Technology in terms you understand. Sign up for the Confident Computing newsletter for weekly solutions to make your life easier. Click here and get The Ask Leo! Guide to Staying Safe on the Internet — FREE Edition as my thank you for subscribing!

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.

Become a Patron of Ask Leo! and go ad-free!

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.

Do this

Subscribe to Confident Computing! Less frustration and more confidence, solutions, answers, and tips in your inbox every week.

I'll see you there!

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

  1. 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.)

  2. 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!!

  3. 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.


  4. 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.

  5. I keep shortcuts on the desktop to frequently visited websites, like Reddit, my local public library catalogue, Merriam Webster’s Blossom wordgame and the local (to me) weather. Of course I could screenshot something on each site, crop it, and convert it to an ico file, but I’m surprised there isn’t an automated way of doing this.


Leave a reply:

Before commenting please:

  • Read the article.
  • Comment on the article.
  • No personal information.
  • No spam.

Comments violating those rules will be removed. Comments that don't add value will be removed, including off-topic or content-free comments, or comments that look even a little bit like spam. All comments containing links and certain keywords will be moderated before publication.

I want comments to be valuable for everyone, including those who come later and take the time to read.