You can create simple skins with either of the skin editors discussed in the last section (StyleBuilder and SkinStudio). Because the visual style dictates the graphics and colors used for the 3D objects in the skin, you can make simple changes to a particular object (and its various states) from within the skin editor itself.
For example, I can make color changes and some margin changes (I have changed the shape of the Start button and removed the start text; more about color and margin changes to bitmaps in the next two chapters) to the visual style and apply the visual style to a theme that contains a custom background and icons. I have, in effect, made a very simple skin by modifying all the elements of the GUI, including the visual style (see Figure 7.11). This skin also uses a custom skin on the Windows Media Player (more about skinning applications and other ways to extend the Windows desktop in Chapter 14).
Figure 7.11. Simple skins can be created using the skin editor and modifying theme elements.
Even a simple skin can include a new logon screen or Windows boot screen. This addition can be accomplished using skinning software such as Style XP and WindowBlinds. Because my simple skin is an homage to classic monster films, I can quickly download and configure a new logon screen that complements my skin (see Figure 7.12; logon screen created by Sandi Barik and downloaded from www.themexp.org).
Figure 7.12. Skinning software such as Style XP makes changing the logon screen to match the theme of your interface skin easy.
And even though I have had some fun playing with the visual style and other skin items (such as theme elements), I haven't really achieved any effect to the GUI that goes much further than what you can do designing a fairly comprehensive theme, such as discussed in Chapter 4, "Creating Windows XP Themes from Scratch."
Any additional modifications to the skin (to give it more visual impact and a highly customized look), particularly in terms of the various bitmaps that make up the applied visual style, would require additional software and constitute what I would call a complex skin, such as the skin shown in Figure 7.13 (skin created by Nikos Adamamas; downloaded from winCustomize.com).
Figure 7.13. Complex skins require more modifications to interface objects and can radically change the look of the Windows interface.
We cover how to create both simple and more complex skins when we discuss StyleBuilder and SkinStudio in Chapters 8 and 9, respectively.
If you are going to create complex skins and skin Windows applications, you will need more software toolsmeaning drawing and image editing software. A good way to get a feel for the amount of work it takes to dramatically change the GUI with a skin is to download skins that have been made available for your skinning software (again, such as WindowBlinds or Style XP). You can then open the visual styles associated with these skins and take a look at the degree of modification that has taken place in terms of the bitmaps that represent the various interface elements (such as the taskbar, Start menu, window parts, and so forth).
You can also edit visual styles you download from the Web and then apply the modified version to your Windows skin. However, because every skin author deserves credit for his work, don't upload a modified visual style (to the various websites that allow skin artists to share their works) and claim it as your own.
How much time and money you invest in creating your own skins is really up to you. Take advantage of demo and shareware versions of the various skin editors (such as StyleBuilder). Also, as mentioned earlier in the chapter, most drawing/design software and image editors are available in trial versions. This allows you to test all the software as you determine the packages you will eventually purchase to build your Windows skins.