The name of RealWorld Cursor Editor (free) is deceptive, since this program can help you create--not just edit--your own unique cursors easily, without the help of a separate graphic design program. Unlike other basic cursor editors, such as the free AniTuner and Stardock's $10 CursorFX, which just edit, Cursor Editor uses familiar graphic design tools and menu items to create cursors from scratch or from existing images.
The beauty of Cursor Editor is how quickly and easily you can pick this up: If you're proficient in any image manipulation program, you can master it in a few trial runs. The essential drawing and coloring process is simple and intuitive; basic cursor shapes like arrows and circles are included. Animated cursors take a little more planning and some skill since you need to place moving parts in separate layers. If you set it up correctly, simply duplicate the frame and change, move, or rotate the parts as you would any stop-motion animation, on a pixel by pixel scale. You can adjust the time each frame appears, by fractions of a second, until you are happy with the cycle.
The hardest thing to get to grips with is probably the scale of your design. Because a standard size cursor is 32 pixels square, think abstract, not detail: a freehand blob moving toward a patch of blue actually transforms into water dripping into a pool with minimum effort. Accurately replicating Harry Potter's spell-swishing wand with RealWorld Cursor Editor is a different matter entirely.
Although it's handy that Cursor Editor can import JPEG, PNG, and Bitmap files in addition to .ani files, the inherent size of a cursor limits the usefulness of starting with an existing image. Often you're better off creating something from scratch or adapting an existing cursor than trying to make your image legible. Fortunately, the perpetual animation in the preview window and a neat test area makes it a snap to see if your creation works ... or doesn't.
This version of Cursor Editor doesn't have 3D modeling, a feature that was previously included as a 30-day trial. But RealWorld promises the 3D version will reappear in RealWorld Designer, their new image, icon, and cursor editor which will be available Fall 2011.
After you've used Cursor Editor to create your artwork, how you use it is entirely up to you. Switching to your unique cursors in Windows requires you change your mouse properties in the Control Panel; and RealWorld has created a utility to make this even easier on systems running 2000 through Vista, although Change Cursor is a separate (freeware) download.
RealWorld Cursor Editor is a great program, but outside of the ultra geeky and/or software developers, it's hard to think of someone who'd actually need this program. Since it's freeware though, why not give it a go. After all, don't we all want to have a laser-firing Dalek save our work rather than a boring arrow pointer?