So, you still want to make Windows 7 themes, huh? Let’s start with something easy: Let’s have a look at changing navigation buttons in Windows 7 and how you can create your very own, unique navigations buttons for the Windows 7 explorer! Sounds awesome? Let’s start!

Making Custom Windows 7 Themes

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The navigation buttons of Windows 7 are stored in a dll library file called Explorerframe.dll. To edit this file you will need a freeware editor, either Restorator or ResourceHacker (my preferred resource editor for Windows 7).

Make Cool Windows 7 Themes With New Navigation Buttons

1. StepOpen up your favorite Resource Editor. You may want to read our first part of the Making Windows 7 themes series

2. Step Copy the file C:\Windows\system32\explorerframe.dll to a new location, then within ResourceHacker hit CTRL + O and find the file you saved

3. Step Uncollapse Bitmap and then uncollapse folder 577, 578, 579, 581

Making Windows 7 Themes Navigation Buttons

4. Step You can now extract the images for the different hover states of the navigation buttons (right-click on the bitmap file 1033 and then on Save Bitmap) or you can use the dimensions that I give you to start from scratch.

Dimension: 54 pixel width, 27 pixel height

I extract the image to D:\Themes\577\1033.bmp – normally I don’t create a folder for the 577, but this is easier to remember for beginners so you know what hover state it is.

5. Step Repeat the steps for 578, 579, 581

Modify Extracted Bitmap Files

6. Step Now let’s open the bitmaps in Photoshop or any other good image editor.

7. Step Modify the files as you wish. I for example only changed the color and saturation of the navigation buttons

If you change the dimensions of the navigation buttons or create a completely new button you need to create a new alpha layer. Please refer to other Photoshop tutorials how to create an alpha layer, I will not explain this here

Replace Bitmaps Within ExplorerFrame.dll

8. Step Now we need to replace the resources stored in the Explorerframe.dll with our new 1033.bmp
Replace Bitmap

9. Step After replacing all bitmaps with your new bitmaps save the file as ExplorerFrame.dll

Save Explorerframe.dll

10. Step Create a backup of the old ExplorerFrame.dll and call ExplorerFrame.dll.bak

11. Now replace your newly saved ExplorerFrame.dllwith the old explorerframe.dll stored in C:\Windows\system32

Tip: On Windows 7 64-bit, you will have to modify two explorerframe.dll files. One of them is stored in C:/Windows/System32 and the other is stored in C:\Windows\SysWOW64.

Replacing ExplorerFrame.dll


Before you actually replace the explorerframe.dll, make sure to activate your hidden administrator account or you might not be able to rename explorerframe.dll via command prompt because you will no longer be able to log into the hidden admin account when it is not activated.

1. StepActivate hidden admin account
2. Step Copy ExplorerFrame.dll to ExplorerFrame.dll.bak

BUGGER I Broke My System! (Solution)

Please read carefully:
If you do some wrong and you can no longer start the explorer.exe,

  • Start the task manager (CTRL + ALT + DEL), click on New task, enter cmd.exe,
  • Enter runas /u:Administrator cmd.exe
  • Then rename the explorerframe.dll and restore explorerframe.dll.bak. No harm done.
  • Simply enter rename explorerframe.dll explorerframe.dll.broken and rename your backup file


Read Tutorials

Ok, I know a lot of you guys have trouble with this. My suggestion is to install VirtualPC and set up a virtual copy of Windows 7. Then read our tutorials:

How to replace explorerframe.dll and how to replace shell32.dll. Both are important files that you need to replace to make Windows 7 themes.

We have various other tutorials that explain how to replace system files properly. Just give it a try and do it until you understand the Windows 7 permission system.

Our New Custom Windows 7 Theme!

Making custom Windows 7 themes isn’t so difficult, but it’s a lot of work and research.

Custom Windows 7 Themes Creation

We have now successfully completed the first step and you can now officially say that you know how to make (simple) Windows 7 themes. Keep learning and you will soon figure out how to modify the entire Windows 7 shell and create some really cool Windows 7 visual styles!

MORE – Part 3

Link to Part 3

Please bookmark our site (we appreciate all bookmarks and links!) and come back later for more.

Making Windows 7 themes involves many steps. What steps do you find the most difficult? Let us know and we might cover them in part 3.