The Snap Layouts in Windows 11 are undoubtedly great. They’re a huge step up from Snapping in Windows 10. You don’t have to spend so much time snapping apps into place by dragging them, especially if you want to Snap 4 or 5 apps.
But it’s still nowhere as powerful as some users wish it to be. The layouts are pretty limited, and you cannot edit them. For these power users, there’s an alternative – FancyZones.
What is FancyZones?
FancyZones is a Microsoft PowerToys utility. PowerToys, in the same vein as its name, is an app for what Microsoft describes as “power users”. PowerToys, although still in preview mode, contains several utilities that allow users to customize their PC uniquely. This set of utilities greatly enhance productivity for users.
Using FancyZones, you can create custom layouts for your screen to snap apps. It’s most useful for users with large or multiple monitors.
But that’s not the only scenario it’s useful in. If you’ve got a monitor with a width less than 1920 pixels, Snap layouts don’t include three-column layouts for you. But guess what? With FancyZones, you can create three-column layouts (even more) for your screen.
The first step in using FancyZones is installing PowerToys on your PC. Even though the free app is from Microsoft, it doesn’t come installed on systems. Users who want it have to separately download it.
Go to the Microsoft PowerToys GitHub page and download the ‘PowerToysSetup.exe’ file. PowerToys is an open-source application, so you can also see the code for it.
Once the file downloads, run it to set up PowerToys. Follow the steps on the installation wizard to complete the setup.
To use FancyZones, you need to configure it and create a layout you want to snap to. You can create as many layouts as you want. But at a given time, you can only apply 1 FancyZone layout to your screen.
Now, based on how you set it up, open PowerToys from the desktop, the Start menu, or the system tray.
The general tab will open in PowerToys. You need to run PowerToys in Administrator mode to configure and run the various utilities. On the General page, see that it says ‘Running as Administrator’. If it says ‘Running as user’, click the ‘Restart as Administrator’ button instead.
Then, go to the ‘FancyZones’ tab from the navigation pane on the left.
To use FancyZones, you first need to enable it. Although it should be on by default, if it isn’t, turn on the toggle for ‘Enable FancyZones’.
You can also customize various other settings for FancyZones like the Zone behavior, Windows behavior, etc.
One of the most important settings has to be the key used for Snapping. By default, FancyZones is configured to use the Shift key for dragging apps into the zones. But you can uncheck this setting. And then when you drag your windows, they’ll automatically snap into FancyZones instead of the usual Windows snap zones.
You can also override the Windows snap shortcuts so they’ll work in FancyZones. Normally, when you use the Windows + Left/ Right arrow keys, they move windows between the left or right corners of the screens. Select this option, and the Windows Snap shortcuts will move windows between the FancyZone layout.
You can also configure a lot of other settings, like changing the appearance of the zones, managing the zones for multiple monitors, and even exclude apps from reacting to FancyZones. Excluded apps will only react to Windows snap.
Using the Layout Editor
To create layouts, click the ‘Launch Layout Editor’ button. Layout Editor can also be launched with the keyboard shortcut mentioned without having to open PowerToys every time you want to change something. And the best thing is, you can even edit the keyboard shortcut and have a custom shortcut that is easy for you to remember and use.
Go to the textbox with the current shortcut and create a new shortcut with one of these hotkeys: Windows logo key, Alt, Ctrl, Shift. When the textbox is highlighted, just press the new shortcut keys to create the new shortcut. The default shortcut is Windows logo key + Shift + `
Now, back to the layout editor. The layout editor will display the monitors at the top if there is more than one connected to your computer. You can select the monitor you want to edit layouts for.
FancyZones also lets you have separate layouts for different screens. And even after you disconnect the monitor, FancyZones remembers your choice of layout for it so you can use the Snap layouts on it the next time you connect it.
FancyZones has a few template layouts that you can use. You can edit these templates if you want. Click the ‘Edit’ icon in the top-right corner of the thumbnail for the template.
The editing window will appear. You can increase/ decrease the number of zones in the template by clicking the up/ down arrows.
You can also increase/ decrease the space around the zones (or, completely disable it by turning off the toggle) and the highlight distance while snapping windows. Click the ‘Save’ button after making the changes.
But you can also create custom layouts if none of the templates work for you. Click the ‘Create new layout’ button at the bottom right corner.
A dialog box for creating layouts will open. You can give a name to your layout. Then, choose the type of layout you want to create. You can either have ‘Grid’ layouts where every window snaps into a separate portion of the screen, or you can have ‘Canvas’ layouts with overlapping zones. After selecting the type, click the ‘Create’ button.
Creating a Grid Layout
For Grid layouts, the screen will start with three columns. You have to define the further zones yourself.
To create a horizontal split, go to the part where you want to split, and a line will appear. Then click once and the current zone will be horizontally split into two zones. Just keep repeating for all the zones you want to split.
To create a vertical split, hold down the ‘Shift’ key. The horizontal splitter will convert into vertical. Now, go to the part where you want to split. A vertical line will appear to preview where the screen will be split. Click once with the ‘Shift’ key still pressed down to create vertical zones.
You can also merge or delete any zones on the screen. To merge the zones, click once and then drag your mouse across those zones. They’ll be highlighted in the accent color of your Windows theme. Leave the mouse button and a ‘Merge’ option will appear; click the option.
You can have as many zones on the screen as you want. Once you’re satisfied, click the ‘Save & Apply’ button.
Creating a Canvas Layout
The second choice for layouts is the Canvas Layout. If you have ever manually spent time on resizing your various windows, even when they are overlapping each other, you can instead use Canvas layouts.
For Canvas layouts, FancyZones will start with 1 zone on the screen. Click the ‘+’ icon to increase the number of zones.
As you add more zones, a part of them will overlap each other, like the ‘Focus’ template. You can leave them be or move them around. You can also increase/ decrease the size of the zones. Then, click the ‘Save & Apply’ button.
You can also edit the custom layouts after saving them. Similar to the templates, click the ‘Edit’ icon to make changes to the layout.
To change the number of zones, click the ‘Edit zones’ button on the layout preview. You can also change the space between the zones and the highlight distance for custom layouts.
Selecting a Layout
Every time you create a new layout and click the save button, that layout will be selected as the FancyZone of your choice. The layout that you have selected will appear highlighted in the theme accent color. The selected layout will be the one your apps will snap into when you use FancyZones.
But you can create and save as many layouts as you want in FancyZones and switch to the one you want as per your need.
Considering how fast it is to switch layouts – all you’ve got to do is open the layout editor (which you can do with the keyboard shortcut in an instant) and select another layout – it’s still as productive to use them.
For Custom layouts, you can create a shortcut that’ll allow you to switch the FancyZones without even having to open the layout editor.
Click the ‘Edit’ icon on a Custom layout. Then, click the drop-down menu for the ‘Layout Shortcut’ option. Select one of the numbers (from 0-9) for the layout and click ‘Save’.
Now, to switch to a custom layout as your preferred FancyZone, use the keyboard shortcut Windows logo key + Ctrl + Alt + <selected key from 0-9>
Snapping Apps into FancyZones
By default, FancyZones is configured that the apps won’t snap into FancyZones when you drag them, but instead to Windows snap. This setting prevents clashing with the default snapping in Windows.
To snap to the FancyZone layout of your choice, press the ‘Shift’ button and then drag your app. The FancyZones layout will become active on the desktop. You can then drop the window into one of the zones.
The only shortcoming when using FancyZones instead of default snapping in Windows is that it does not show all your open apps to snap into the rest of the zones in the layout. You have to drag each app into a zone on your own.
It might seem like going into a lot of trouble for a couple of new layouts. But if you work with large or multiple monitors, FancyZones might be exactly what you need to boost your productivity. And, to be honest, once you get the hang of it, which we hope this guide helps with, it won’t even feel like a lot of work.