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Customize Your Icons in Windows 7 and Vista

Want to change out the icons on your desktop and more?  Personalizing your icons is a great way to make your PC uniquely yours, and today we show you how to customize your Windows icons.

Change the icon for Computer, Recycle Bin, Network, and your User folder

Right-click on the desktop, and select Personalize.

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Now, click the “Change desktop icons” link on the left sidebar in the Personalization window.

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The window looks slightly different in Windows Vista, but the link is the same.

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Select the icon you wish to change, and click the Change Icon button.  In Windows 7, you will also notice a box to choose whether or not to allow themes to change icons, and you can uncheck it if you don’t want themes to change your icon settings.

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You can select one of the other included icons, or click browse to find the icon you want.  Click Ok when you are finished.

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Change Folder icons

You can easily change the icon on most folders in Windows Vista and 7.  Simply right-click on the folder and select properties.

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Click the Customize tab, and then click the Change Icon button.  This will open the standard dialog to change your icon, so proceed as normal.

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This basically just creates a hidden desktop.ini file in the folder containing the following or similar data:

[.ShellClassInfo]
IconFile=%SystemRoot%\system32\SHELL32.dll
IconIndex=20

You could manually create or edit the file if you choose, instead of using the dialogs. Simply create a new text file named desktop.ini with this same information, or edit the existing one.  Change the IconFile line to the location of your icon. If you are pointing to a .ico file you should change the IconIndex line to 0 instead.

Note that this isn’t available for all folders, for instance you can’t use this to change the icon for the Windows folder.

In Windows 7, please note that you cannot change the icon of folder inside a library.  So if you are browsing your Documents library and would like to change an icon in that folder, right-click on it and select Open folder location.  Now you can change the icon as above.

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And if you would like to change a Library’s icon itself, then check out this tutorial:

Change Your Windows 7 Library Icons the Easy Way

Change the icon of any file type

Want to make you files easier to tell apart?  Check out our tutorial on how to simply do this:

Change a File Type’s Icon in Windows 7

Change the icon of any Application Shortcut

To change the icon of a shortcut on your desktop, start menu, or in Explorer, simply right-click on the icon and select Properties.

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In the Shortcut tab, click the Change Icon button.

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Now choose one of the other available icons or click browse to find the icon you want.

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Change Icons of Running Programs in the Windows 7 taskbar

If your computer is running Windows 7, you can customize the icon of any program running in the taskbar!  This only works on applications that are running but not pinned to the taskbar, so if you want to customize a pinned icon you may want to unpin it before customizing it.  But the interesting thing about this trick is that it can customize any icon anything running in the taskbar, including things like Control Panel!

Right-click or click and push up to open the jumplist on the icon, and then right-click on the program’s name and select Properties.  Here we are customizing Control Panel, but you can do this on any application icon.

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Now, click Change Icon as usual.

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Select an icon you want (We switched the Control Panel icon to the Security Shield), or click Browse to find another icon.  Click Ok when finished, and then close the application window.

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The next time you open the program (or Control Panel in our example), you will notice your new icon on its taskbar icon.

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Please note that this only works on applications that are currently running and are not pinned to the taskbar.  Strangely, if the application is pinned to the taskbar, you can still click Properties and change the icon, but the change will not show up.

Change the icon on any Drive on your Computer

You can easily change the icon on your internal hard drives and portable drives with the free Drive Icon Changer application.  Simply download and unzip the file (link below), and then run the application as administrator by right-clicking on the icon and selecting “Run as administrator”.

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Now, select the drive that you want to change the icon of, and select your desired icon file.

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Click Save, and Drive Icon Changer will let you know that the icon has been changed successfully.

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You will then need to reboot your computer to complete the changes.  Simply click Yes to reboot.

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Now, our Drive icon is changed from this default image:

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to a Laptop icon we chose!

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You can do this to any drive in your computer, or to removable drives such as USB flash drives.  When you change these drives icons, the new icon will appear on any computer you insert the drive into.  Also, if you wish to remove the icon change, simply run the Drive Icon Changer again and remove the icon path.

Download Drive Icon Changer

This application actually simply creates or edits a hidden Autorun.inf file on the top of your drive.  You can edit or create the file yourself by hand if you’d like; simply include the following information in the file, and save it in the top directory of your drive:

[autorun]
ICON=[path of your icon]

Remove Arrow from shortcut icons

Many people don’t like the arrow on the shortcut icon, and there are two easy ways to do this.

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If you’re running the 32 bit version of Windows Vista or 7, simply use the Vista Shortcut Overlay Remover.

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If your computer is running the 64 bit version of Windows Vista or 7, use the Ultimate Windows Tweaker instead.  Simply select the Additional Tweaks section, and check the “Remove arrows from Shortcut Icons.”

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For more info and download links check out this article:

Disable Shortcut Icon Arrow Overlay in Windows 7 or Vista

Closing:

This gives you a lot of ways to customize almost any icon on your computer, so you can make it look just like you want it to.  Stay tuned for more great desktop customization articles from How-to Geek!

Matthew digs up tasty bytes about Windows, Virtualization, and the cloud, and serves them up for all to enjoy!

  • Published 03/25/10

Comments (29)

  1. nakul

    the control panel icon you changed to is the used by almost all of the rogue trojan fake security applications.

  2. Ben

    You actually can change the icon of programs pinned to the taskbar even if they are not running, well sort of. The easiest way to do it is simply create a shortcut for whatever program you wish to pin on the taskbar on the desktop. Change the icon for the shortcut as seen above. Once you do that just drag it to the taskbar, and there you go, custom icon all the time, running or not.

  3. jpmays

    I like to “old school” it when changing my Drive Icons… I prefer hacking the Registry!

  4. Realitizer

    You can actually change the icon as normal with pinned programs. All you need to do is rebuild the icon cache or restart after changing the icon and it will appear. Restarting Explorer may work as well, although I haven’t tried that yet.

  5. Matthew Guay

    @Nakul – Well, It’s just the security shield and as you see, it’s included in the standard icon set in Windows. No rouge intentions here ;)

  6. calebstein

    To remove the arrows on a shortcut, I just create a blank icon, move it to the windows folder, and edit the registry to create a Shell Icons key and make the overlay point to the blank icon.

  7. calebstein

    But in KDE or other BSD or Linux desktop environments, you don’t have to deal with shortcut arrows :)

  8. calebstein

    sorry if some consider my last comment trolling

  9. Ismail Meghani

    I am a fan of Geek and use it as daily diet lessons, save it in works, the topics that I can’y read it right away.
    It almost every time has instructions, for except, for Mac OSX which lap top I have?
    I am not sure if I should practicalize what does not mention MacOSX lap top for.

  10. Cavemanau

    Where can I get a set of free icons?

  11. Lucas

    To get the change to stick with pinned programs, just unpin them, change the icon like it shows here, and then re-pin them.

    Works like a charm.

  12. Ankoku Flare

    This article was really helpful. Thanks for sharing!

  13. Cheryle

    Does anyone know why I can’t get my changed mouse pointer to stick. I change it but when I have to reboot it switches back to the original. This is also the problem with my Icons. And does anyone know anything about the droid? Why can’t I install programs on it? Or can I install anything? I tried downloading Firefox. It downloads but doesn’t install. It says I need an app to do it, or app not found.

  14. michel

    Over the course of years and many major revisions of Windows, articles like this have appeared regularly. I find them useless, because these changes never stick. Once the link to the custom icon breaks, as it always always does, you’re left with a hideous generic icon. Don’t waste your time.

  15. onedeafeye

    I keep my shortcut icons on the Quick Launch toolbar (Vista x64), and the arrow on the shortcut icon disappears as soon as the icon is moved to the Quick Launch bar. Clean desktop, no arrows, shortcuts always available.

  16. Christopher Smith

    I went into Windows 7 to change my folder icons. I’m a Realtor so I wanted to change the files of my properties to the “House” icon. I changed the first folder fine without problem. Then I went to change the second folder into that same icon. It will ONLY let me use that ONE HOUSE for ONE FOLDER and not a 2nd or 3rd folder. Any suggestions on how to use the same icon for several folders on your desktop? Thank you!

  17. Steven Miller

    I use a large number of macros in Microsoft Word 2007 to speed many tasks. However, the problem arises when I go to select an icon to represent the macro in Word’s Quick-Access Toolbar: The selections available when one clicks the “Modify” button are all extremely generic and usually aren’t very good representations for the function the macro performs.

    I am able to make custom icons via graphic software I have. However, I don’t know how to include them in the library that the “Modify” button (above) opens.

    Any help would be appreciated.

  18. yvhjbjhbn

    @Ismail Meghani If your MacBook is almost completely flat, you have a macbook air. If it has a black bezel (thing around the screen) it is a MacBook Pro. If it has a white bezel it is a MacBook

  19. Keith Badeau

    Great tips. Thanks a lot. BTW, If you want to change the icon of a pinned app then unpin from the taskbar and change the icon of the app’s shortcut in “all programs” in the start menu and repin to the taskbar. I customize just about every icon on my machine from the .dll files to .txt files.

  20. RJ

    Great tips- except that in Vista and XP I could use actual custom icons by browsing to a file that contained images…in windows 7 it seems (and having followed your directions) that ONLY those icons contained within the dll are allowed. I think they are UGLY, and would like to use some of the fun ones you can find online- how can I do that?

  21. Henry-W

    RJ Said:
    in windows 7 it seems (and having followed your directions) that ONLY those icons contained within the dll are allowed. I think they are UGLY, and would like to use some of the fun ones you can find online- how can I do that?

    I create my own icons with free “pixel former” (I’m not associated-It take a little getting used to). Then I export them to the .ICO format and then put them in to a folder that I created under the System32 that I call “icons”. When selecting your new icon it takes you to the screen where it shows all the DLL files just select BROWSE and select your ICONS folder.
    I’m sure you could put your “fun” icons into that same System32 folder.

  22. Terry Bernardo

    e I actually downloaded an Icon program called SIB ICON EDITOR that allows me to make icons from any of my photos. It work great.

  23. Alan Naylor

    Hi
    I’m trying to find out how to access programs by just clicking upon desktop icons. I used to be able to but it has mysteriously changed recently.
    I have tried to use system restore and from another page here learned that finding ‘rstrui’ would do that. that does not work as I have to select a program to run that !
    Does anyone know how i can get back to normal please .

  24. Vista Problem

    How do I customize webist desktop icons in windows vista?
    They changed somethign recently in vista and now all my website icons are the default website shortcuts and I cannot right click->properties->customize any more.

    I can change every other type of shortcut EXCEPT *pinned* website desktop shortcut icons.

    How can I customize these icons like before?
    Do I have to un-pin them or what? and if so how?

    Any help would be GREATLY apprecaited!

  25. robert

    … windows is so pathetic.
    So much work to change several icons…

    Linux is much better and works for you instead of making you work hard for it.

  26. Tamim

    Hey, is there any way to change all the traditional yellow folders to a new look? I have a set of folder icons that are of different sizes. It means if you change the preview from normal to larger then the larger icon will appear. There are two types of icons that is for full and empty preview. Would you please tell me that how can I change yellow folder to this?

  27. Winston

    anyhow your classic method still works, thanks.

  28. ghotter

    Thanks very much this was really helpful and solved the mystery

  29. Carol

    thank you for this tutorial, however the steps is a bit long and harder to remember.

    i prefer using “folderchanger” as recommended by some, as it is easiest to change windows icons.
    and it even allow you to customize the looks with your photo. cool feature.
    you can find it by googling for “folderchanger”

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