Mouse pointers or cursors are also theme/skin elements. As discussed in Chapter 4, mouse pointers are selected on the Pointers tab of the Mouse Properties dialog box (opened via the Control Panel). Because mouse pointers can be saved as a theme, they can quickly be applied when you apply a particular theme.
Mouse pointers are saved in the .cur file format. Some of the icon editors discussed in the previous section, such as IconCool Editor, enable you to easily save a drawn or modified image as a mouse cursor.
As with any of the theme elements, mouse pointers are available as downloads from the Web. Most theme/skin software also includes alternative mouse pointer sets for your use. Most themes and skins you download also include their own theme-related cursors.
You can also draw mouse cursors in your favorite drawing tool and then save them as a cursor using Gif Movie Gear. Refer to the section "The Basics of Icon Creation the Microsoft Way" for more about using drawing software and Gif Movie Gear.
If you would like a tool geared specifically toward cursor creation, you should consider Axialis AX-Cursors (http://www.axialis.com). This cursor editor enables you to draw cursors of different sizes (such as 48¥48 or 32¥32) and then save them as .cur files. Axialis AX-Cursors also makes importing images and then saving them as cursor files easy (see Figure 10.13).
Figure 10.13. Import images as mouse cursors in Axialis AX-Cursors.
Axialis AX-Cursors also provides the ability to save multiple cursors in a cursor library file (.acl), which makes applying a complete set of mouse pointers to a particular theme or skin easier.
One of the features provided by dedicated cursor editing software such as Axialis AX-Cursors is the ability to create animated cursors. For example, you can create a simple blinking or otherwise animated cursor by creating a number of frames that are then played in sequence to animate the cursor.
So, let's say you want to create a simple animated mouse pointer. First, you go to the File menu and select New, New Animated Cursor. The new cursor canvas appears in the AX-Cursors window. The first frame you draw (or import an image) will serve as the resting state of the cursor.
Then you click the Insert Frames button on the toolbar. The new frame contains a copy of the original frame (frame 1). You can then modify the image in frame 2. As the image changes from frame 1 to frame 2, the mouse pointer is, in effect, animated. Figure 10.14 shows a three-frame animated mouse pointer that rotates slightly when it is played.
Figure 10.14. Create animated mouse pointers using multiple frames.
You can add as many frames as necessary to provide the mouse pointer with a smoother animated effect. As with regular mouse cursors, the animated cursors can be applied to Windows as individual files; animated cursors have the extension .ani. You can also save them as part of a cursor library that contains other animated cursors and regular cursors you have created.