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How to Customize Folder Backgrounds and Icons in Windows Explorer

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We’ve covered a lot of Windows tweaks over the years, and today we’re going to show you how to customize the look of your folders in Windows Explorer to add a background image or change the folder icons.

This guest article was written by our friend Ciprian from 7Tutorials, who also authored the Microsoft Press book covering networking Windows 7. Be sure to check out his web site for some interesting Windows 7 content.

Choose a Picture to Show as a Background for the Folder Icon

Did you know that the default folder icon in Windows Explorer can be customized to have a background image? Just like your Desktop!

The default background of folder icons is a thumbnail preview of the contents inside: images from inside the folder, icons of the applications or file types found in the folder, etc. This can be customized and you can have it replaced by an image of your choosing.

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To do this, right click on the folder for which you want to change the icon background image and select Properties. Or simply select it and press Alt+Enter on your keyboard. This opens the Properties window of the folder.

Here, go to the Customize tab, in which you will find the Folder pictures section. Click on the Choose File button, Browse and select the picture you want to use as background. Then, press OK twice.

Once you selected the picture, click on OK again, and you are done.

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Now the background image is applied to the folder icon.

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Pretty cool, isn’t it?

Change the Icon of your Folder

Another thing you might want to do, is change the icon of a folder. If you’ve customized your folder as shown in the previous section, the background image of the folder icon will be replaced with the new icon. To switch back to the background image view, you must revert to the default folder icon.

This section will show you how to customize your folders assuming that you are not interested in changing the background image of the folder icon but you simply want to change its icon completely.

This is done from the same Customize tab of the folder Properties window. Go to the Folder icons section and click on Change icon.

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In the Change Icon window, you need to select the new icon that you want applied. Click on Browse and navigate to its location, select it and press OK twice.

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One thing to remember: icon files are stored as standalone .ico files but can also be found inside .exe, .icl or .dll files.

Once you select the new icon, click again OK, and you are done. The new icon is applied to the selected folder.

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Use a Background Picture for your Folder

Another piece of customization you can do, is to set a background picture for your folder and also change the way text is shown, in order to match your background. This can be done using a number of free tools. The most user friendly you can find is called Windows 7 Folder Background Changer. Long name isn’t it? :)

This tool was released by the WindowsClub and can be downloaded from Softpedia. Once you have it on your computer, unzip it and run its main executable as admin (Right click -> Run as administrator).

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Note: If you don’t run it as administrator, chances are high that the application will crash.

Once the application is open, select the folder for which you want to add a background image. Then, click on Change Background Image and select the image you want to use.

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One very important tip: do not forget to change the text color. Simply click on the box near Text Color and customize it so that it has enough contrast vs. your background image. Otherwise you won’t be able to see the text very well.

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As an added feature, you can select if you want to Show Shadows Under Text and choose to Apply To Sub Folders the background image you have just chosen.

Once all configuration is done, close the application and the settings are applied.

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Any Other Tips?

I’m pretty sure many How-To Geek readers love customizing the visual aspects of their operating system. Do you have any other tips worth sharing about how to further customize how folders in Windows Explorer look like?

Lowell Heddings, better known online as the How-To Geek, spends all his free time bringing you fresh geekery on a daily basis. You can follow him on if you'd like.

  • Published 05/17/11

Comments (28)

  1. Ali

    Thanks geek, this is just thing i needed :)

  2. MJ

    As a recommendation, there are a lot of Windows 7 (or Vista) icons inside %SystemRoot%\system32\imageres.dll

  3. Oaken

    When I opened Windows 7 Folder Background Changer just to take a look, and then closed it, it had already installed a startup service;

    Ave’s Folder BG

    C:\WINDOWS\W7FBC\DLL.DLL

    :-(

  4. Oaken

    Not liking this at all (normally KB’s stuff is fine)… bloody thing has changed all my folder views and I only open and closed it!!!!

  5. Ciprian

    I noticed that the developers of the tool are pretty responsive. Therefore, if you have problems or suggestions, you can discuss directly with them via this forum topic: http://forum.thewindowsclub.com/windows-customization/30980-feedback-windows-7-folder-background-changer.html

  6. Oaken

    Ciprian, I’m familiar with the forums concerned thanks. However, to be honest I’d expect better from HTG (and partners) by way of a heads up for such things…

  7. John

    I don’t think these customize is available in home premium?

  8. anndtman

    @John, I run Win7 HP and tried on two folders on my PC. Both were created folders. One for Office and one was for printers. The office folder did NOT allow a change for the content but I could change the icon file. The Printer folder allowed all changes as the article suggested. I do not know what the diff. was but apparently Home Premium does allow this on a limited basis.

  9. Hate the UAC

    Here’s the problem.I run Win Vista.I do your 1st option,select a Picture to Show as a Background for the Folder Icon and it NEVER stays like that,eventually it replaces it with some random image i have in another folder somewhere else.I’ve always thought why has microsoft given me this option if it doesnt stay like that.The same goes for the contents of the folder.In as much as how you wish to view the contents inside the folder,it always changes it self regardless how many times i’ve changed it to the setting i want.Don’t know how many time i have cursed microsoft regarding these two simple tasks.

  10. Silver Dragon Sys

    @anndtman & John, running Win7 64-bit HP and the only folders I couldn’t change the icons on were the root system folders (C:Windows), all the other folders allowed me to change the icons and or BG images used through the Properties dialog. If like most of us techies you use a lower privileged profile for everyday use, make sure you are logged into your admin profile (The one you created during install/setup of Win7) or the main admin profile (default admin) as it does make a difference.

    The only problem I really ran into was choosing which icon to use. :)

  11. CdnHeadHunter

    I’d love to know how to remove the shortcut arrow from shortcuts put on your desktop. I used to be able to do it in XP, but now I’m using Windows 7 / 64.

    Please help. Clearly I’m OCD.

  12. john3347

    I frequently create custom icons by cropping almost any photograph to a square aspect ratio then simply change the extension to .ico and save in an “Icon” folder. I do this using Faststone Image Viewer, but I think it will work in most photo editing applications. Photos can be 8×8 pixels or can be 300×300 or anything in between. 16×16 seems to be an ideal size.

    Now I have a question perhaps some reader can help me with. Default desktop icons in Windows 7 appear as a sheet of paper with a tiny icon so small as to be unreadable on the sheet of paper. I want to remove the sheet of paper and display only the program icon as a standard icon that we are all familiar with from years past. How can one remove the “sheet of paper” background from Windows 7 default desktop icons?

  13. john3347

    CdnHeadHunter, here is a link to the instructions for removing the shortcut arrow from desktop icons in Windows Vista and Windows 7.

    http://www.howtogeek.com/howto/windows-vista/disable-shortcut-icon-arrow-overlay-in-windows-vista/

  14. Oaken

    @CdnHeadHunter

    This tutorial will show you how and provides the option to download instant REG files for the purpose;

    http://www.sevenforums.com/tutorials/3606-shortcut-arrow-change-remove-restore.html

    @john3347

    IcoFX is a portable freeware which can pretty much do anything you need for creating custom icons;

    *Extract icons from any executable, dll, or similar system and program files
    *Extract and convert MacOS icon files for Windows use
    *Create icons from most image sources with1-2 clicks

    You can get it here – http://portableapps.com/apps/graphics_pictures/icofx_portable

  15. ITWizardry

    If you have trouble getting the folder to take on the picture you like, you can always copy the picture into that folder and name it “folder” it automatically gets set to the folder image.

    Not sure the “Choose File..” button works for networked drives. At least I couldn’t get it to work on my shared out USB external HD. If anyone has tips on getting it to work I’m all ears.

    Thanks.

  16. swapnil

    Hi,

    in windows 7, when we take the folder with customized background using above mentioned method to some other machine and if this small software is not installed over there, you can not see the background picture.

    In XP using a simple .inf file this was possible.I mean if you have the picture and that configuration file you could see the background picture on any XP machine.

    Can somebody provide a way to achieve this(background picture without installing software for this purpose)?

  17. john3347

    Ref: http://portableapps.com/apps/g…..x_portable

    All I can say is Thank Goodness for REVO uninstaller. I needed it after installing this application. It seemed to to be worth less than its price of nothing. I’ll continue to create my custom icons in Faststone Image Viewer.

  18. Pedro

    I tried to customize some folders but didn’t work. Does windows 7 home premium support this feature?

  19. iampears

    One thing i’ve noticed. that the Tiles view changed to extended tiles.. how to fix it ??

  20. iGhweil

    nothing happened except it opened the folder & thats it

  21. Andersob

    Muito bom,Parabéns

  22. mma173

    How to customize a drive icon?

  23. syahyudi33

    ok..mantap

  24. crazyrussianboy1988

    for the windows 7 background changer, isn’t there a none third party way to do this way like there was in Windows 2000 and Windows 98? (the IESHWIZ.exe utility.) the nice thing is that you can export the utility out of Windows 2000 and into XP and use it. (with little flaws.)

  25. GBleezy

    are there any advances in the transparent black glass backgrounds? I been using it to make things transparent and I really like it! It’s just I have never been able to find any cod of

  26. adarsh singh

    AWESOME!!!That’s all i was in search for!!!

  27. ???

    Thanks though I already knew about the folder background changer for 7 right now though looking for such a app for Windows XP… Is there such a app similar I do know of the whole .ini trick known about that for like 8yrs now but it can be a hassle especially looking for a pic you like with the right color where you can still see the text and if you change the text color in XP you wont be able to see it with your other backgrounds etc. I like the folder background changer for 7 easy and simple. And why am I asking well I still run XP on my VM so setting it up right now and honestly spend almost more time on my VM then I do my host unless I’m running a big app like a game or office or something anyhow I like to talk sorry ill end it here but if anyone knows of such a app… been lookin for awhile now.

  28. KimFishy

    Hi.. I’m using windows 7 Home premium.. i downloaded the Windows 7 Folder Background Changer.. i did as said above but it doesnt do anythin to the folder.. Help plz.. Thanx..

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