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How do I change the icon of a desktop shortcut?

I created a shortcut for the “Safely Remove Hardware” utility, but now I
want to use a different icon for it. How?

Changing the icon for a desktop shortcut is really easy. Where most people
trip up is finding an icon to choose from. The good news is that there’s a huge
collection of icons already in Windows ready for your use, if you know where to
look.

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If you’ve created a
substitute safely remove hardware
icon on your desktop, from
my previous article
on the subject, you probably have something that looks
like this:

Safely Remove Hardware Desktop Default Icon

That would be the default icon for the shortcut.

To change the icon of this or almost any desktop shortcut, right click on
the shortcut and click on Properties:

Safely Remove Hardware shortcut Properties

Click on Change Icon…:

Safely Remove Hardware shortcut Change Icon dialog

This is where things get interesting. You’ll see that exactly one icon is
presented for you to choose from. That icon is actually extracted from the
shortcut target, in this case rundll.exe. But using the
Browse… button we can select a different file to get the
shortcut from:

Browse for Icon file

Note that I’ve selected shell32.dll, or more completely
C:\Windows\System32\shell32.dll“. Press OK, and the Change
Icon dialog suddenly has many icons to choose from:

Change Icon dialog with shell32.dll opened

On my system I have something like 234 icons to choose from. After selecting
one and OKing my way out, my desktop shortcut now looks like
this:

Safely Remove Hardware shortcut with new icon

Naturally you can select other files containing icons including most .exe
and .dll files, as well as .ico icon files. However with 200+ icons to choose
from in shell32.dll it’s rare that I need to look anywhere else for something
appropriate.

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14 comments on “How do I change the icon of a desktop shortcut?”

  1. I tried to change the icon of an HTML desktop shortcut, but the tabs were missing to make this change. What do I do now?

    Reply
  2. Leo, thanks for the additional places to look for icons. Here is what I did and anyone please feel free to advise if this is not a good idea.

    Many items on the All Programs list had the plain generic folder icon. It looked like a sea of vanilla folders. Made a new folder on the Desktop (or in My Documents) to store the more descriptive icons that correspond to each program. Found these in the program files. Select and copy a file showing its icon (not a shortcut icon) into the new folder. Icon may copy with the .exe or another suffix. Change the suffix of the copied icon to .ico.

    Then, in All Programs, to change the icon of a program, right click it, choose properties, customize, change icon. Browse to your folder; open, select the icon, choose apply, OK, etc. One caution, clicking “restore default” changed all the icons on All Programs back to the plain vanilla folders. (Fortunately was able to use System Restore to fix this.)

    Reply
  3. In XP, I am locked out of changing shortcut deshtop icons. Even the original web icons are gone, and I just have the generic MS Dos icon, that I cannot change. Please help me. Thanks.

    Reply
  4. Hi,
    This is what’s happening: I have some shockwave games shortcuts on my desktop and they are now blank (the little box white inside with the icon “arrow” showing. I couldnt’ access the game, it says the “the shortcut.exe is missing” and it gave me the option to find it myself.
    I restarted the computer and the icons are now showing thru with the proper names but once again, I click on them and gives me the same message. (does that make sense to you?) I can’t access any of my games…. help!!

    Reply
  5. Read the article and It is very clear and concise. However I have had a problem with IE7 in that I cannot change the icon of a shortcut. I follow the normal procedure to do so, and having chosen the icon it appears in the properties box, but when I click apply the icon on the screen just flickers and reverts to the windows default shortcut icon. I see that this is a common problem in IE7, but I have yet to see a solution

    Reply
  6. Article dated Nov. 6th, 2008 regarding changing icons on the desktop with IE7, same problem what is the fix. Searched the Web and no one has published one that I could find that works. Does anyone have a fix.

    Reply
  7. I’m attempting to change a DOS program shortcut icon in Vista Home. When I click on the desktop shortcut Icon and select Properties I get a General Tab & Program Tab plus several other Tabs. The Program Tab Window has a [Change Icon] button following your instructions changes the Icon in the Program Window but not in the General Tab Window or the Desktop Icon? Note:The Dos program works normally when the the desktop icon is selected.

    Reply
  8. my head’s spinning… since with Vista I can’t find a way to locate original program logo icons
    (such as Yahoo, AltaVista, GMail, etc. and if I pick a generic icon from Billy Gates’ choices, that generic icon disappears after I use it once, and it reverts back to the default pagey looking one. Help!

    Reply
  9. I am a Insurance Agent and have saved my the companies I use web site shortcuts to my desktop but would like to change the icons to quicker reconize my choices! I have gone to change icon tab and click “apply” but I get a shortcut message problem error, how can I fix this issue.

    Reply
  10. how can I make my own icon – I’d like to use the company logo for a little icon top open web browser that goes to our internal homepage…do I have to buy specialized software or can this be done with some type of free software? 🙂
    Thank you!

    Many graphics programs will let you edit an image and then save it in “.ico” format. The favicon generator will also generate a .ico (make sure to click the “merge” with the large icons options). Then in right click on your shortcut, and there should be a “Change Icon” button – simply select the icon that you created.

    Leo
    29-Dec-2009

    Reply
  11. Your solution helped me correct a problem that makes no sense to me. The default icon for a program I installed reverted to the generic application icon after I pinned it to the Taskbar in Windows 7. This generic icon appeared on the Desktop, the Taskbar, and even in Explorer, and nothing I did corrected it. Although I still don’t have the true icon displayed, at least I have one that is representative. Thank you!

    Reply
  12. Try taking a screenshot of the original icon, before it reverts to the generic one. Then paste it into a graphics editor and eliminate all but the icons within is own boundaries. Then name and save this file as an .ico or if your graphics program does not save in this format then and go to the favicon generator (link above) and upload it for the conversion.

    If you can get a list of Windows icons to chose from but Dos programs or other programs revert to a generic icon then take a screenshot of the list and edit out the one you would like and follow the procedures above.

    Reply

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