How-To Geek

How to Customize Folder Views with Windows’ Five Templates

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If you’re particular about how Windows displays the contents of your folders, you can cut your customization time down considerably by taking advantage of File Explorer’s five built-in folder templates.

You may have noticed that when you open folders with certain types of files–like pictures or music–Windows displays the contents of those folder a little differently from other folders. In Windows, every folder on your system is “optimized” for one of the five following templates:

  • General Items
  • Documents
  • Pictures
  • Music
  • Videos

Windows does its best to automatically detect what kind of files are in a folder and apply the proper template. In folders with mixed file types, Windows will typically use the General Items template, unless the overwhelming majority of files in that folder fit one of the other categories. You can also set the template for any folder manually.

Even better, you can customize the display of any folder that uses a particular template and then apply those customizations system-wide to all folders that use the same template. Such customizations include the view (list, details, and so on), which columns are displayed and how, the sort order, and any file groupings. Here’s how to make it all happen.

NOTE: Folder templates have been around since the Windows XP days and using them hasn’t changed much over the years. The techniques in this article apply to Windows XP through Windows 10.

Step One: Customize a Folder that Uses the Template You Want to Change

Your first step is to customize a single folder that uses the template you want to change. In this article, we’ll be customizing a pictures folder and then applying those changes to all folders that use the picture template. The process is identical for customizing folders using each of the other four templates.

Open up File Explorer and find a folder you want to work with. To ensure that it’s a suitable candidate, right-click the folder, choose “Properties,” and then switch to the “Customize” tab.  Ensure that the “Optimize this folder for” drop-down menu shows the right template. In our case, the Pictures template is selected, so we’re good to go.

If the right template is not shown, you can either choose a different folder or select the proper template from the menu to apply it to that folder. When you’re done, click “OK.”

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Now, you’re ready to customize the folder. How you do this is entirely up to you. In our example, we’re going to switch the view to display large thumbnails by clicking “Large icons” on the “View” menu of File Explorer. In older versions of Windows without the ribbon interface, you’ll find a drop-down menu on the toolbar for making this change.

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We’re also going to have the pictures grouped by date by selecting “Date” from the “Group by” drop-down menu on the “View” tab.

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That’s all we’re going to for our picture folders, but there is obviously a lot more folder customization you could do. If you’re using the Details or List view, you can customize what columns appear in the view and drag your columns to different positions.

Step Two: Apply that Customization to All Folders Using the Template

When you have the folder customized the way you want it, you can now apply your customizations to all other folders using the same template. While you still have that folder open in File Explorer, click the “File” menu and then click the “Change folder and search options” command. In older versions of Windows, this command was named “File and folder options.”

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In the Folder Options window, switch to the “View” tab, click the “Apply to Folders” button, and then click “OK.”

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You can now browse around to some other folders that you’d expect to use this template and verify that your customizations have been applied.

As we mentioned earlier, when you open a folder, File Explorer examines the contents to see if it can automatically determine which folder template to use. If it can’t, it will use the General Items template. You can force a folder to use any template by selecting it on the “Customize” tab of the folder’s properties window.

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It’s a shame that Microsoft never went any further with the idea after its initial implementation. It would be really great, for example, if we were able to create our own templates. Nonetheless, it’s still handy being able to set up the templates we do have for different types of folders and apply those templates system wide.

Walter Glenn is a long time computer geek and tech writer. Though he's mostly a Windows and gadget guy, he has a fondness for anything tech. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

  • Published 10/17/16
  • Keith R. Starkey

    Hey, thanks again, guys. I appreciate greatly your tips. This was a good one to know for me!

  • Göran Ingvarsson

    First off - I have to come clean in this forum that now concerns itself almost exclusively with Windows 10. It is still too soon for me to switch, but I have tried it and was not moved to 'upgrade' from that experience, but I trust that these tips apply to 7 as well.

    (Also, I managed to avoid clunkers like Vista and ME by letting people around the world do Microsofts beta testing for them, and I'll be a son-of-a-gun before I let myself be forced into anything whatever against my will. This re Microsofts infuriating bully tactics of late.)-Anyway, the ability to customize default folder view has been a wish for the longest time so thanks for the original article .

    I want to be able choose, once and for all, what columns to view. (I could'n't see where/if this was addressed in the article) so here goes.

    When I create a new folder and customize it for music, I'm not interested in most of the default columns.

    I don't need the # column in the standard view; I already have the title, so what's the point of that column?, I know in 90% of cases the contributing artist, the album...maybe yes to that, and absolutely the year.

    Below is a shot of what the folder looks like when just created and then how I would like it to look.

    How can I make this the rule? Indeed - can I make it the rule?

    Thank you.

  • Walter Glenn

    @Ensign_Scrulu: Column customization, including what columns are shown, the order you put them in, and even the default sorting are all copied when you apply it to other folders using the methods from this post.

    So, if you customize one music folder the way you want it, including all the column stuff, and then apply that customization using the folder options dialog, then those customizations should carry over to all folders on your PC that use the music template.

    And yes, the tips in this post will work just fine on Windows 7.

  • Göran Ingvarsson

    Thank you Walter, this is greatly appreciated! :relaxed:

  • Laurence Jones

    I have customised my folders as described above, but my settings keep getting overwritten, as I reported on the Microsoft Forum thus:

    I have set-up all my folders by category, General Information, Documents, Pictures, Videos, Music, with unique view settings for each category. Having set the view settings globally, I then updated each folder individually to the category type I wanted it to be. However, after doing all this I still find that something is resetting folders to categories other than the one I set them to. Does anyone know what is causing this, as there seems no point in setting-up folders as I have done, only for something unwanted and unknown to come along and undo my settings, FFS !!!

    I am not alone in this, other users on Microsoft have reported the same problem too ... and none of us have had an answer.

  • Göran Ingvarsson

    Oh, a good thing you wrote that Larry, and a good thing I waited 'til now to try the previous tip in the thread. "my settings keep getting overwritten" you say.

    Well, that's vintage, expected Microsoft OS behavior. I've had that happen too many times over these 29 years (since version 2.0 came out late 80's) that I've been using MS Windows to expect anything else.

    Thanks, that saved some time and peace-of-mind. A hearty to Microsoft.

    Dealing with their OS's can sometimes be like having root canal sans the aid of novocaine.

    "I am not alone in this, other users on Microsoft have reported the same problem too ... and none of us have had an answer."

    Scr*w the Microdorks.

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