How to customize your icons in Windows 11

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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 change the user interface. Here are some ways to customize your icons using the default options in Windows and some third-party tools.

Where can you find icons?

There are tons of icons freely available 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) if given the chance.

Warning: There is never a reason for an icon or icon pack to install software on your computer just to download some icons. If you download an icon and find yourself looking at an EXE or MSI file, or any other installer or executable file, stop whatever you’re doing and delete it.

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Individual icons will typically be an ICO file if they were designed for use with Windows. That said, it’s not unusual to download an icon in another image format, such as PNG, SVG, or ICNS if it was designed to work with multiple operating systems. PNGs and SVGs are especially versatile, as they can be easily converted into an icon for any operating system.

You should expect icon packs to come in some type of archive, such as a ZIP, RAR, or 7Z file. The archive file should contain typical icon formats. As before, if you see an executable or something similar, stay away.

There are a handful of great sites that have icons you can download:

If you’re looking for more specific icons, like those specific to a fandom or in a particular style, try a social media group on Facebook, Twitter, or Reddit dedicated to that topic. You may find that some intrepid artist has already created what you’re looking for.

If you can’t find an icon (or icons) you like, don’t worry, you can create your own!

You can make 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 fully up to the task.

You can even make an icon from an image if you like; all you need is GIMP and a little free time.

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How to change your desktop icons in Windows 11

The main icons on the desktop, such as “This PC”, “Recycle Bin”, “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 the empty space on your desktop and click “Personalization.”

Scroll down a bit and select “Themes.”

Scroll down again, then 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 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 any of them if you like, or you can load other icons by clicking “Browse”.

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Navigate to where you saved your icon, click on it, and then click “OK.”

Once you hit OK, there is a preview that will show you what the icon will look like. If you like the change, click “Apply.” If not, click “Restore Default”.

That’s it: the icon should change immediately. If not, right-click on the empty space on your desktop and hit “Refresh” or restart your computer. You can return to the Desktop Icon Settings window at any time and press “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’ve created, or the icon for a folder you have. You’re in luck: it’s even easier to change those types of icons than desktop icons.

Note: There is a little difference between shortcuts and folders. You will use the “Shortcut” tab for shortcuts of any kind and the “Custom” tab for folders.

Find the folder or shortcut you want, right-click it, and then click “Properties” on the right-click context menu.

How to change the icon of a folder

If you’re changing the icon for a folder, select the “Customize” tab at the top, then click “Change Icon.”

How to change the icon of a shortcut

If you are changing the icon of a shortcut, you need to click on the “Shortcut” tab and then click on “Change Icon”. All other steps will be the same.

How to select and apply an icon to a folder or shortcut

The popup window will open in whatever folder, DLL, or EXE contains the current icon. If you are changing a default Windows icon, it will probably be shell32.dll or imageres.dll. If you are changing 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, and then click “OK”.

Note: In this case, we just use the green-blue folder icon found in imageres.dll. There’s no reason its replacement has to be one of those icons.

Once you click “OK”, the Properties folder will display the new icon you have selected. Click “Apply” to confirm the change, then close the Properties window.

Note: If you’re customizing a shortcut, it’ll look a little different, but don’t worry. The step is the same. Just click “Apply”.

Warning: You cannot move an ICO file to a different location if it has been used to change a folder icon without breaking the new icon. It will go back to the previous one automatically if you do. Make sure you put your icon somewhere where it can stay indefinitely. A hidden folder in your main C: directory might be a good place.

The change must take immediately. If not, right-click on the empty space on your desktop and click “Refresh”. You can also just restart your PC.

How to change the icon by file type

We have covered how to change the main desktop icons and how to change the icon of any particular application, shortcut or folder. What if you want to change the icon that is used to represent all files of a certain type?

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There isn’t really a convenient way to do that built into Windows 11, but it can be easily done with Nirsoft’s FileTypesMan tool. Just make sure you get the 64-bit version of the program, as all Windows 11 installations are 64-bit. The download will have a special name or tag, such as “x64” or “64-bit.”

Warning: You should always be wary of downloading strange programs from the Internet. However, in this case, you do not have to worry. Nirsoft has been around for almost as long as Windows, and its 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 on “filetypesman.exe”.

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You’ll see a list of every file type your PC “knows” about as soon as FileTypesMan starts.

All file extensions are listed in FileTypesMan.

Scroll down the list until you find the file type you want. Right-click on the file extension, then click “Edit selected file type”. For this example, we’ll replace the default REG file icon with a quick green color change we did in GIMP.

Warning: Be sure to note where the original icon is stored. There is no easy “Restore Defaults” button that will fix it automatically. If you change it and decide you don’t like it, you’ll have to change it back to the original icon yourself.

Find the line titled “Default Icon” and click the three-dotted button on the far right of the window.

Click “Browse” in the corner of the popup window, navigate to your new icon, click it, and then click “OK.”

Finally, click “OK” at the bottom of the “Edit File Type” window and voila: all the icons for that file type will have changed.

Green REG files instead of the usual blue ones.

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’re going to install custom icons, make sure you put them somewhere you won’t accidentally delete them. A hidden folder in the main C: directory might be a good place.

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