorg-xcursorgen

Step 00 - Getting Started

In this tutorial we will guide you on how to create your very own custom mouse cursor.

This guide is compatible with X11 and Wayland, meaning that it's not mandatory to be using KDE, as long as your machine runs either of them.

Before continuing, make sure you have all the requirements on your machine.

You can check if the required packages are installed by using the which command. For this tutorial, you can check with the following command: which xcursorgen .

If the output says xcursorgen not found, then you don't have it installed on your machine, and you should follow the installation steps for your distribution.

If the output has a directory, like /usr/bin/xcursorgen, then you have the package installed on your machine.

Now, let's get ready to create your first cursor!

Step 01 - Creating the image file

The first thing you will need to create your own cursor is the image file for it. You can start by creating an empty PNG file.

You must use square images, meaning that they share the same width and height dimensions. Preferably, they should be at least 16x16 pixels in size, but you can also create multiple resolutions and bundle those into one cursor file.

Make sure to keep the transparency layer (alpha information) on your file when saving, otherwise your cursor will have a square background.

Once you have created the image file, it's time to draw. It's up to you if you want to draw your cursor now or if you want to do it later. Regardless of your choice, you will need to save your file.

It's recommended to save the file with a name that will make it easier for you to infer its usage. The structure should follow this pattern: filename.png. The .png is the extension part, while the filename is the name you choose for your file.

For the sake of simplicity, let's proceed with the name default as this will represent the default cursor. After you saved your file, you should have something like default.png.

Step 02 - Determining the Cursor hotspot

You might be asking yourself: What is the hotspot?

The hotspot of a cursor is the point where the click occurs. It's the position on your image where the system will interpret and understand as the position of the cursor.

To determine the pixel where the hotspot should sit, it's necessary to use graphic editing software capable of determining the exact pixel for the hotspot. KDE's own Krita is well suited for this task but, of course, other software works just as well.

The origin point (0,0) it's in the upper-left corner of the image. The X axis goes from left to right. The Y axis goes from top to bottom.

With that in mind, when you add an offset of 10 pixels on the X axis, it will shift the hotspot 10 pixels to the right from the upper-left corner. Likewise, an offset of 5 pixels on the Y axis will shift the hotspot 5 pixels down from the upper-left corner.

Step 03 - Creating the .cursor   file

Now that you have your image file, and you know where your cursor hotspot is, you can create your .cursor file.

The .cursor file is the configuration file that will tell xcursorgen how to generate the cursor.

The .cursor file is structured as follows: (resolution) (hotspot-x) (hotspot-y) (filename) (animation-time) , where:

ParameterDescriptionStatic CursorsAnimated Cursors
resolutionThe resolution from your file.RequiredRequired
hotspot-xThe x coordinate of the hotspot on your cursor image.RequiredRequired
hotspot-yThe y coordinate of the hotspot on your cursor image.RequiredRequired
filenameThe image filename for this cursor.RequiredRequired
animation-timeThe time for this frame in the animated cursor.OptionalRequired

There are a couple of ways to create your .cursor file. Mainly, any program that allows you to save your file with a custom extension should do. For the sake of simplicity, in this example we are going to use the echo command on a terminal.

Let's check an example:

    echo "32 10 5 default.png" > default.cursor

When you execute the above command, it will create a default.cursor file with the content 32 10 5 default.png in the working directory. Let's look at it in detail, accordingly to the .cursor file structure.

  • 32 is for the resolution, so this represents a 32x32 pixels file.
  • 10 is for the hotspot-x coordinate, so this represents an offset of 10 pixels in the X axis.
  • 5 is for the hotspot-y coordinate, so this represents an offset of 5 pixels in the Y axis.
  • filename is for the corresponding image filename, including its extension, for this cursor. So in this case, it will be using the default.png file.
  • > is for the echo command to dump the result into the following destination.
  • default.cursor is the destination file that will receive the output from the echo command.

With that, you have your .cursor file ready for this cursor.

Animated Cursors

If you want to create animated cursors, like the wait cursor, the procedure is a bit different.

You need one PNG for each animation frame (filename_#.png).

Then add all of these as a list to the filename.cursor file with the following content:

(resolution) (hotspot-x) (hotspot-y) (filename) (animationtime)

For instance:

32 16 16 wait_1.png 50 
32 16 16 wait_2.png 50

each of them in a separate line.

Step 04 - Using xcursorgen

In this step we will use the xcursorgen command to generate the cursor for your system.

If you haven't already, open a terminal and navigate to the directory where your cursor image files are stored.

The xcursorgen command works on the following structure: xcursorgen config-file output-file

config-fileThe configuration file for your cursor.
output-fileThe filename for your newly generated cursor.

Let's check an example:

  xcursorgen default.cursor default

When you execute the above command, it will read the configuration from the default.cursor file and generate a new cursor named default on your working directory.

Step 05 - Creating a theme folder

In order to be able to use your custom cursors, you need to structure your files properly to make then available to you at your system settings.

Let's create a folder with your cursor pack name to put your cursors inside it before moving to the proper location. In this tutorial, we will call our cursor pack KoolKursors.

With that in mind, we must create a new folder called KoolKursors. You can do that by executing the following command:

mkdir KoolKursors

This will create a new folder called KoolKursors in your working directory. Once you have done that, change your working directory to the folder your just created. You can do that with the following command:

cd KoolKursors

Now that you changed your working directory to your theme folder, KoolKursors in this tutorial, you need to create a folder called cursors inside it. You can do that with the following command:

mkdir cursors

The purporse of the cursors folder is to hold all the cursors files and the symlinks necessary for it to work. Don't worry about the symlinks now, we will teach you how to create then at the next step.

Now that you have your folders ready, move all the cursors that you have created before at Step 04 to the cursors folder. In this tutorial, you should have created at least one cursor named default, using the xcursorgen command.

When you hover your mouse over certain elements or perform certain actions on your desktop, you cursor state changes. For instance, hovering over a text field will show a text cursor, and hovering over a link typically shows a hand cursor.

To make our custom cursors match the cursor states available to the system, we need to create cursor files for each state inside our cursors/ folder that have specific names. The names that can be used can be found in /usr/include/X11/cursorfont.h.

Alternatively, you can click here to showcase the cursor list:
 XC_num_glyphs 154
 XC_X_cursor 0
 XC_arrow 2
 XC_based_arrow_down 4
 XC_based_arrow_up 6
 XC_boat 8
 XC_bogosity 10
 XC_bottom_left_corner 12
 XC_bottom_right_corner 14
 XC_bottom_side 16
 XC_bottom_tee 18
 XC_box_spiral 20
 XC_center_ptr 22
 XC_circle 24
 XC_clock 26
 XC_coffee_mug 28
 XC_cross 30
 XC_cross_reverse 32
 XC_crosshair 34
 XC_diamond_cross 36
 XC_dot 38
 XC_dotbox 40
 XC_double_arrow 42
 XC_draft_large 44
 XC_draft_small 46
 XC_draped_box 48
 XC_exchange 50
 XC_fleur 52
 XC_gobbler 54
 XC_gumby 56
 XC_hand1 58
 XC_hand2 60
 XC_heart 62
 XC_icon 64
 XC_iron_cross 66
 XC_left_ptr 68
 XC_left_side 70
 XC_left_tee 72
 XC_leftbutton 74
 XC_ll_angle 76
 XC_lr_angle 78
 XC_man 80
 XC_middlebutton 82
 XC_mouse 84
 XC_pencil 86
 XC_pirate 88
 XC_plus 90
 XC_question_arrow 92
 XC_right_ptr 94
 XC_right_side 96
 XC_right_tee 98
 XC_rightbutton 100
 XC_rtl_logo 102
 XC_sailboat 104
 XC_sb_down_arrow 106
 XC_sb_h_double_arrow 108
 XC_sb_left_arrow 110
 XC_sb_right_arrow 112
 XC_sb_up_arrow 114
 XC_sb_v_double_arrow 116
 XC_shuttle 118
 XC_sizing 120
 XC_spider 122
 XC_spraycan 124
 XC_star 126
 XC_target 128
 XC_tcross 130
 XC_top_left_arrow 132
 XC_top_left_corner 134
 XC_top_right_corner 136
 XC_top_side 138
 XC_top_tee 140
 XC_trek 142
 XC_ul_angle 144
 XC_umbrella 146
 XC_ur_angle 148
 XC_watch 150
 XC_xterm 152

More often than not, we only need a single cursor file for multiple cursor states. Since the requirement to make our custom cursors match is to have files named after each cursor state, we can use symlinks.

To create a symlink, you use the ln command with the following structure: ln -s file-path symlink-path, where:

file-pathThe path, relative to your working directory, to the file that will be linked to.
symlink-pathThe path, relative to your working directory, to create the symlink that will point to file-path.

For instance, to set the default cursor we created with xcursorgen to appear in most cases when using the mouse in right-handed mode (with the cursor pointing to the left), you can create a left_ptr symlink, following the name list above:

ln -s default left_ptr

At this point, the default cursor should already be at your cursors folder. Remember that we named our theme folder as KoolKursors, so we have to make the KoolKursors/cursors folder our working directory.

Now, your cursors folder should have 2 files:

  • default : the default cursor file that we generated
  • left_ptr: the symlink that we just created.

Now that we have our symlink ready, we can proceed to create the index.theme file.

Step 07 - Creating the index.theme file

The index.theme file is responsible for storing the information about the custom theme. In this tutorial, we are calling it KoolKursors. The minimal structure for the index.theme file is the one as follows:

[Icon Theme]

However, you can add more information on your index.theme file. For instance, you can add comments or make it inherit from other themes.

The index.theme file should be placed at your main theme folder. Please, create an index.theme file with the following contents:

[Icon Theme]
Comment=My very own cursor theme

With that, you have your .theme file setup and ready to proceed.

Step 08 - Moving the files

Now that you have your cursors, your symlinks, the .theme file and the proper folder structure, we can copy them to the proper folder on the system for testing.

To test our custom cursors, we need to place the whole KoolKursors folder in ~/.local/share/icons/ folder.

To do that, you can open a file explorer like Dolphin and copy the KoolKursors folder to the ~/.local/share/icons folder.

Step 09 - Applying your custom cursor to your system

Select your new cursor theme in the system settings of your OS.

On Plasma you can follow these steps to select your new KoolKursors theme:

System Settings > Appearance > Cursors > KoolKursors > Apply

Done! Enjoy your new KoolKursors theme. :)

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