Rainmeter is a powerful tool that lets you create a beautiful, information-rich heads-up display that keeps track of your system status, RSS feeds, and tons of other info. Here’s how to use it to make an awesome, Iron Man-like HUD for your Windows desktop.
Update: Rainmeter 4.0 dropped earlier this week, so we decided to overhaul our beginner’s guide. You can check out this post to read more about all the sweet new features in 4.0 for skin creators including vector graphics, simpler skin creation, and more.
Windows customization app Rainmeter is a frequent star of our featured desktop series and with good reason. It has a ton of different configuration options that let you customize almost every pixel of your desktop exactly how you like it—plus it looks fantastic. It’s powerful and effective once set up, but it’s not very user-friendly. This walkthrough will get you started down the road to desktop-customized bliss without any hair pulling.
Install Rainmeter and Learn a Few Basic Terms
Rainmeter is extremely simple to install. Download it from here, and run the .exe. You can choose to do a full install or a portable install, which keeps everything in one folder and allows you to run it off a flash drive.
Once it’s installed, the single biggest hurdle in getting started with Rainmeter is its terminology. The app uses a few terms differently than other apps do, and it can be very confusing when you’re starting out. So to make sure we’re starting on the same page (and speaking Rainmeter’s language), here’s a quick glossary of terms:
- Skins: What Rainmeter calls skins, the rest of us usually call “widgets.” They’re small apps that live on your desktop underneath your windows. You could have an RSS skin, a Now Playing skin, a clock skin, and so on. Some skins can be very complex, resembling little applications in themselves. The term “skin” refers to what the widget is rather than what it looks like.
- Skin Suites: Skin creators can bundle a bunch of similar looking widgets together in what are called “skin suites.” For example, Rainmeter comes with a default skin suite called “illustro” (seen above on the left). You can mix skins from different suites, but it wouldn’t necessarily look very cohesive, so in general you want to stick to a specific suite.
- Layouts: A layout defines the position of your skins on the desktop. After configuring your desktop just the way you like it, you can save it as a layout and reload it later. That way, you could have one minimalist theme that only has a small sidebar with need-to-know information for when your working, and a more blown-out theme with two sidebars, more widgets, and a taskbar for when you can afford to get distracted.
Rainmeter comes with a simple skin suite called illustro, so we’ll use that in many of our examples. If you aren’t a fan of illustro, you can download a few skin suites before you get started.
Find and Download the Perfect Skin Suites For Your Style
The illustro suite is a great place to start, but there’s a whole world of amazing suites to try. You can start with our Featured Desktop series, where readers share their favorite customized workspaces. You can also check out the Rainmeter Forums, the Rainmeter DeviantART group, or the Rainmeter subreddit to find a huge community of fans making their own skins. I’m partial to Enigma (which we’ll also use for some examples), and Omnimo UI which is an extremely powerful collection of skins that uses Windows 10’s flat, colorful design scheme.
Once you’ve found some skins you like, there are two ways to install them. Some skin suites comes with an .rmskin file. With these, you can simply double-click the file and click Install on the window that pops up. You can also choose to immediately apply the new layout as soon as the installation is done.
Other skins have to be installed manually. These usually come in a .zip or .rar archive and don’t contain an .rmskin file. For those, follow these steps:
- Download the .zip file containing the skins you want.
- Extract the contents of the folder to \Documents\Rainmeter\Skins on your computer.
- When it’s finished extracting, right-click the Rainmeter icon in your system tray.
- Click Refresh All.
Now, you’ll have new skins available in Rainmeter. Some custom skin suites include pre-built layouts so you just have to click a couple buttons to get a whole new desktop. Others require a little tweaking. We’ll go over the basics for both, using illustro and Enigma.
Add and Arrange Your Skins Just the Way You Want
When you first load up Rainmeter, you should see a few skins on the side of your screen. You can click and drag them around, line them up with one another, and, if they contain links (like the RSS skin), you can click on the info inside. You can also add a new skin in just a couple clicks. For example, here’s how to add a Recycle Bin skin from the illustro suite:
- Right click on any of your open skins.
- Go to illustro > Recycle Bin.
- Click on “Recycle Bin.ini”
If you want to remove a skin, right click on it and hit “Unload Skin.” You’ll also notice when you right click on a skin that each has its own “Settings” menu. Here, you can tweak a bunch of handy settings. Here are some of the most helpful:
- Position: Here, you can set where your skins appear. You can make some skins appear on top of others, or choose which monitor they appear on.
- Transparency: This lets you customize how much you can see through a skin. Note that many skin suites already include some semi-transparent elements, but if you want to see through to your desktop a bit more, you can tweak it here.
- Hide on mouseover: This will hide the skin whenever your cursor hovers over it. This is handy if you want to keep a skin on top of your work, but don’t want it to get in the way of your work.
- Draggable: This lets you move your skins around. Once you’re happy with where they’re placed, turn this off to lock the skin where you want it.
- Click through: When this option is enabled, you won’t be able to click on the skin. Instead, you’ll click on whatever is below it. This is similar to Hide on mouseover, except you can still see your skins.
- Snap to edges: When you’re lining up several skins, this helps make sure they’re all in a perfect line. Because nothing’s worse than a skin that’s one pixel off.
For most users, the Draggable and Snap to edges options will be the most useful while you’re configuring your layout. You might want to turn Draggable off afterwards so you don’t accidentally move anything around.
Configure Your Skins For Maximum Customization
Some skins work right out of the box: the clock shows the time, the Recycle Bin shows how many items you have in the trash. Others, like the RSS skin or the Disk skin, require some configuration to know what disks or feeds to monitor. For some suites, you’ll need to dig through configuration files, while others have simpler options panels. Here’s how to edit both, using the illustro suite and the Enigma suite as examples.
Editing Skins Through Config Files
The illustro suite can only be edited with each skin’s configuration files. For example, the disk skin (which should be active when you first install Rainmeter) only shows the C: and D: drives by default. If you you’d rather monitor say, E: instead of D:, you need to edit the skin. That means editing its configuration file. To do this, follow these steps:
- Right click on the Disks skin and hit “Edit Skin.” This will open up the “2 Disks.ini” configuration file in Notepad.
- Press Ctrl+F and search for
- Replace each instance of
- Save the .ini file and exit Notepad.
- Right-click the Disk skin and click “Refresh skin.”
This is a very simple edit, but it gives you an idea about how you can make very small tweaks to skins even if you’re not a programmer. Generally, just scanning through the config files for a few minutes will give you an idea what the editable parts are, and what each one does. I recommend making a backup of the original config file (e.g., just make a copy and add
.bak to the name) the first few times you edit, so if you mess something up, you can always paste the original values back in.
If you want to dive deeper, you can check out the Rainmeter documentation here. You’ll find a ton of guides explaining how Rainmeter works, how to write your own skins, and how to tweak the ones you find. You should also check out the Rainmeter forums to find helpful users who can point you in the right direction. You don’t have to do any of this to use pre-made Rainmeter skins, but the community is very helpful if you decide you want to make your own.
Editing Skins Through Your Suite’s Options
Some suites, like Enigma, contain options windows that let you customize them without digging through a configuration file. To tweak these settings, follow these steps:
- Right click on an open Enigma skin.
- Go to Enigma > Options
- Click on Options.ini
You’ll now see a skin that shows the About version information for Enigma. Along the side, there’s a bar of icons. Click the gear icon to tweak things like which disk drives to monitor or where to store your notes. Click the music icon to change which application you play music from. You can change a ton of options for all the skins in the Enigma suite from here. This is much easier than editing configuration files and most of the best suites will have an options panel like this.
Save and Switch Between Your More Useful Layouts
There are so many awesome Rainmeter skins that you can create a perfect collection of skins for both work and play. If you want to switch between them when you need certain tools, you can use Rainmeter’s layout tool to save and switch between different workspaces. To access the layout feature, follow these steps:
- Right-click any open skin.
- Go to Rainmeter and click Manage.
- Click the Layouts tab.
Here, you can save your current layout with a new name. For example, you could create a layout with just a few tools to help you monitor your emails and the time while you work. Then, you could create a separate layout with some awesome Mass Effect themed skins for when you want to play. When you want to switch between existing layouts, you can do it more easily by following these steps:
- Right-click any open skin.
- Go to Rainmeter > Layouts
- Click the layout you want to apply.
Some skin suites also come included with ready-made layouts, so check out the layout manager when you first download a new suite to check them out.
Rainmeter can be very confusing at first, but once you get the basics down, you should be able to create a pretty swanky, information-rich desktop with just a bit of tinkering. Of course, if you dig into the config files, custom skins, and other goodies, you’ll probably need a bit more direction, so head to the Rainmeter documentation if you have any questions.