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Creating Custom Waypoint Icons For Garmin GPS Units I

Note: Version 6.15.3 of MapSource accidentally dropped support for custom waypoint icons; version 6.15.4 puts it back. Make sure you have the most recent version.

Modern handheld Garmin GPS units with map displays come with an absurd number of icon choices to use when designating and displaying a waypoint. My Garmin 60Cx comes with:

  • 18 Transportation
  • 12 Markers
  • 18 Civil
  • 24 Outdoors
  • 24 Marine
  • 18 Navaids
  • 24 Signs
  • 24 Points of Interest

But if those aren’t enough for you, or a specific icon graphic you’d like to see isn’t included, it’s possible with many Garmin units (like my Garmin 60Cx) to create your own waypoint icons and upload them to your GPS unit. To find out if your unit supports Custom waypoint icons, create a waypoint, select the icon image, and see if “Custom” as a subcategory of waypoint icons, along with the others listed above:

Garmin waypoint icon screen

The 24 icons in the “Custom” category above are the ones that came with the unit as defaults; putting a new one is a fairly simple, albeit tedious, process. First, you need to download and install Garmin’s xImage software, so cleverly hidden on their website that even typing “xImage” into their Search box won’t find it. xImage is actually fairly handy to have even if your unit doesn’t support custom icons, since you can also use it to create screenshots like the one above. With some Garmin GPS units, you can also create and upload your own custom splash screen (not on mine, though).

After installing and running xImage, you’ll come to the screen where you choose to either get an image from the GPS (screenshot or waypoint icon graphic), or send one to it:


The screen (and help file) imply you have to first download an icon from the unit, modify the original, and only then upload it back to the unit. That’s not technically true, but for now I’ll follow their suggested process. Click on Next, and select “Waypoint Symbol” as the image type (the alternate choice is “Screen Shot”, for making a screen capture of your unit’s current display):


Here, you’ll get a list of all the custom waypoint symbol names (24 for this unit, 000 through 023), and can choose which one (or ones) to download to your computer. The colored square is not a representation of the icon, but is instead a representation of the transparent color associated with the icon. For my unit, and I suspect others, that color is purple: 255 Red, 0 Green, 255 Blue. In this case, I have selected Waypoint Symbol 000, and proceeding from here brings up a folder selection dialog i.e. where do I want to put the downloaded icon graphic. The downloaded icon graphic is saved as a file with the same name listed above, as a BMP graphic file, i.e. “Waypoint Symbol 000.bmp”. Here’s what it looks like at real pixel dimensions:

Waypoint Symbol 000

Let me blow that up a bit:

Waypoint Symbol 000

Compare that with the Custom icon images above, and you’ll see that the purple isn’t displayed on the GPS unit’s screen – since purple is the icon’s transparent color, it isn’t visible as part of the GPS icon.

Whatever editing you do to the icon, in order for it to be uploaded back to the GPS unit it has to be in the following format:

  • 16 x 16 in pixel dimensions
  • BMP file, 256-color (8-bit, not the usual 24-bit; indexed color, not grayscale)
  • 96 dpi
  • Saved under the original downloaded name (“Waypoint Symbol 000.bmp” in this case)

The first and last requirements are easy to meet, but the middle two can be trickier. Many graphic software programs don’t support saving BMP files in indexed 256-color 8-bit format, and at least one that I’ve tried has problems with it. In Part II, I’ll show what kind of problems you might encounter, talk about free software that can handle the process, and finish the process of creating a custom icon and uploading it to my Garmin GPS unit.

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10 Responses to “Creating Custom Waypoint Icons For Garmin GPS Units I”

  1. 1 MtnBiker

    Thanks for the article. Related question: Is there a list of the meanings of the symbols? I get confused on many of them. (Garmin should put the definition at the top of the screen for whichever icon you’ve got selected.)

  2. 2 Leszek Pawlowicz

    There’s no complete and easy-to-use list I know of. Garmin has a Map Legend page on their website that lists some of them:

    If you create a waypoint in MapSource, and click on the “Symbol” dropdown menu, all of the available graphic symbols will be shown; move your cursor over a symbol in the dropdown, and the symbol name will pop up.

  3. 3 MtnBiker

    Thanks. I was hoping someone had done it. The Garmin one is rather incomplete (surprise!). But I can fire up MapSource (since I’m on a Mac I use it little).

  4. 4 MtnBiker

    I give up. I looked at Mapsource and the symbols are different than my 60CSx, and organized differently. For example, cities aren’t shown under Civil as they are in MS. GPS has no stadium–at least under civil.

    And what I really want are symbols for traveling and mountain biking. I imagine if I do my own, they’ll be out of date or incompatible with the next update (os GPS or software). I keep wanting a symbol for an Internet Cafes (important in thrid world countries–I’m now using the post office symbol). Saddles/pass–more of those on trails and roads than summits.

    I’ll just have to wait for Garmin or whatever unit I end up with next. But thanks for the info supplied.

  5. 5 Leszek Pawlowicz

    It’s unlikely that changes in the OS or the GPS firmware will render custom waypoints unusable on units that currently support them. I took a quick look through the manual for the new Garmin Colorado series, and there’s no mention of supporting custom waypoint symbols, which is a bit odd. I find myself highly unimpressed by the Colorado series, at least based on the manual – too expensive, too big a change in the OS, for not much more (if any) functionality.

    There is a symbol for stadiums on the Garmin, but it’s not in the Civil section as you say. I may have a solution for your problem posted early next week ;-).

  6. 6 Ted Burger

    Creating the graphic is trivial on a Mac (Graphic Converter), but we will probably never get the software to transfer them to a Garmin GPSr.

  7. 7 Russell

    when I transfer the Icons to or From the GPS thec are Scrambled?????? Can’t figure it…Help

  8. 8 Bino

    Dear Sir.

    Is there any collection (that I Can got / download) of Symbol/Icon (not just 24 type) that named sequentialy just like the output of xImage ?


  9. 9 Joe

    Now I just have to figure out how to actually get the icons/symbols into the GPS itself. Mapsource has all kinds of neat symbols, but for some reason not all of these icons show up on the gps after I upload my map with this symbols. The waypoints revert to a general blue circle.

  10. 10 Leszek Pawlowicz

    The next two posts in this series should (hopefully) answer your questions.

Comments are currently closed; feel free to contact me with questions/issues.