It’s not that difficult to provide a custom icon for a shortcut at all. In fact, there are a couple of approaches.
I’ll show you both.
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But first, a word from the website…
Websites have the ability to provide a custom icon in the form of a “default icon”, which can be used for several purposes. The icon, often called “favicon.ico”, is placed in the root of the site. For example, Ask Leo!’s favicon is at https://askleo.com/favicon.ico.
When you bookmark a site, or add it to your Favorites, the favicon is typically used as the icon that appears in the Favorites toolbar or menu – hence, the name: favorites icon. (“ico” is the file format used for icon images.) Some browsers, like Internet Explorer, display the favicon in the browser address bar when you visit a page on that site.
If a site doesn’t provide a favicon, it’s up to the browser to pick one. Usually, it picks its own icon – IE’s ‘E’ icon, Firefox’s fox, and so on.
Pinning a desktop shortcut
When using Internet Explorer in Windows, you can click and hold on the favicon in the address bar and drag it to the desktop to create a shortcut to that page.
Visit the page you want the shortcut to go to, click and hold on the site’s favicon, drag it to the desktop, and release. Windows will create a shortcut using the favicon supplied by the website — or the default browser icon, if the site doesn’t provide one.
What Windows creates in this situation is a special kind of shortcut: a “pinned” shortcut. And while it is possible to change the icon by hand-editing certain files buried in your system, apparently Windows doesn’t provide a user interface for the process.
In other words, there’s no super easy way to change the icon. However, because the icon is that of the site, you may not want or need to change it at this point.
What’s worse about pinned shortcuts is this: if I start Internet Explorer from a pinned shortcut to Ask Leo!, the icon for that run of Internet Explorer becomes the Ask Leo! icon, regardless of the fact that I may browse elsewhere, such as Google.com. The pinned icon is considered the icon of the application it starts, not the content initially shown by the application.
Creating a desktop shortcut another way
Another approach to creating a desktop shortcut is to simply right-click on an empty area on the desktop, click New and then Shortcut.
Shortcuts made this way are typically given the custom icon of the program that would open them. In other words, it would be IE’s icon if that’s your default browser, or Firefox’s icon if that’s your default. On more recent versions of Windows, if the web site provides a favicon, then that may also be used.
If you want something else, then the advantage of this method becomes clear: this shortcut’s icon can easily be changed.
Using a custom icon
Right-click the shortcut icon that you created, and click Properties.
In the Web Document tab, there’s a Change Icon… button. Click that. The result is a Change Icon dialog with a number of icons to select from.
Icons are typically stored in .exe or .dll files. In some versions of Windows, the Change Icon dialog will default to display icons contained within your default browser, which usually contains only the familiar icons for that browser. It appears that Windows 10, at least, will instead display icons from the shell32.dll file contained in Windows itself1. This file contains hundreds of icons to choose from. Just click on the icon you want, and click OK.
Alternately, you can download or create “.ico” image files, and specify them using the Browse… button.
If you want to display the actual site’s icon and it wasn’t used by default, you’ll need to download it.
Getting a site’s custom icon
Right-click that image and click Save picture as…. Navigate to the folder where you want to save the file, and save it with the name askleo_favicon.ico.
You can then specify it as the icon for the shortcut.
With 300 icons to choose from in shell32.dll, you may not need to do this, but it’s nice to know you can.