It’s surprising that Windows doesn’t have a built-in option to allow users to set custom icons for file types. If you have a custom file type and the corresponding program doesn’t have a nice-looking icon in its .exe or .dll resource, you can change or customize the default icon for that file type manually.
This article explains how to change the default icon for a file type using different methods in Windows. Instructions apply to all versions of Windows, including Windows 10
How to Change the Default Icon for a File Type?
You can change the default icon for a file type using the built-in Registry Editor. In the second method, let’s see how to change the default icon using Default Programs Editor.
Method 1: Change file type icon using the Registry Editor
Let’s assume you want to change the file type icon for .txt files, and here is how to do that.
- Click Start, type
regedit.exeand press ENTER
- Navigate to the following branch:
- In the right-pane, note down the value data for
txtfile). This is the user chosen (via Default Programs or Open with dialog) Programmatic Identifier for the file extension.
Registry Branch Not Found?
- If the
UserChoicebranch does not exist, navigate to the following branch:
- In the right-pane, note down the
(default)value data (e.g.
- Navigate to the following key (where
txtfileis the Prog ID noted in Step 2 or Step 4 above)
DefaultIconkey does not exist by default, you need to create it manually.
- In the right-pane, double-click
(default)and mention the path to your custom icon (.ico file or reference to a icon inside a EXE/DLL file. See “Icons From DLL/EXE Files” paragraph at the end of this article).
- Edit the
(default)value data, mentioning the path to a icon file. For this example, I used a notepad icon file from the web, saved it to a permanent location and mentioned the full path.If you’re using a custom icon file, make sure it’s at least 128 x 128, although it’s not a rule but this is to make sure icons look nice when folder view is set to large or extra large icons.
- Exit the Registry Editor.
- Logoff and login back, or refresh the icons and see if the Text file icons are now updated.
Icons From DLL/EXE Files
If you don’t have a custom .ico file, you may use the icon picker dialog box to choose an icon from a EXE/DLL file. To launch the icon picker dialog, right-click on a folder in your system, click Properties. Click the Customize tab, and click Change Icon… button. Use the icon picker to choose the icon and make a note of the index. The index starts from “0” and you need to proceed vertically when counting (top to bottom.)
imageres.dll and note down the icon index, simply cancel the icon picker dialog and close folder properties dialog.
For example, to set the
260th icon in Shell32.dll, mention the following path, in Step 8:
To make it clear, this procedure doesn’t change the file type associations, only the icon assigned to that file type. If the icons don’t update even if you restart Windows, clear and rebuild the icon cache.
As the icon change is made to the ProgId txtfile in the registry, it also affects the other file extensions that use the same ProgId. For instance, in my system, the txtfile ProgID is being used by
.wtx file extensions. Those files will also show up with the new icon.
To know which file extensions are using a ProgID (i.e., txtfile), run this command in the Command Prompt window:
assoc | findstr /i "txtfile"
RELATED: See article How to Remove File Type Associations Using the Registry Editor for more information on File extension → ProgID mapping.
It’s possible to change the default icon for a file type without affecting other file types. To do that, you’ll need to create a new file class or ProgID for the file extension, and assign the default icon in the newly created file class.
Method 2: Change file type icon using Default Programs Editor
Don’t want to edit the registry to change file type icons? There are 3rd party tools like Default Programs Editor and FileTypesMan that can change the file type icons and association settings.
Default Programs Editor is a very useful tool which helps you to edit file type associations, add or remove AutoPlay handlers and static context menu entries. We’ve covered Default Programs Editor before. Default Programs Editor – A Useful File Association Editor for Windows
In this method, let us see how you can accomplish the task using the Default Programs Editor.
- Download Default Programs Editor, unzip and run the executable.
- Select File Type Settings
- Click Icon
- Select the file extension for which you want to change the icon, in the next screen.
- This screen shows the current icon for the file type. To change it, click on the Browse button.
- In the icon picker dialog that’s displayed, browse and locate an icon, or point to a custom .ico file if you have one. The built-in imageres.dll and shell32.dll files contain many icons for you to choose from.
- Click the Save Icon button to save the changes to the registry.
As you can see in the screenshot, you also have the option to save the settings to a file. In case you need to apply the changes to several computers, you can output the settings to a .REG file. This can be done by clicking the arrow mark near the Save Icon button, and choosing Save to .reg file. You can deploy or apply the .reg file on other computers without having to run the utility again.
That’s it! The default icon for .txt file type is changed would now refresh or update automatically!
Method 3: Change file type icon using FileTypesMan
FileTypesMan is an alternative to the Folder Options “File Types” tab (XP-era) in Windows. It displays the list of all file extensions and types registered on your computer. For each file type, the following information is displayed: Type Name, Description, MIME Type, Perceived Type, Flags, Browser Flags, and more. FileTypesMan also allows you to easily edit the properties and flags of each file type, as well as it allows you to add, edit, and remove actions in a file type. This utility works in all Windows versions including, Windows 10.
%SystemRoot%\system32\imageres.dll,-102 is the Windows-default icon for .txt files.
After setting the default icon to
%SystemRoot%\system32\imageres.dll,14 via the icon picker dialog, here is how it shows up:
Change the icon for unknown and extensionless files
File types that are not registered with the system and files that have no extension are assigned a generic icon from
shell32.dll,0 by default. The unknown or generic icon for unregistered file types and extensionless files can be customized as per your choice so that you don’t have to see the boring icon anymore.
Windows stores the icon setting for unknown file types and extensionless files in this registry key:
The (default) or the unnamed value points to the following icon resource by default:
Using the Registry Editor (Regedit.exe), you can change the (default) value so that it points to a .ico file that you already have or an icon resource inside a .dll or .exe file by mentioning the file name and resource identifier.
Using the Icon picker (a.k.a. the Change Icon dialog), you can use a relevant icon in
shell32.dll, 224 that can be assigned for unregistered and extensionless files. You just need to replace the existing Value data (
%SystemRoot%\System32\shell32.dll,224 using the Registry Editor or using the REG files below.
Logoff and login back to your account.
Here is how it looked before:
We’ve changed that to:
Hope the above guide helped you change file type icons on your Windows 10 computer easily!
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About the author
Ramesh Srinivasan founded Winhelponline.com back in 2005. He is passionate about Microsoft technologies and he has been a Microsoft Most Valuable Professional (MVP) for 10 consecutive years from 2003 to 2012.