Senior Computer Tutor
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Make Your Own Icons

or Use Alternate Icons from
Windows & Other Programs

I've been asked if it's possible to change the look of the various icons that appear with the names of files and folders.

Yes, many of these file names have alternative icons available, as will be explained below. To change a yellow folder's appearance, right-click it and go to Properties>Customize>Change Icon.

WinXP users have an additional choice for folder icons by placing an image file inside the folder and clicking Choose Picture under Customize.

Beyond these choices, it's possible to create your own personalized icons with a "painting" program such as Windows Paint (which comes with all versions of Windows). Keep reading for details.

Normally, a file name's icon is part of the program it's associated with (such as MSWord's blue & white W). However, many of these programs offer alternative icons that can be found by right-clicking the current icon and choosing Properties>Change Icon.

Also, Windows comes with a large collection of 'generic' icons that are displayed when you right-click an existing icon and choose Properties>Change Icon.

If you want to make your own icon, you will create an icon-sized 'canvas' using a 'painting' (image-editing) program, and fill the pixels with various colors, which will form your icon's 'picture.'

Here's how to do it with Windows Paint:

Click Start>Programs>Accessories>Paint.

Next, click Image>Attributes and create a 'canvas' of 32x32 pixels. This will produce a white icon-sized square. However, creating a design on a background this small can be difficult, so enlarge the view by clicking on View>Zoom>Large Size. Finally, click Show Grid so you can see the little squares which you will 'paint' with various colors.

Now comes the fun. Use the drawing tools at the left and the colors at the bottom of your work area to create your design. If you want to, say, put your initials in red on a yellow background, do this:

Left-click the yellow of your choice and then click the toolbar Paint Bucket. Click inside the white square and it will fill with yellow.

Now click on red, and then click the Straight Line tool (shown at a 45-degree angle) to begin painting your initials. Choose the Pencil to color one pixel at a time.

If you have "straight" initials, such as FTE, the drawing will be easy. Curved letters are more challenging; but this is where you get to experiment and test your creativity.

If you want to UNDO anything, Paint allows you to Edit>Undo (or Ctrl+Z) your three most recent edits.

Finally, click File>Save As, give the drawing a name, and choose BMP under "Files of Type." The drawing will normally be saved in your My Documents folder, where you can right-click it, choose Rename, and change the BMP extension to ICO.

An even better way to change a BMP file to an ICO file is to open the BMP in Irfanview (free from and choose "ICO - Windows Icon" in the "Save As Type" box, when you do File>Save As.

28 Sample Icons + ABC with an Enlarged View of Layout

To replace an existing icon with your newly-created one, right-click the target, choose Properties>Change Icon, and navigate to your new creation.

Your homemade icons will likely be saved by default in your My Documents folder. However, I recommend creating a special folder for this purpose, and naming it "_Icons". I create this folder inside the System32 folder, which is inside a folder named Windows.

I place my Icons folder inside the System32 folder because when you right-click and go to Properties>Change Icon, your computer looks into this folder for alternative icons. By putting an underscore ( _ ) in front of the name Icons ( _Icons ) this folder will always be the first folder in sequence inside the System32 folder.

If you are unfamiliar with using Windows Explorer to navigate to the System32 folder, click on Start>Search (or Find)>All Files & Folders (or Files & Folders) and type system32 into the Name or Partial Name field. Click Search or File to locate the folder. When it appears, right-click it and choose Send To Desktop (Create Shortcut). Then use the Desktop Shortcut to access System32, whereupon you use File>New>Folder to create your special folder.

It's also possible to convert an existing image, such as a favorite photo, to an icon. Open the JPG in Irfanview and crop a small portion of it (such as someone's face) by drawing a square around it with your left mouse-button held down. Next, click the toolbar Scissors to Cut the selection, followed by clicking the toolbar Clipboard to replace the original photo with the small cropped portion.

Next, click Image>Resize and set the Height and Width to 32 pixels each. If this distorts the image, choose 32 for the largest dimension (H or W) and leave the other as is. Finally, go to File>Save As, give the icon a name, and choose ICO (Icon) as the file type.

In addition to the Windows stock icons and the ones you create, there are hundreds of icons to be found online. (Several of the cartoons you see here — Mickey Mouse, Fred Flinstone, etc) I found online by typing FREE ICONS into Google. I also clicked on Images so that thumbnail views of many of the icons could be easily seen.

Here are a few samples, along with a simple example of making a multi-color "ABC" icon — the small image is the actual 32x32 icon, while the large image is how it looked while I was creating it in Windows Paint.

© Donald Ray Edrington — All Rights Reserved

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