How to Change the Default Folder Icon in Windows

Customizing and hacking the user interface (“Shell”) in Windows is fun. If you want to change the default folder icon with your custom .ico file, this article tells you how. Instructions apply to all versions of Windows, including Windows 10.

Change the Default Folder icon in Explorer

  1. Launch Regedit.exe and navigate to the following location:
    HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\Shell Icons
  2. Create two REG_SZ values namely 3 and 4. To create a new value, from the Edit menu click New, click String Value.
    (Value number 3 points to the shell icon #3 which is the closed folder icon and 4 is supposed to be the open folder icon in earlier versions of Windows. However, new versions of Windows, such as Windows 10 doesn’t distinguish open vs closed folder icons.)
  3. For both values 3 and 4, change the data which points to your custom icon file — e.g., d:\icons\folder.ico
    change folder icon in Windows
  4. Exit the Registry Editor.
  5. Logoff and log back in for the icons to refresh. Alternatively, restart the Explorer shell or force an icon refresh.

Screenshots

Here are a couple of variations I used and how they appear.

change folder icon in Windows
(Blue folder icon from imageres.dll)
change folder icon in Windows
(Green folder icon from imageres.dll)

There are some neat icons inside shell32.dll and imageres.dll. Also, there are sites that provide fancy folder icons which you can download for free. Here are some icons I extracted from Shell32.dll and Imageres.dll which you can use.

change folder icon in Windows

Setting a different “Open” folder icon

You can set a different icon for the “open” folder (vs “closed” folder). Note that the setting has no effect in Windows 10’s File Explorer. But Registry Editor in Windows 10 respects the open folder icon.

For example, in the Shell Icons key, if you set the value data for the string value 3 to the following:



c:\windows\system32\shell32.dll,137

It appears like this:

change folder icon in Windows
(Windows 10’s Registry Editor shows the open folder icon)

Registry File

In earlier versions of Windows, the custom “open folder” icon is reflected in the Explorer navigation pane as well.

(Folder pane in Vista)
(Folder pane in XP)
(RegEdit in Vista)

Hope you found the above tips useful.


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Ramesh Srinivasan is passionate about Microsoft technologies and he has been a consecutive ten-time recipient of the Microsoft Most Valuable Professional award in the Windows Shell/Desktop Experience category, from 2003 to 2012. He loves to troubleshoot and write about Windows. Ramesh founded Winhelponline.com in 2005.

4 thoughts on “How to Change the Default Folder Icon in Windows”

  1. This works just fine for me in Windows 7 but fails completely in my copy of Windows XP SP3. Any thoughts as to why?

    Reply
  2. guys you don’t have to disable thumbnails you can make 2 more values named 5 and 6. 5 is the back of the folder and 6 is the front of the folder. those are used for thumbnails for files inside folders. oh, by the way, does this work in windows 10 1903, and up?

    Reply

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