Windows Vista Tutorial

Customize folder icons in Windows Vista or Windows XP

Custom folder icons By default, most folders display the standard "folder" icon; other, special folders, like your Favorites, Music, Pictures, Movies, Download folders, and others, have their own icon. This tutorial shows you how to customize folder icons for any folder in Windows Vista. Windows comes with plenty of built-in icons bundled, but you can also use any "ICO" file you want. The next tutorial will also show you how to convert any picture into ICO format so that you can use the ICO format icon for folders on your computer.


Customize your folder icons with a built-in Windows icon

To customize folder icons on your computer, right-click on the folder whose icon you want to change to another picture of your choice: from the context menu that opens, choose Properties. Windows will open the folder properties dialog that allows you to configure folder options, including the folder's icon. Click on the last tab, labeled "Customize": under the Folder Icon section, Windows gives you a warning before displaying the Change Icon button:

Folder Icon options in Windows Vista

Windows Vista includes an option that allows you to configure the preview file of a folder: this is the file which will be displayed in certain Windows Explorer views: if you customize the folder icon, Vista will no longer show a preview file, but will display instead the icon of your choice.

Custom folder icon options and settings Click on the Change Icon button to open the "Change Icon for folderName folder" dialog that displays the default folder icon and system icons contained in the resource file "shell32.dll" (just know that this file contains many of the system icons you are already familiar with).

Notice the horizontal scrollbar button: there are several screen of icons to choose from; when you found a folder icon you would like to use, double click on it to select the image and return to the Folder Properties dialog: from there, click OK, and your new icon will be used for the folder you just customized.

(In Windows Vista, the icon preview and the actual folder icon do not always match: Microsoft's team has updated some of the Windows XP icons to match Windows Vista's look-and-feel.)

Custom folder icon in Windows Vista Your folder now displays the icon of your choice, making the folder quickly identifiable among other folders sharing the same default folder icon.

To restore a folder's settings and use the folder icon, and no longer the custom icon, follow the same procedure, but click on the Restore Defaults button instead of picking an icon. 

Use a program's icon as folder icon

Programs, or "compiled executables", include embedded into them resources like icons: this is how a single application file can have a custom icon displayed for it. Just like you can use any of the built-in icons, choosing a program as icon will instruct Windows to extract and display the icons contained in the application, so that you can use them as folder icons.

Customize folder icons using an application's icon Again, right-click on the folder whose icon you want to customize, and choose Properties. Navigate to the Customize tab, and click on the Change Icon button to launch the "Change Icon for folderName folder" dialog that lists all the default folder icons.

This time, click on the Browse button to navigate to the C:\Program Files\ directory (or wherever the program whose icons you want is located), get to the program in question, and double-click it. For purpose of illustrations, this tutorial uses the iTunes executable as program icon - but you can use any application you like.

Double-click on the icon you want to select it and return to the folder properties dialog, and then click OK to accept the new folder icon.

Custom program icon for folders Your folder is now using as icon one of the icons you picked from the program you selected. In our case, the test folder now displays iTunes' main icon as folder icon. Most professionally developed applications will contain multiple dimensions of the same icon, which will accommodate the different folder views. If the folder icon looks blurry or "pixelated", this means that the programmers have not included some icon dimensions in their programs, and Windows is forced to resize the icon as needed. No big deal - the icon just doesn't look as good as if the proper icon size had been included in the application.

Use your picture or any image as folder icon

As long as you have the picture you want as folder icon in ICO format, you can use it: if you don't, read first our tutorial on converting images and pictures to ICO format.

File types you can use as folder icon To set one of your pictures as folder icon in Windows Vista or Windows XP, right-click on the folder - choose Properties, and select the Customize tab. Click on Change Icon, and then on Browse to pick an image file from your computer. This time, instead of going to the Program Files folder, you will go to the folder where you saved the pictures you want to use as folder icon. As shown on the screenshot, the only files Windows will accept are ICO files, DLL resource files, or EXE (executables, or programs).

Custom picture as folder icon in Windows Vista or Windows XP Double-click to select the picture you chose as folder icon and get back to the Change Icon for folderName dialog - then click OK: your folder now displays the picture you chose as folder icon.

Keep in mind that unless you create an true icon file containing multiple dimensions of your icon (using a professional icon editor), your icon may look a bit blurry depending on the folder views you are looking at (simply because, as we explained above, Windows would have to resize the image "up" in some cases). But as you can see from the screenshot below, any folder icon whose picture comes from an icon at least 100 pixels wide/high will do just fine, and look great:

Folder with custom folder icon in Windows Vista

...And this is how you can use built-in icons, custom images, or pictures as folder icons in Windows Vista (and Windows XP)!

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