Many people are unaware that the icons that are used in the default configuration for Windows XP are not fixed but can be changed to suit a PC user's preference. Why should your desktop look like everybody else's? Put your own picture on the folder My Computer. Give all those folder icons some character. In this article we will learn some of the ways to spruce up the computer's appearance.
Where to Find New Icons
Before discussing how to change your icons, we need to know how to find a supply of possible new icons. Every Windows computer already has many files containing a wide range of icons. Many of the program DLL files have icons embedded in them. Also there are some special DLL files that are icon collections. These embedded icons are not immediately visible and viewing them requires either some special software (see list of references below) or one of the Windows procedures given below. Depending on your version of Windows, files with icon collections may include cool.dll, moricons.dll, and shell32.dll. Many other DLL files will have one or two icons embedded. The DLLs are usually in the folders Windows, Windows\System, or in XP in the folder Windows\System32.
If the supply of icons that comes with Windows is too limited for your tastes, collections of icons can be downloaded from many places, some free, some not. There is also software for creating your own icons.
The icons for shortcuts are easy to change in all versions of Windows. Right-click on a shortcut to open the context menu and choose "Properties". The properties sheet contains a button "Change Icon." (Figure 1) Click this button to obtain the box shown in Figure 2.
Figure 1. Properties for a shortcut
Figure 2. Change icon
The entry for "Look for icons in this file:" will show the source of the present icon and the "Browse" button will allow for the selection of a different source file. The various icons contained within a source file will be displayed and the one that you wish can be selected. The source file in Figure 2 is a type known as an icon library. These files have the extension ICL. A file can also consist of just a single icon and nothing else and these files have the extension ICO. Unless you download icon collections from one of the many Internet sources, however, your icons are likely to be in a DLL file. Use the browse function (Figure 3) to search for icon-containing files on your computer. Browsing through files while in the "Change Icon" window will display whatever icons are embedded. Note that the entry for "Files of type:" has several choices. When first looking for icons, it is best to choose "All files".
Figure 3. Browse window for changing icons
The default setting for icons for folders is the same rather boring generic manila folder. If, like me, you have some folders that you would like to individualize, Windows XP makes it easy to change. Right-click on a folder and open "Properties". Click the "Customize" tab on the properties sheet (Figure 4).
Figure 4. Customize tab on folder properties sheet (Windows XP)
Click "Change icon" and proceed as for shortcuts.
Icons for Removable USB Drives
Using various types of external USB drives including thumb or flash drives is very common now. If you have several different removable drives connected, it is easy to confuse them. Windows may assign different drive letters each time, depending on the order in which drives are plugged in. Therefore, an icon unique to each drive can be helpful in keeping straight which is which. It is very easy to have an icon appear in My Computer indicating a particular drive.
Find an icon file with extension .ico that you like and place it on the flash drive or other type of ISB drive. In Notepad or other text editor, create a file called "autorun.inf". (Make sure the extension is INF and not TXT.) In the new file, add the following content, where icon-file.ico stands foe the name of whatever file you have chosen for the icon:
Creating and Editing Your Own Icons
Some references in the last section list some software designed for creating icons but if you feel artistic you can draw your own, using most graphics programs. Or if you have digital photos or other graphics that you like, you can convert them into icon files. The only trick is to remember that icon files have a format of their own and must have the extension ICO. They are typically small files sized either 32x32 or 48x48 pixels. Other sizes are possible but these two are the most common. Color depth is frequently set at 256 colors.
An easy way to make new icons without a lot of special software is to use the Windows accessory Paint that comes with all computers. Use Paint to draw whatever graphic is desired and then save the file as a 32x32 bitmap (extension BMP) with 256 colors. There is one more step and that involves changing the format to ICO. There is a very nice free graphics program called IrfanView, which makes this quite easy. Use IrfanView to open any bitmap file that you created with Paint and then save as a file of type ICO. Presto, you have an icon file. IrfanView is also good for editing, cropping, altering, and enhancing digital photo files and other graphics so it can be used to create icons from your own photos or other graphics. Use IrfanView to open a photo of your dog, crop it or edit it to your taste and then save it as an icon file with extension ICO. The file can then be utilized as an icon as described in the sections above.
A good reference for freeware programs for editing existing icons and for creating new icons is Gizmo's Freeware.
Changing Icons in Windows Vista/7/8
The procedure in the later versions of Windows is similar but there are some differences. Changing icons in these versions is covered at this link.
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