4 customization tips to give Windows 11 a makeover

Windows' newest update can look however you want it to look.
laptops and tablets with windows 11
Your PC doesn't have to look the same as everyone else's Microsoft

Once the new and shiny edition of Microsoft’s operating system arrives on your computer, you’ll want to make sure you customize Windows 11 to make it look and feel the way that you want it to.

This latest update carries over a lot of the same customization options you can find in Windows 10, but it also includes some interesting new extras. For example, you can have the Start menu pop up in the center of the screen instead of the left, where it’s been since the earliest editions of the OS. What’s more, there are already third-party programs that can change the appearance and functionality of Windows 11.

Make yourself aware of all these options to customize Windows 11 down to the last pixel.

Setting Windows 11 themes

Start by checking out the built-in themes for Windows 11. These packs come with a matching wallpaper and color scheme, and a set of system sounds and cursor settings, saving you the trouble of changing them all individually. From Settings, choose Personalization and Themes to see the different options available out of the box.

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As you switch between them, you’ll see that the whole look of the operating system changes. To get even more options, click the Browse themes button which will take you directly to the corresponding section of the Microsoft Store. There you can take a look at a wide range of free and paid-for themes for Windows 11. Pick the one you like and click on it to install it.

Back on your computer’s interface, you can create your own theme by choosing a combination of colors, wallpapers, and sounds. To save your theme for future reference, click Save under the preview. Further down the screen, pick Desktop icon settings to choose which system shortcuts (including the Recycle Bin and This PC) show up on the desktop.

Changing the wallpaper and colors

As well as changing themes, you can also change the individual elements that make up themes. From Settings, select Personalization and then Background to choose a wallpaper either from the Microsoft-provided image selection or from your computer. 

If your chosen picture doesn’t match your screen resolution exactly, use the Choose a fit for your desktop image drop-down to set whether Windows stretches the image to fit or leaves gaps around it. You can also select a solid color as your desktop backdrop, or choose a folder of images that are cycled through on a timer—you can set them to change as frequently as once a minute or once every day.

Via Personalization and Colors, you can set the accent hue used by Windows, which appears on menu headings, the title bars of windows, underneath icons on the taskbar, and many other places across the operating system. On this settings panel, you’ll also be able to choose whether to use a translucent effect on windows and dialog boxes, and switch between the main light and dark modes.

Customizing Windows 11’s Start menu and taskbar

When you fire up Windows 11 for the first time, you’ll notice the Start menu and the pinned taskbar icons are now in the center of the screen. If you’d prefer to have it back on the left, that’s your prerogative: From Settings, click Personalization and Taskbar, then Taskbar behaviors, and change the Taskbar alignment to Left.

Here you can continue to customize Windows 11 by setting which system shortcuts (like Chat, Search, and Widgets) you’ll see in the taskbar; choosing whether the taskbar automatically hides when you’re not using it, and turning taskbar notification badges (for unread emails, for example) on or off.

Meanwhile, pick Personalization and Start from the main Windows 11 Settings screen and you can decide if recently added apps, your most-used apps, and recently opened items show up on the Start menu. Click Folders, and you’ll be able to specify which of the folders on your hard drive show up on the Start menu too.

Other Windows 11 customization options

There’s more to explore on the Windows 11 Personalization pane. Click Lock screen to change the information that shows on the display before you log into Windows, for example, or click Touch keyboard to modify the appearance of the operating system’s software keyboard. This comes in very handy if you’re on a tablet device.

Earlier we mentioned system sounds, and if you want to change these without altering your chosen theme, from Settings you can go to System, Sound, and More sound settings. Open the Sound tab to select the audio that Windows 11 uses for events such as system notifications, closing down Windows, and pop-up dialog boxes.

You can also modify the look of the cursor that you use to control WIndows. From Settings, choose Accessibility then Mouse pointer and touch to change its shape, color, and size. Another tweak you can make by opening the Accessibility menu is to select Text size: If you find the Windows 11 fonts too small or too large, you can make adjustments here.

Third-party customization tools for Windows 11

Numerous third-party customization utilities for Windows 11 are starting to appear now as well. Start11 ($5 with a free trial) lets you return to the classic Start menu, with its rows of apps and folders, and you can also use it to shift the taskbar up to the top of the screen, which you could do on Windows 10, but is no longer a built-in option on Windows 11. 

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ThisIsWin11 is available free of charge and gives you a suite of useful tools to enhance Microsoft’s operating system. Use it to hide settings that you don’t use, remove default applications, and even roll back some Windows 11 changes. This is a great option if you are missing Windows 10’s File Explorer.

Meanwhile, the free ElevenClock makes a small but significant tweak—it forces Windows 11 to show a clock on every display when you’re using multiple screens, something that Microsoft has disabled for no apparent reason. Get this simple app and you’ll see the time and date on every screen, just like on Windows 10.