One of the best things about Windows is the freedom it gives you to customize your user experience. There are dozens of programs available to modify the user interface. Here are some ways to customize your icons with Windows default options and some third-party tools.
Where can you find icons?
There are tons of icons available for free on the internet. Just be careful – many sites prey on people looking for things like icon packs and will install malware or potentially unwanted programs (PUPs) given the chance.
Warning: There is never a reason for an icon or an icon package to install software on your computer just to download icons. If you download an icon and find yourself looking at an EXE or MSI file – or any other installer or executable file – stop what you’re doing and delete it.
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Individual icons will usually be an ICO file if they were designed for use with Windows. That said, it’s not uncommon to download an icon in another image format, like PNG, SVG, or ICNS if it was designed to work with multiple operating systems. PNGs and SVGs are particularly versatile because they can be easily converted into an icon for any operating system.
You should expect icon packages to come in some sort of archive file, like a ZIP, RAR, or 7Z file. The archive file should contain typical icon formats. Like before, if you see an executable or something, stay away.
There are a handful of big sites that have icons you can download:
If you’re looking for more specific icons, like those specific to a particular fandom or style, try a social media group on Facebook, Twitter, or Reddit dedicated to that topic. You may find that an intrepid artist has already created what you are already looking for.
If you can’t find an icon (or icons) you like, don’t worry: you can create your own!
You can create your own icons
You can always create your own custom icons if you don’t want to download an icon or icon pack from the internet. There’s really no limit to what you can do here except your imagination – free tools like GIMP and Inkscape are quite up to the task.
You can even create an icon from an image if you want – all you need is GIMP and some free time.
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How to Change Your Desktop Icons on Windows 11
The main desktop icons – like “This PC”, “Trash”, “Network” and a few others – are the easiest icons to change. Windows 11 has built-in options to do just that.
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Right-click on empty space on your desktop and click “Personalization”.
Scroll down a bit and select “Themes”.
Scroll down again and click on “Desktop icon settings”.
Select the icon you want to change, then click “Change icon”. This example will replace the “This PC” icon.
When you click “Change Icon,” you’ll see a whole bunch of other Windows icons that you probably recognize. You are viewing the contents of Imageres.dll, which contains several hundred default Windows icons. You can choose from these if you wish, or you can load other icons by clicking “Browse”.
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Navigate to where you saved your icon, click it, then click “OK.”
Once you click OK, there is a preview that will show you what the icon will look like. If you like the change, click “Apply”. Otherwise, click “Restore Defaults”.
That’s it – the icon should change immediately. If not, right-click on an empty space on your desktop and press “Refresh” or restart your computer. You can return to the Desktop Icon Settings window at any time and click “Restore Default” to undo any of your customizations.
How to Change the Icon of an Individual Folder or Shortcut
Maybe you don’t want to change one of the main desktop icons. Maybe you want to change the shortcut for a specific program, the icon for a shortcut you created, or the icon for a folder you have. You’re in luck – it’s even easier to change these types of icons than desktop icons.
To note: There is a small difference between shortcuts and folders. You will use the “Shortcut” tab for shortcuts of all kinds and the “Customize” tab for folders.
Find the folder or shortcut you want, right-click it, and then click “Properties” in the right-click context menu.
How to change a folder icon
If you’re changing a folder’s icon, select the “Customize” tab at the top, then click “Change Icon.”
How to change a shortcut icon
If you’re changing a shortcut’s icon, you need to click the “Shortcut” tab instead, then click “Change Icon”. All other steps will be the same.
How to select and apply an icon to a folder or shortcut
The pop-up window will open in any folder, DLL or EXE that contains the current icon. If you are changing a default Windows icon, it will probably be shell32.dll or imageres.dll. If you change the icon for a specific program, it will almost always be the program’s executable.
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Click “Browse”, navigate to the desired icon, select the desired icon, then click “OK”.
To note: In this case, we simply used the green-blue folder icon found in imageres.dll. There’s no reason your replacement should be one of these icons.
Once you click “OK”, the Properties folder will show the new icon you selected. Click on “Apply” to validate the modification, then close the Properties window.
To note: If you customize a shortcut, it will look a little different, but don’t worry. The approach is the same. Just click “Apply”.
Warning: You cannot move an ICO file to a different location if it was used to change a folder’s icon without breaking the new icon. It will automatically revert to the old one if you do. Be sure to put your icon somewhere where it can stay indefinitely. A hidden folder in your main C: directory might be a good place.
The change should take effect immediately. If not, right-click on the empty space on your desktop and click “Refresh”. You can also simply restart your PC.
How to change icon by file type
We’ve covered how to change the main desktop icons and how to change the icon for a particular application, shortcut, or folder. What if you want to change the icon used to represent all files of a certain type?
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There really isn’t a practical way to do this built into Windows 11, but it’s easily doable with Nirsoft’s FileTypesMan tool. Just be sure to grab the 64-bit version of the program, as all Windows 11 installations are 64-bit. The download will have a special name or label, such as “x64” or “64-bit”.
Warning : You should always be wary of downloading strange programs from the Internet. However, in this case, you don’t have to worry. Nirsoft has been around almost as long as Windows, and their programs are reliable.
Unzip FileTypesMan from its ZIP file wherever you want. It doesn’t install, and it doesn’t care where you run it from either. Just double-click “filetypesman.exe”.
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You will see a list of all the file types that your PC “knows” as soon as you launch FileTypesMan.
Scroll through the list until you find the file type you want. Right-click on the file extension, then click “Change selected file type”. For this example, we’ll replace the default REG file icon with a quick green recolor we did in GIMP.
Warning: Be sure to note where the original icon is stored. There is no easy “Reset to Default” button that will automatically solve it for you. If you change it and decide you don’t like it, you’ll have to replace it yourself with the original icon.
Find the row labeled “Default Icon” and click the three-dot button on the far right of the window.
Click “Browse” in the corner of the pop-up window, navigate to your new icon, click it, then click “OK”.
Finally, click “OK” at the bottom of the “Change File Type” window, and you’re done – all icons for that file type will have changed.
If you move or delete the new icon, each instance of that icon will be replaced with a generic white rectangle instead of the new one you chose or the original icon. If you plan to install custom icons, be sure to put them somewhere where you won’t accidentally delete them. A hidden folder in the main C: directory might be a good place.
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