There are many applications that rely only on the standard cursors (normal cursor for pointing at something, cursor for showing an operation is currently in progress, text cursor etc.) that are shipped with the operating system. There are also a lot of applications that have their own custom set of cursors. And last but not least we have applications that have custom cursors that are confusing (even after a decent amount of use) and applications that might have had better UX if they had custom cursors (imho Blender could have done with some of those).

On one hand this allows the user to have something familiar in the new environment (software application) just like using OS-styled buttons, scrollbars, textfields ec.

On the other hand custom cursors (bucket tool, pencil etc. in all Paint-like application is a nice example for these types of cursors) can provide essential application-specific information the visualization of which may otherwise prove to be too difficult.

My question is probably too broad but I would like to know how people usually determine whether or not to use custom cursors. When exactly comes the point where a designer says "Ok, we need to introduce custom cursor X because Y."?

  • 1
    When in doubt, conduct usability testing. See what doesn't confuse your users.
    – UXerUIer
    Commented Mar 20, 2017 at 14:56
  • Of course usability testing is essential here but first one has to come up with the idea of something like this even being an option, right? Commented Mar 20, 2017 at 19:07
  • You can come up with the option in a stroke of genius...or when you notice that users are completing tasks in an unsatisfactory manner with your existing cursors :) Seriously though - I think a lot of this boils down to 'feeling' and striving for great experiences - it's rare that one ever needs to introduce a custom cursor (or do anything above and beyond) if it doesn't create a problem. Commented Mar 20, 2017 at 19:53
  • This might be an interest to you: ux.stackexchange.com/questions/17933/…
    – UXerUIer
    Commented Mar 21, 2017 at 11:50

2 Answers 2

  • If a standard cursor exists for the desired task, use it. This allows the application to integrate into the native environment. No reason to create custom cursors for the standard pointer, resizing arrows, text selection, cross hairs, busy, etc.

  • Use standard cursors when custom cursors would provide no benefit. Custom cursors are unnecessary for the vast majority of apps.

  • Consider custom cursors only for specialized tasks that would benefit. For instance, it is useful for paint apps to show the current tool or size of the brush. However, image viewers do not benefit from custom cursors.


Custom cursors should not be necessary. For brush or pencil, a dot in a circle works the best; it is a precise, simple and clean solution. In a paint bucket cursor the user needs to realise that the tip of the paint is the actual cursor (something I learnt with trial and error). The dot in a circle can be scaled to have multiple dimensions such as good feedback in terms of current stroke width, brush pressure (higher pressure means darker and thicker strokes) and currently selected color. If a custom cursor can provide advantages over these only then it will be worth testing with primary users.

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