How to change shortcut icons on Windows 7 [Guide]

Windows 7 has a variety of desktop customization options. You can change the wallpaper, add new themes and gadgets. In addition, the desktop and Start menu shortcut icons can also be changed. We will focus on the later feature in this post. Read on to learn more.

To add a new shortcut icon, right-click on one of the application icons on the desktop. That should open the software’s properties’ window as below. Then click on the Change Icon option.

Properties' window

When you click on that option a small window with alternative desktop icons should open. Select an icon and then OK. The selected icon will then replace the original icon.

Change Icon window

Another way that you can add alternative Windows 7 desktop icons is to right-click the desktop and select Personalize. Then select the Change Desktop Icons. That should open the following window:

Desktop Icon Settings

From that window you can change some of the desktop icons for system shortcuts, such as Recycle bin, by clicking Change Icon and selecting an alternative. You can also remove the shortcuts from the desktop by removing the tick from the icon check-boxes.

Note the option: Allow themes to change desktop icons. By selecting this option any new Windows 7 theme added will change the desktop icons to its own alternatives. This Microsoft page includes a variety of themes that could change the desktop icons.

To add new desktop icons to Windows 7, you can download more alternatives from icon websites. Websites such as IconArchive have a variety of icons. Input a keyword into its search box to find themed icons. For example, the keyword Windows found the following icons:

IconArchive website

When you have a new icon saved in a folder, open a desktop icon’s property window as before. Click Change Icon and Browse. Select the new icon from the folder that you saved it to. Below I have changed my Opera browser icon to a Windows 8 alternative.

New Icon


Adding new desktop icons is a great way to customize the Windows 7 desktop. Transform your desktop with new Windows 7 themes that include alternative desktop icons.

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  • Frank D

    Thanks for a good find and review.

    I would like to know how to change the default location (%SystemRoot%\system32\SHELL32.dll) to something else, other than doing it every time manually. Those icons go back to Windows 3.1

  • David Roper

    [@Mardel53] MarDel53, I am a grandpa and I have been using Irfanview (IV) for this for years now, too. same method that you do with an ICO folder. I use the old Printkey2000 (freeware) to grab any part of a picture like their face or a logo and then use IV to change it to an ICO.

  • Mardel53

    I just read your posting regarding desktop icons and had to leave a comment. I appreciate your link to icon archive and will use it. But I also would like to add something that I have been doing for a couple of years. I have used the free program Irfanview” to create my own icons. I simply pull up a picture of a family member (full face of grandchild for example) into Irfanview and save it as an ico file into my ico folder. Then I use your method above and browse to that folder. Yes it creates an ico file quite smaller but this is why I use the full face and I have my grandchildren on my desktop.