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Stupid Geek Tricks: How to Modify the Icon of an .Exe File

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Let’s face it: some applications just have really ugly icons. We can do something about that and change the ugly icons into something more pleasing and amp up your geek skills at the same time. Here’s how.

Editor’s Note: You should make sure to backup the application .exe file before you modify the icon, just in case.

Changing the Icon for an Application

The first thing that you will have to do is download yourself a free copy of Resource Hacker. Once installed it adds an option to the context menu. So lets get hacking!

sshot-1

Now you need to locate the executable of the program that you want to change the icon for. If you have a shortcut in the start menu, you can right click on it and select the Open file location… option.

Open File Location

Once you have located the executable, right click on it, and choose the “Open using Resource Hacker” option.

sshot-1

Click on the Action menu and click on the Replace Icon link.

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When the dialog pops-up click on the button to locate a new icon, this can either be a *.exe, *.dll, *.res or *.ico file.

sshot-7

Once you have selected your icon, hit the replace button in the bottom right hand corner. Now select the File menu, and save the file.

sshot-9

And that’s its folks, all done.

sshot-6

If you have any problems opening the application after, you can restore it from the original file – or that backup you created, right?

Taylor Gibb is a Microsoft MVP and all round geek, he loves everything from Windows 8 to Windows Server 2012 and even C# and PowerShell. You can also follow him on Google+

  • Published 10/6/11

Comments (16)

  1. Harkaboy

    It’s gonna be real useful to people who are making .exe viruses and they can spread them in a better way if they give them an other icon. ([ :

  2. Two Replies

    Using a pre utility created to specifically alter the icon is far from hacking.
    I was expecting an explanation of the location or architecture of the ico data within the file itself, then instructions on how to use any generic hex-editor to manipulate said data to replace the icon.
    I suppose though this content is more fitting in hindsight, considering he title.
    Oh well.

  3. webdev

    @Harkaboy: One would think that people who are capable of developing a virus are also skilled enough to include their own icons without such an article!? On the other hand: everyone who opens an exe file just because the icon looks familiar deserves catching a virus. If you don’t acquire a healthy level of mistrust and don’t know anything about virustotal.com etc. you are not really ready for the digital generation…

    @Two Replies: I’d also enjoy articles with a little more geeky insight and depth but I haven’t really seen anything like that around here. HTG: Can we expect a category for articles like that in the near future? Would be great! Give us some hex-editor-undocumented-file-format-deconstruction-stuff! ;-) Still love HTG!!!

  4. keshu

    when i save it….i dialogue box comes out saying “cannot rename original file. saving cancelled”

    as i have gone to the main “file location” it will obviously be the original file!

    wt should i do??

  5. Three Replies

    @Harkaboy,
    show me a “standard” virus icon then.
    right – you probably realized that your comment made no sense as soon as you hit the “submit comment” button.
    @Two Replies….
    Youre just too smart – i wont even go there.

  6. webdev

    @keshu: Make sure the file is not currently locked by any process / application / service. Use a tool like Unlocker or LockHunter to check what’s blocking the procedure.

  7. DSSystems

    This is a nice little trick, that works well on XP.
    But will be a pain in Vista/7 due to the way the permissions work and that Resource Hacker is 32bit (x86) only. As keshu has already discovered.

  8. webdev

    @DSSystems: AFAIK the creator made a version that supports 64 bit context (although he had stated he had no further interest in developing Resource Hacker). So the latest release should support x64 architecture exe files.

  9. CttCJim

    Uh… I just use a shortcut and choose the icon I want. This seems a little unnecessary, plus likely to cause hackcheck fails on your games. Not to mention, when the app updates, you’ll have to “hack” it again.

  10. Mike Moss

    Well I just logged in to say that since the .exe file usually appears only in the installation folder, this seems a little extreme.

    I see that CttJim has already covered the fact that you can change the icon for any shortcut just by selecting change icon and it’s always the shortcut that appears on my task or RocketDock bar.

    I’m really only interested on what appears on my desktop.

    Something that is more helpful is making custom icons for folders.

    These let me instantly find the folder I want without reading all the names attached to them.
    I do this all the time, my Windows Explorer looks like a Christmas tree.

    I have 3 versions of Poser installed right now and each folder has an icon of a different color with a big number on it showing which version it is.

  11. MJ

    You can also use Anolis Resourcer, just google it.

  12. webdev

    @Harkaboy: One would think that people who are capable of developing a virus are also skilled enough to include their own icons without such an article!? On the other hand: everyone who opens an exe file just because the icon looks familiar deserves catching a virus. If you don’t acquire a healthy level of mistrust and don’t know anything about virustotal.com etc. you are not really ready for the digital generation…

    @Two Replies: I’d also enjoy articles with a little more geeky insight and depth but I haven’t really seen anything like that around here. HTG: Can we expect a category for articles like that in the near future? Would be great! Give us some hex-editor-undocumented-file-format-deconstruction-stuff! ;-) Still love HTG!!!

    Btw: Why didn’t this post make it past moderation the first time?

  13. DSSystems

    @webdev: Thanks for the info dude, thats good to know :o)

  14. dlgn

    Or, create a shortcut, go to shortcut properties, change icon. Most people won’t need to change the icon of the actual file, just the shortcut.

  15. bishop

    Can anyone tell me how this is any different from right clicking the properties of any icon,choosing the customise option and using the CHANGE ICON option. WIN. 7 btw

  16. kelltic

    It took fewer steps to change an icon in XP. Well, Win 7 is a more cumbersome OS. :)

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