How-To Geek

How to Customize Your Icons in Windows

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Personalizing your icons is a great way to make a PC uniquely yours. Let’s take a look at the different ways Windows lets you customize your icons.

Windows has a number of built in icons you can choose from, but there is also an untold number of icons you can download from sites like IconArchive, DeviantArt, and Iconfinder—all of which have loads of free icons. And if you can’t find something you like, you can even make your own high resolution icons out of any image.

Once you have the icons of your dreams, save them in a safe place—some of these processes will require they stay in on your PC. In other cases, you’ll probably want them there just in case something goes wrong and you have to re-apply them.

Change Your Desktop Icons (Computer, Recycle Bin, Network, and So On)

Icons like This PC, Network, Recycle Bin, and your User folder are all considered “desktop icons,” even though modern versions of Windows don’t show them all on the desktop. Windows 8 and 10 don’t show any of the desktop icons except for Recycle Bin, and even Windows 7 doesn’t show them all. For a complete rundown, check out our guide to restoring missing desktop icons in Windows 7, 8, or 10.

But you can still change how these icons appear elsewhere on your system. To do so, you’ll need to access the “Desktop Icon Settings” window to turn these icons on and off or to change the associated icons.  In Windows 10, you can access this window through Settings > Personalization > Themes > Desktop Icon Settings. In Windows 8 and 10, it’s Control Panel > Personalize > Change Desktop Icons.

Use the check boxes in the “Desktop icons” section to select which icons you want on your desktop. To change an icon, select the icon you want to change and then click the “Change Icon” button.

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In the “Change Icon” window, you can select any icon you want from the built in Windows icons or you can Click “Browse” to locate your own icons.

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If you browse for your own icon file, you can select any EXE, DLL, or ICO file. After selecting the file, the “Change Icon” window will show the icons contained in the file you selected. Click the one you want and then click “OK.” Here, we’re changing the “This PC” icon to use one that looks more like a laptop than a desktop.

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After changing your icon, you should see the new icon used in File Explorer, on the Desktop, and in the taskbar when the folder is open.

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And if you want to reverse the change, you can always go back to the “Desktop Icon Settings” window, select the icon you want to change back, and click “Restore Default.”

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Change Folder Icons

Changing the icon for a folder is not only a good way to pretty things up, but also to call attention to important items. To change a folder icon, right-click the folder you want to change and choose “Properties.”

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In the folder’s properties window, switch to the “Customize” tab and then click the “Change Icon” button.

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In the “Change Icon” window, you can select any icon you want from the built in Windows icons or you can Click “Browse” to locate your own icons.

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If you browse for your own icon file, you can select any EXE, DLL, or ICO file. After selecting the file, the “Change Icon” window will show the icons contained in the file you selected. Click the one you want and then click “OK.” Here, we’re changing the icon for this folder to a red one to make it stand out more.

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And back in the properties window, click “OK.”

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The folder should now show up in File Explorer (or on the desktop) with the new icon.

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This feature works by creating a hidden Desktop.ini file in the folder that contains a few lines of data something like the following:

[.ShellClassInfo]
IconResource=D:\Walter\Documents\Icons\Oxygen-Icons.org-Oxygen-Places-folder-red.ico,0
[ViewState]
Mode=
Vid=
FolderType=Generic

This is one of the cases where you absolutely must keep the ICO file in whatever location you had it when you applied the icon. Put it somewhere you know you won’t delete it first, or make the ICO file hidden.

And if you really want to fine tune how folders look and operate on your PC, you should also explore how to customize folder views with Windows’ five templates and how to customize folder view settings in Windows.

Change the Icon for a Type of File

You can also change the icon for specific file types (those that end in certain extensions) so that all files of that type use the new icon. Why bother to do this? Suppose, for example, you used an image editing program that used essentially the same icon for all the different types of image files it supported—PNG, JPG, GIF, and so on. You might find it more convenient if each of those file types used a different icon so they were easier to distinguish—especially if you keep multiple file types in the same folder.

Unfortunately, there’s no built in way to do this in Windows. Instead, you’ll need to download a free tool to do the job: File Types Manager by Nirsoft. We’ve got a complete guide to using File Types Manager to change the icon for a certain file type, so if you think this would be useful for you, give it a read!

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The one type of file that File Types Manager is not good at handling, though, is executable (EXE) files. For that, we’ve got another free tool recommendation—Resource Hacker. And of course, we also have a guide to using it to modify the icon for an EXE file.

Change the Icon of Any Shortcut

Change the icon for a shortcut in Windows is also pretty simple and works the same whether it’s a shortcut to an app, folder, or even Command Prompt command. Right-click the shortcut and choose “Properties.”

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On the “Shortcut” tab, click the “Change Icon” button.

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This opens the standard “Change Icon” window we’ve looked at a couple of times already. Choose one of the default icons or browse to any EXE, DLL, or ICO file that contains icons. After making and applying your selection, you’ll see the new icon in File Explorer, on the Desktop, or on the taskbar if you have your Shortcut pinned there.

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If you want, you can even customize those shortcut icons further by removing (or changing) the arrow overlays or preventing Windows from adding the “- Shortcut” text.

Change the Icon of Apps that Are Pinned to the Taskbar

Icons that are pinned to your taskbar are really shortcuts—they just don’t have the arrow overlay and “- Shortcut” text you normally associated with shortcuts. As such, you can customize their icons in nearly the same way that you customize any shortcut icon. You just need to keep a few things in mind:

  • You can only customize the icons of apps that are actually pinned to the taskbar. If the icon is only on the taskbar because the app is currently running and it isn’t actually pinned there, you can customize it. So, pin it first.
  • If an app is pinned, but is currently running, you’ll need to close the app before you can change the shortcut icon.
  • Just right-clicking a pinned app shows you the app’s jumplist. To access the regular context menu instead, hold the Shift key down while right-clicking the icon. Choose “Properties” from that menu and then the rest of the process will be familiar to you from the previous section.

Once you do so, you can head to Properties and change the icon as normal.

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Change the Icon of any Drive in File Explorer

Unfortunately, there’s no simple built-in way to change the icons for drives in Windows. That doesn’t mean you can’t do it though. The easy way is to use a free app named Drive Icon Changer. There’s also a way that works a bit differently and involves a little Registry editing. You can read all about how to both in our guide to changing drive icons in Windows.

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Drive Icon Changer is definitely the easiest way, though you can do it from the registry if you’d really prefer not to use extra software.


Hopefully, this gives you enough information about changing icons that you can make things look just the way you want them. If you have more advice, be sure to let us know in the comments!

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 02/16/17
  • khamblin

    Nice article. All the answers in one place. I've used all these methods at one time or another. Currently, I have one stubborn $#%*? application that has no "type" icons, only uses the generic Windows icon for all its files, making it difficult to distinguish one type from another. I've used Filetypesman, and I've used an application called Types to change the type icon for the files that I work with. At one time, this worked. Now, it does not.

    I can change the icon, but once I open a file, the icons revert to the generic one. Very frustrating. Since this wasn't always the case, it must be that something added to my system or missing from my system is responsible — I have other small glitches with other (32-bit) applications — but I cannot determine what it is.

    Can any of you think what might be missing?

    No. No viruses. Yes. I've run all the usual things: scannow, SFCFix, chkdsk, Malware bytes, etc. No issues.

  • Chris S (Dr Slinky Mc Velvet)

    Useful article for some but missing essential information about the various icon sizes for the specified OS.

    For Windows 10 Icons should be of the following format, 32 Bit True Colour + Alpha Support. The same applies to icons downloaded from the web.

    Before using any icon it's best to use an icon editor and check that each icon contains the following icon images..

    256 pixels by 32 Bit 64 pixels by 32 Bit 48 Pixels by 32 Bit 40 Pixels by 32 Bit 32 Pixels by 32 Bit 24 Pixels by 32 Bit 20 Pixels by 32 Bit 16 Pixels by 32 Bit

  • Biswa

    The default icon setting saved in Registry. Search in Registry for that specific file type. For example, for .txt file registry key will be:: HKEY_CLASSES_ROOT\txtfile\DefaultIcon

    Check if the icon file path has not changed.

  • khamblin

    Done that. And that is exactly what happens. Using Filetypesman changes the entry. Then I open a file, and the entry reverts. It's like magic. :slight_smile:

  • Biswa

    @kell & @patchel Is the file icon changed to the software icon (which open that file) ?For example, media files icon become VLC icon when anyone set VLC as default media player.

  • khamblin

    For whatever reason, the latest iteration of the software uses only the little generic Windows icon. That is what it always reverts back to when I open a file. Once the file is open, I can change the icon to whatever icon I want to use. It stays in place until I open another file.

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