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Customizing Your Icons in Windows XP

My new friend Sue asked me the other day how to customize icons on Windows XP, so I thought I’d write up all the ways to change the icons, both by using the built-in methods and also with additional software.

Changing My Computer, My Documents, and Recycle Bin Icons Manually

Right-click on the desktop and choose Properties, then on the Desktop tab you should choose the Customize Desktop button.

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In the Desktop Items dialog you can select one of the icons and click the Change Icon button.

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Now just click the Browse button, and pick whichever icon file you would prefer.

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Change Icons for Specific Folders Manually

You can change the icon for many folders by right-clicking the folder and choosing Properties, and then clicking Change Icon on the Customize tab.

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This method works by writing a hidden desktop.ini file into the folder that will contain text like this:

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

You could manually create or edit the file if you choose, instead of using the dialogs. The IconFile line can be adjusted to point to a custom icon file. 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.

Using iColorFolder Skins to Customize Specific Folders Easily

You can use the previously reviewed iColorFolder application to load colored folders that can be applied to specific folders. You can also set the default folder icon using this tool.

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Not only that, but this tool can be used to set the default icon for any file type, or easily change the icon for a specific folder to a different color, or a different icon altogether.

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Customize Your Folder Icons in Windows XP

Manually Setting Specific Icons for Removable Drives

You can create a new file named autorun.inf in the root of any flash or USB drive, and then add the following section to it:

[autorun]
icon=autorun.ico

You’ll notice that the icon file is set to autorun.ico, which means for this file to work you would have to rename the icon file and add it to the root of the drive as well:

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Your best bet is to make both of these files hidden so you don’t have to see them. Right-click on the files, choose Properties, and then check the box for “Hidden” as shown:

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This does not work for regular hard drives, just for removable ones. Also note that the custom icon will show up on any Windows computer that you plug the removable drive into.

Change Icons for Regular File Types

If you want to change the icon for all those .txt files you have laying around, you can do so by going into yet another dialog (seems like they could have organized them into a single place)

Open up a copy of Windows Explorer and then choose Folder Options from the Tools menu.

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Select the File Types tab, and then choose the file type you want to change and click the Advanced button.

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In the “Edit File Type” dialog you can click the Change Icon button, and then select an icon just like you did above.

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There are a few of the file types that won’t let you change the icon using this method… for instance you should not use this to change the icon for folders or drives or else things will go haywire. (or they did for me)

Change Icons for Application Shortcuts

You can customize the icon for any application icons, whether on the start menu, quick launch or desktop, by right-clicking on the shortcut and choosing Properties, then use “Change Icon” from the shortcut tab.

image 

Use Windows Vista Style Drive Icons

You can also customize the drive icons in Windows XP to give them the same Vista bar graph underneath that shows the disk space.

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Get Vista Style Drive Icons in Windows XP

Changing Special Icons like Control Panel, Drives, Folders, Printers, Etc

If you’d rather change all the different icons in one place, you can use the freeware IconTweaker application that gives you access to change pretty much any icon in Windows XP.

Click on the round “icons” icon on the left-hand panel, and then you can customize any of the built-in icons… just click the Change button.

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And then click the Open button and pick the icon file you want to use.

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There’s a lot more to this application, for instance you can use it to create a theme that you could re-apply later… or you could download icon themes and apply them.

Download IconTweaker from icontweaker.com

So, Where Do I Get Free Icons From?

The key thing you want to consider when finding icons online is that they come in a zip file and are in .ico format. Probably best to avoid any icons packaged in .exe files unless you scan them well first.

Here’s some links to some good icons, the second two links are thanks to Scott, our forum moderator and notorious theme tweaker.

WinCustomize Icons

IconFactory Icons

VistaIcons.com

You can even search Deviantart.com for XP icons

Once you download the icons, you should save them into a single folder that you won’t move anywhere. A good standard would be to make a folder called something like “Icons” inside of your documents folder, and then put all the icons into there. That way you won’t move them and then screw up your custom icons.

I’ll be interested to hear your thoughts and any additional tricks in the comments.

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 04/12/08

Comments (53)

  1. Fird

    Finally there are lots more options rather than IconPackager! Thanks for the tip!

  2. jonhill987

    Just thought I would add that if your internal hard disks are SATA then the autorun trick will most likely work with them as well. It depends on the driver I think, but most SATA drives show up as removable in windows, even your system disk.

  3. The Geek

    The autorun trick didn’t work with my internal SATA drive…

  4. umans

    Deviantart is a great source of artwork in general, not just icons but themes for windows as well.

  5. jonhill987

    @The Geek

    It works on mine, maybe it is limited to NVidia SATA controllers? The drives show up in “Safely Remove Hardware”.

  6. jd2066

    You can also use the DriveIcons key in the registry to set icons for a drive. See http://www.tech-recipes.com/rx/1568/windows_xp_how_to_set_the_icon_of_any_drive

  7. Rohit

    Nicely written article .

  8. rbailin

    The autorun icon trick works just fine on my EIDE drive, but you have to reboot the system for it to take effect. It may help to specify the exact location of the icon, e.g., icon=\autorun.ico

  9. benny

    Thank you very much for this informative article and icon sites. I’ve been looking for this type of information for a long time and now I’m very happy that I’ve finally found this site. Thanks!

  10. Ryan

    Pretty sweet article.

    New most of this stuff already.

    Don’t suppose anyone could tell me how I could my usb memory pen to show up on the desktop when it is plugged in, and hide when it is not in? It would be kinda cool to know as I have been googleing for quite a while and got nowhere :S

    Cheers :P

  11. eugene

    let comment with this question of how to customazing icon those problemes were made on my computer where the icon on my computer where smal then after it becomes bigger by defoult .so am also which couse that problems
    thanks for good response

  12. urizen2112

    does this work for VISTA, Icon tweaker for Vista I mean!
    Thanks whoever answers this

  13. derek

    nice work but Is it possible to change the SIZE of your desktop icons as i find them too small BUT i dont want to change my screen resolution just the icon size on my DESKTOP only.
    NOW IS THAT POSSIBLE!!!

  14. LifesSweetDrug

    @ Derek you could Xpize, all though it is more of a package, but it does that.

  15. Dylan

    Thank you so much, I was having trouble finding a freeware alternative to IconPackager.

  16. GatormanCL

    ok so i didnt catch your message about not changing folder icons, and now when i click on any folder it opens a search. for instance, if i open click on “my documents” folder, it opens up my search program and not “my documents” i have to right click=>open to open my documents!

    pls help

  17. HSHin

    @derek with a small D… (Sorry, but that’s how you typed it. See why caps are important now?) To supersize your icons simply right click anywhere on your desk, then Properties > Appearance tab > Effects button > check Use large icons.

    @urizen2112: Why would you need IconTweaker on your Vista? Does it mean you don’t approve of Microsoft’s UI design effort? (The reason I say this is I’ve used OS X before. And I’ve never thought of changing the way OS looks, because it’s never struck me as being so ugly I’m compelled to change it.) Anyway I got rid of my Vista Ultimate and returned to XP because 1. the audio driver blows so hard, and 2. the Nvidia video driver doesn’t support my 23″ LCD’s native res, and 3. I forgot what, but it’ll come back to me. Regardless, you can change your Vista icons with IconPackager. Mind you, it’s not free, but no biggie, it’s only a Rapidshare link away.

  18. derek

    HSHin your suggestion is no good for me as I only want to change the icon size on my Desktop NOT anywhere else. If I do what you say the folder icons are made bigger throughout the system.

  19. Hermitt

    @derek – If you want to change JUST the size of the desktop Icons then simply right click on a blank spot on your desk, choose Properties > Appearance tab > Advanced > and change the icon size under ITEM to any number such as 48 or 64 etc…. The default size is 32. To restore the Icons to default size just repeat the above process and enter 32 as the size.

  20. derek

    sorry Hermitt but your suggestion is like all the others I have tried. It doesnt just change the icons on the desktop. I did what you said and then opened my documents folder and all the icons and folder icons inside were also bigger ie they had gone from 32 to 48 in size.

  21. Hermitt

    @derek – Then I would suggest downloading and installing TweakUI for your OS from Microsoft. Install it and examine all settings for your system.

    BTW, which OS are you running?

    Hermitt

  22. aku

    Hi, what happen if u accidently change the drives and folder icon in the “view files” section?
    How to make it normal again?

  23. kim

    how to change icon style of other folders

  24. Guse

    My icon is blurry when I view it as a tile. It is clear when I view it in list form. How do I make the Tile form clear and not blurry?

  25. Marceezy

    what is that vista-like skin you have in place of the boring blue

  26. Jill

    I am in a sticky situation. PLEASE HELP.

    I was trying to change an icon, but I accidentally changed the file icon.

    “There are a few of the file types that won’t let you change the icon using this method… for instance you should not use this to change the icon for folders or drives or else things will go haywire. (or they did for me)”

    This is my problem. Please tell me how you fixed it.

    Anyone’s help is much appreciated.

    Thanks.

  27. Jill

    My problem was resolved. Thank you.

  28. menghong

    i have problem with my window xp desktop icon, it so big, i want change it small as window 7.

    Someone can help me…

    Thanks,
    Menghong

  29. Angelo Grotticelli

    My problem was resolved. Thank you.

  30. Robert Claypool

    I was looking for a way to change the icon in Windows Live Mail because it looks too similar to the folder icon. The icontweaker site appears to be down and the version I found gives an error message that it does not support this version of Windows (Vista).

  31. susanna

    my question is can i remove things i should not remove in the add and remove list there are some that say can not be removed others leave you guessing can you send me this answer by email . thanks in advance sue new at com puters but love them

  32. Yuswani

    I have tried to download Icon Tweaker from icontweaker.com, but I can’t do it because either the url’s page was down or fraud.

  33. akm

    Dont see how to change an icon for a specific (not type of) file (like a *.txt file), or a specific (not type of) file/s folder.
    Thoughts ?

  34. rahul

    How to Change the Folder Background in Windows Explorer?

  35. kendi

    I have a very BIG problem. This-

    “There are a few of the file types that won’t let you change the icon using this method… for instance you should not use this to change the icon for folders or drives or else things will go haywire. (or they did for me)”

    It really went haywire. Please tell me how to fix it. Thanks

  36. Mariano

    Same problem as kendi, please help us.

  37. marissa

    i need help really bad!!! i have windows xp.
    i changed my icons, but now every time i click on one,
    all of them send me to the search. like when your in my computer, and you press search at the top, it sends me to that, but the little drop down menu where you would search in something has the program i clicked selected. and when i right click a folder i can press open, but its not the one in bold like it should be. i tried to change it, i tried everything. this isn’t my computer, someone else asked me to do this for them. please please please anyone help me!!!!

  38. sagar

    hiiiiiiiiiiiiiii
    windo iceeeeeeeeeeeee

  39. Hells

    Yeah, the same thing happened to me too (that’s because I wouldn’t finish reading the damned thing :S ). Now I’m stuck with the search function whenever I want to open a folder.

    I’m googling this, just in case I find it somewhere else, but still, some help would be greatly appreciated.

    Thanks

  40. Hells
  41. Marc

    Probably moved well on by now, but @Marceezy – that is a Microsoft XP Theme called Zune which they released not long before the ‘death’ of XP and the birth of Vista beta.It can be downloaded from here: http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/?LinkID=75078 or alternatively, just Google ‘Microsoft Zune XP Theme’.

    HTH

  42. Tim

    “Zune” has been around a lot longer than that. It came out “secretly” a little after the Royale and Royale Noir themes were leaked…oh god…years and years ago………..this sucks I feel old.

  43. 8055

    Thanx thanx thanx alot

  44. David

    Trying to change the icon for a specific file type (avi) in Windows XP SP3
    (because something changed the icon displayed in Windows Explorer for this filetype
    from the VLC “traffic cone” icon, TO the Windows Media Player multicolored circle icon
    and I’m trying to put it back to the traffic cone)
    following the steps listed

    In the “File types” tab for the AVI extension, the WMP icon is shown next to the type.
    In the details for the AVI extension, it says “opens with {VLC icon} VLC media player’, which is correct
    In Advanced, it shows the VLC icon
    (Just to be sure, I “change” the icon to the VLC icon it already is)
    When I click “OK” and finish up, the icon for AVI files in Windows Explorer remains the WMP icon.

    (When I double-click the file, it opens in VLC and not WMP, as it should, so the association itself is correct and working.)

    The suggested method doesn’t work and seems to have no effect.
    How can I change the file icon displayed in Windows explorer?

  45. peacewalker

    Can i use the icolorFolder on windows 7 64bit?…. i need some software than can change all of my folder icon in just a few clicks… if you have suggestion.. ur free to reply.. :P

  46. ranjith

    in my pc all applications wat i installed is not showing its default icon . if i try to open those application it shows the window to choose an application to open that file … can any body give solution for this…?

  47. stevun

    Great post,
    theres only one thing im wondering.
    is that if I create a folder and call it smiles,
    then I give it my own custom smiley icon,
    (and say I do this 100 times, to 100 diff folders, with 100 diff names & icons)
    how can I save it so that I don’t have to go threw all that mess again.
    p.s. these are not core windows files, all have been created by me within sub folders of one another.

  48. stevun

    “how can I save it so that I don’t have to go threw all that mess again.” … in the event that say my computer crashes. but I have everything backed up and put everything where they were after a format….
    sorry forgot to mention that part.

  49. Sazerac7

    Can anyone help? I added a few icons (so I could get to the homepage of some often used sites ) by clicking and draging the little icon that’s just left of the “Navigation” window on the Nav toolbar. The new icons are rather generic looking so I tried to change them using this article’s method. I did manage to change them to something I like, but whenever I reboot, the icons revert to the standard generic look. How can I keep the look I like??

  50. Sazerac7

    Oh yeah, I forgot to say my OS is Firefox. Thanks

  51. haresh

    i want to make particular image or wallpapaer or photo in folder icon

    my means i want icon see by photo.

    so hot to do it

    how possible.

    pleas send me reply

  52. Achelois

    Icon Tweaker is driving me beserk. It only seems to work intermittently. It will (the vast majority of the time) only let me choose a file from the windows icons. Very rarely will it let me open an icon from my vast icon library or drag & drop. It isn’t a problem with the files I’m using – just buggy as all hell. I can haz patch pleez?

  53. sibin

    How install Custom icons in Windows XP

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