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not so frequently asked questions

This faq will try to answer some of the most frequently asked questions regarding skins, skinning, shells and related subjects.


What's a skin?

A skin is a custom interface for a program, usually consisting of a set of bitmaps and a configuration file. Generally speaking a skin is only runs on a specific program. For example: a WinAmp skins can only be used with WinAmp.

The exception to this are window skinners, programs that skin regular program windows (like WindowBlinds). You still need a specific app in order to use them though.

There are three types of skinnable apps: regular apps, window skinners and shells/shell enhancements. App is short for application (program) by the way.

regular skinnable apps

Regular skinnable apps are just plain apps whose interface is “completely” customisable by the user. Meaning that skins for such an app can only be used by that app and not on other apps. The bulk of skinnable apps fall into this category. Prime example of this is WinAmp.

window skinners

Window skinners are apps that skin the windows (and some do the controls too) of ordinary (non-skinned) programs. Together with shells, these apps can make you machine look like a completely different system. King of these apps by lightyears (and about the only one still in development) is WindowBlinds. Other window skinners include eFX, Illumination, CustomEyes.

In a way, WindowsXP's built-in skinning system falls into this category as well. Though the only way to alter it is by hacking your system.

shells/shell enhancements

A shell is the work environment of your OS. It lets you launch programs and see which apps are running and what not. The default shell in Windows is Explorer, appearing in the form of a taskbar, a tray, a desktop with icons and the start menu.

Now a true skinner will never be satisified with this (unstable) default shell and will look into changing or enhancing it. Changing it means replacing Explorer with another shell, like LiteStep, SharpE or geOShell. This means you'll loose the start menu, the taskbar and all that and will end up with what the new shell offers you.

However, toying with shells can render your system inoperable (mess up and Windows falsely claims it needs to be reinstalled), so some prefer a shell enhancement. A shell enhancement is just like a shell, with the difference that it runs on top of Explorere and hides Explorer's interface elements and replaces it with its own gui. Examples of shell enhancements are HoverDesk, DesktopX and NextStart.

I downloaded this skin and the only thing in the zip are bitmaps and some other files. How do I use it?

A skin is meant to be used with a specific program. So go back to where you got the skin from and look at the name of the section you got it from. The name of the section is usually the name of the application you need. Download the app, instell it, install the skin and apply it.

So where can I find the app I need to use this skin?

Duh! It won't kill you to think for yourself. Hop over to your favourite search engine and type in the name of the app. You'll find it in no time.

Also, most skinsites these days have a list of where to find the skinnable apps. So I'd suggest you poke around there.

How about requests? Can someone make me a skin of this and that?

Fat chance. The odds of a skinner doing requests for you are smaller than winning the grand prize of the lottery. Skinning is very egocentric, a skinner skins for him/herself, not for others.

Or in other words: if you want a specific skin, you should make one yourself. Not too hard, see below.

Where can I find more skins?


How do I create a skin?

First step is to look at the documentation (yes, you have to read; skinning is not for lazy people) and look at how skins are built up. Most skins are distributed as zips or renamed zipfiles, so unzip them and look at the individual bitmaps. There's usually a textfile (extension can be anything, just try to open it up in Notepad or so) floating around. These contain the instructions for the program on how to use the bitmaps. Read these files, they are highly enlightning.

Then make a design for the skin. You can do this on paper or in your favourite graphics editor. Make the graphics and slice them up in the necessary bitmaps. Create the configuration file and test your skin (try to load it up in the app to see if it's working the way it should).

When all is working fine, write some documentation (explaining how to install the skin, where to find the app and what not), zip the lot up and upload it to the various skin sites.

An alternate way would be to use specific skin editors to make your skins. However, this is the Way of the Lamer and therefore ill-advised. True skinners code by hand.

What apps do you need or use in order to create a skin?

You need at least a copy of the app you want to skin for (hey!), a graphics program and a text editor if your skin has text-based configuration files (most do).

Any graphics app will do. Most popular ones are Adobe Photoshop and Jasc Paint Shop Pro. Others include CorelPAINT and GiMP.

Handy utilities for skinning are CoordPad, which lets you record coordinates (handy for skinnable apps which use coordinates, like CoolPlayer) and ColorPad, which is a colorpicker.

So what are these "rips"? Can I use someone's skin or artwork and alter it? How about copyright?

That's a long story, involving loads of legalese. Short answer: no, you can't.

Long answer: no, you can't. Copyright law dicates that any material you create is copyrighted the instant it is created. No need to register or anything. That means the creator owns the right to copy, a monopoly on distribution.

You can use someone's work and alter it, as long as you don't distribute it. When you do distribute it (for example: upload it to a site) and you do not have permission to do so by the original author, you are ripping. Rip and we'll kick your ass so hard, you'll be eating dinner standing up for the rest of your life.

And don't give me that “copyright is mine if it is altered by 5%” nonsense. Bullshit. That has got to be the dummest reasoning (or lack thereof) I have ever heard. Define “altered by 5%” first.

Okay, how about ‘photoskins’ and ‘os-ports’?

Depends on who you are talking to. A photoskin is a skin mainly consisting of a photo (usually a celeberity or anime characters), while an os-port is a skin that mimics the look of an existing operating system (example: aqua and XP-skins).

It's a gray area. Some view photoskins and os-ports as fan art and tolerate them. Others (myself included) view them as plain rips. Point everyone agrees on though, is that they require no creative effort whatsoever. So don't do it.

What are ‘suites’ and ‘ports’?

Converting a skin for app X to a skin for app Y is called porting. A suite is a set of skins (ports so to speak) in the same style for a multitude of apps. Making a suite is the road to high esteem.


How do I create a skinnable app? Where can I find more info on this?

Try skinnables.org, a site dedicated to bringing developers and skinners together. Note though that the market is reaching a saturation point. If you're thinking of making your shareware app skinnable in order to boost sales, think again.

I'm looking for skinners to develop a skinnable interface or default skin for my new app. Where can I find those?

First step would be to post news about your app on the various skin sites and await the responses. If you're really serious about this, you could think about holding a contest or paying a skinner to create it for you.

Sadly the times of enthousiasm and eagerness to skin each new app are long past. Skinners are a conservative bunch these days. Too many skinnable apps, too little time to check 'em all out. So don't be disappointed if you won't get any reactions.


What's the purpose of this faq?

This faq aims to help the clueless newbie in finding some answers. The Realm of Skinning can be a maze if you don't know where to look.

Okay, I admit, it's just an excuse for me to badmouth people and tell them to read the faq instead of flooding the boards with pointless questions they could've answered themselves if they had only bothered to look any further then their nose is long.

Who wrote this faq and who's responsible for it?

I (craeonics) am the one to blame. The idea is not mine alone though. Amongst the various boards in the scene, the idea of a faq has been mentioned for aeons, yet no-one ever made one.

You're quite vile, aren't you?

Nah, merely heard all these questions way too much before.

How can I contribute to this faq?

If you think you know a frequently asked question and the answer to it, send it my way and it if makes sense, I'll add it.

teknidermy.com/faq, last modified may 19th 2002

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