How to change the icons used for any file type on your PC

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This posting will describe how to change the default icons used for any file-type using the free”Icon Phile” program. Imagine this: you have just installed a very nice program that may be outstanding in many respects but inexplicably foists on yours PC some of the ugliest icons you’ve ever seen for the file extensions that it handles.

Or you’ve just downloaded some nifty icon libraries with very nicely done icons for various file types, and you would like to use those instead of the default icons on your system. This how-to will show you how you can do this; it will assume that you have (a) an icon or icons for a file type that you want to change, and (b) an icon or icons that you want to use in their stead, in the form of an icon file (.ICO), an icon library (DLL) or even an executable that might contain the icon(s) you seek.

For the purposes of this posting I will change the default icons for PDF files from those used by my favorite free PDF reader, PDF-XChange Viewer, to another icon I found in a library. The program used: is called Icon Phile. Alas this freeware program is no longer in development but you can find a download link on my Icon Phile review page. Once downloaded unzip the archive in the place you want to keep it, as this program does not require installation. After this go ahead and launch the program.

Icon change before and after

Step by step:

  • The objective now is to find the PDF file extension. Normally, to find most file extensions you would use the main dropdown to switch to the file category/group of interest.

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  • If you can browse the pre-existing groups from the dropdown and find the filetype you seek then you do not need to go through all the steps described here; simply right click on the icon to change it. For system and desktop icons go to the “desktop icons” or “System Files”. None of the available dropdowns contain the PDF filetype, though, so we will need to find it on our own.
  • Click on ’Edit Groups’ in the top right corner. After a bit of activity, the display will revert back to the “compressed files category (which is OK) but a new pane on the left showing all of your system’s file extensions will appear.

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  • Click on “Add group” (see screenshot) and then enter “My custom icons” or any category name you like in the form that appears.

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  • Next scroll down the extensions list on the left pane until you find the extension you are looking for (in this case PDF). Note that pressing the first letter of the extension on the keyboard will immediately jump to that letter in the extensions list. Once you get to PDF drag and drop it into your newly created category. Do this for any others you are interested in changing as well.

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  • When you have all the extension types dragged into your new group (PDF only in this case), go ahead and dismiss the file-type list by clicking on the small ’x’ on the top right of the pane.

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  • Icon Phile will revert back to the original screen that you saw when you first launched the program. From the dropdown, select the group that you created (“My Custom Icons”). Right click on the PDF icon and select “Change icon”.

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  • From the open file dialog, browse to the new icon that you would like to use instead of the current one. You can open .ICO icon files, icon libraries (.DLL only not .ICL) or even executable files and select the icon you want.

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  • That’s it. All you need to do now is click “Apply” on the main screen, exit the program, and your new icons are in effect system-wide (see first screenshot on top of this posting for before/after screenshots).

Note: if you know of a free program that can do this that’s still being development (and that is generally well designed and works well) please let me know in the comments. To download: you can find a download link on my Icon Phile review page.