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How To Make High Resolution Windows 7 Icons Out of Any Image

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We’ve featured a lot of nicely designed icons for Windows, but have you ever wondered how to customize your own? Load up a web browser and your favorite image editor, because here’s an easy way to do it.

Being able to use high-res icons really goes a long way to making your PC look fantastic, but it’s just so annoying when you can’t find one that looks the way you want it to. So make them yourself, and really give your installation the custom look you’ve been craving.

Changing Icons on Windows 7

Changing some system icons, like the ones on system drives and libraries can be quite problematic. If you need a refresher, you can check out Matthew Guay’s excellent roundup article on how to change icons in Windows 7 and Vista. You’ll find links to some great programs, like the one featured above, that will help you swap out those icons Windows doesn’t normally let you edit.

 

Grabbing Graphics for Custom Icons

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Your new icons can be themed whatever you want, or whatever you can Google. You can design your own, if you’re feeling arty, but for the sake of demonstration, we’ll simply grab something cool from Google Images. If there are multiple versions of the graphic you’re looking for, grab the best looking one at the highest resolution, which should be above 256 x 256 pixels. Higher is fine, but smaller could give you a low resolution icon!

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The next step is to remove the parts of the image you don’t want in your icon. Have you been practicing removing backgrounds in your favorite image editor? If this is not something that comes easy to you, we’ve covered several simple ways to do it in the past, as well as exhaustive articles on 50+ Ways to get the job done. In this case, we’re using Photoshop, but there’s no reason you can’t use GIMP or Paint.NET to remove your background and save your new icons.

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You’ll want to create a PNG graphic, because the icon editor works best with PNG and it is the best option for transparent, icon style graphics. If your image is really big, don’t worry about it, we’ll be resizing it in the next step. Simply make sure that you’re saving a transparent PNG in RGB, and you’ll be ready to rock.

IcoFX, Freeware for Creating Icons

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One of the easiest programs to create Windows 7 icons with is IcoFX, a simple piece of freeware that simply makes icons without any trouble or fuss. Download it here.

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Admittedly the program is not much to look at. Install it, run it, and then navigate to File > Import Image.

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Alternately you can use the shortcut key Ctrl + M.

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Select your transparent PNG file from where you saved it. In this case it’s the Desktop. Select “Open.”

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This is the dialog box you’re given. You have the choice to make custom sized icons, although using these options will work perfectly fine for nearly all HTG readers. 256 x 256 pixels is the best option for high resolution icons, and True Color + Alpha Channel is the best option for those of you wanting transparency in your icon. If you’d rather have an ordinary square icon, you can simply pick true color and have a marginally smaller icon file. However, that’s not likely to be most of you, so if you’re unsure, simply stick with “True Color + Alpha Channel” and pick “OK.”

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You’ll probably not have to change anything in this Dialog box, although you can crop out parts of the image you don’t want to use in the area on the left. This step will also automatically resize large images to fit the 256 x 256 square. When you’re satisfied with these settings, hit “OK.”

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And, voilà, your icon is ready to be saved.

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Make sure you use a Windows Icon format (.ico) when you’re saving—IcoFX also saves in Macintosh Icon format.

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And, simply done, your new icon is ready to be installed in any way you choose. Make all the custom icons you can dream up and really make your Windows 7 desktop your own!


Have questions or comments concerning Graphics, Photos, Filetypes, or Photoshop? Send your questions to ericgoodnight@howtogeek.com, and they may be featured in a future How-To Geek Graphics article.

Eric Z Goodnight is an Illustrator and Graphics Geek who hopes to make Photoshop more accessible to How-To Geek readers. When he’s not headbanging to heavy metal or geeking out over manga, he’s often off screen printing T-Shirts.

  • Published 06/6/11

Comments (25)

  1. Linda

    I Have Fun! Gooooooood Post Geek ;) !

  2. jon_hill987

    IcoFX is brilliant, I have been using it since I installed Vista and the OCD part of me hated upscaled 48×48 icons.

  3. John

    Thank you for the tutorial. The only problem I have with all your tutorials is that the words for the pictures are UNDER the picture instead of OVER it. I tend to read it and then look at the picture below it and the realize that the text and photo are not related. Maybe I’m just used to that from reading Dummies books.

    Again thanks for the help.

  4. Kurt

    Can I do the same using XP Pro? Can I make custom icon als using IcoFX?

  5. Eric Z Goodnight

    Pretty sure IcoFX will make icons XP can use. Obviously it won’t be able to use the huge, high-res versions Win7 uses. I’ve not tried it, so I might be wrong.

  6. brianzion

    great helpful tutorial IcoFX is my choice so easy to understand and use and free!!

  7. bluelord

    great post.. very interesting read. clears out a lot of issues about making icons.

  8. Yoshiyah

    This is cool. I might try out IcoFX, I currently tried Axialis IconWorkshop and the trial is up. I might try this since it is free.

  9. PeaceSold13r

    1) IcoFX is also available in a portable version.
    2) If you are importing a picture, you can directly remove the background using IcoFX in the Advanced Import window. In the Transparency section, you can choose among “Left bottom pixel” and “Custom Color”.
    3) If you are using a different OS, after importing the image, you can select the icon and use the “Create Windows icon from image” button (Ctrl+i). Then select various formats for the picture and click OK. You’ll have a fully compatible icon.

  10. Nick

    I want to know what is in the “Girls” folder in your favorites???

  11. Eric Z Goodnight

    LOL, it’s not all that. I save a lot of reference pics when I draw, and I draw a lot of girls. I saw it on there and wondered if anyone was going to say anything. :)

  12. Eric

    What is the purpose of the games library? Just curious

  13. Shy

    Personally I prefer to use ConvertIcon since it doesn’t require downloading anything, and it’s pretty simple. http://www.converticon.com/
    You just have to make the image square before using it – I always make it 512×512

  14. Doc

    “And, viola, your icon is ready to be saved.” You mean “voila” … a viola is a stringed instrument.

  15. iGhweil

    iLike the wallpaper in the 1st pic!

  16. Eric Z Goodnight

    @Doc: Ah, yes, spellcheck got me on that one.

  17. Deathadder

    This was… i can’t describe it with words.

  18. KTown

    @ Nick :) I was thinking the same thing ;>]

  19. sVen

    Thanx. In the past, I’ve tried making icons, but it was very confusing. This makes it simple.

  20. Peter Morffew

    I have been using Iconfx for some time. I needed to design a favicon for my website. have since used it to design icons for my music library in Vista. Adds that extra touch especially when you design the image in Photoshop or Fireworks.
    Great for converting photos into Icons.
    Add the photo to the canvas and save to a folder then seach for the icon when using folder advanced properties.

  21. Mark

    This is great! Now if you can add clear instructions on how to use these icons in the new BURG boot loader, I’ll be really happy! Another article perhaps?

  22. cactusdr

    jon_hill987 said it best for me. IcoFX is one of those programs that if you had to only install your top 10 apps of all time it would most assuredly be on my list. Quite frankly, that it’s freeware is remarkable and would not be at all surprised the more popular it becomes it one day will be shareware.

  23. Jeeepers

    Much simpler way to make icons: either use browser to download image or use win7 snipping tool to copy image and save either as .png. Then use Paint.Net to edit the files: MagicWand removes background, Eraser cleans up the leftovers, ColorPicker…etc.. again save as .png and convert to ico with YToIcon. It’s great that Rainmeter uses .png files but that’s a whole other discussion, how to customize Rainmeter.

  24. Vagablonde

    Icofx does have a portable version

  25. Rotag

    ICOFX is great for making icons for Win 7 !! Great article too.
    Does anyone know how to REPLACE the TRASH/RECYCLE icon on the Desktop. I have a nice one but don’t know how to replace it….
    Thanks.

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