If you have a file on your computer with an unrecognizable extension, Windows will simply assign a generic file icon to that file. If you work in a corporate environment, this can happen all the time with custom software applications that use proprietary formats.
Even if you are a home user, it might be worth taking the time to change the default icon assigned to a text document or all PDF documents, etc. This tip is really only for customizing the look of Windows to your liking.
In Windows XP, changing the icon for a file type was very easy and could be done through Windows Explorer. Unfortunately, in Windows 7 and Windows 8, this process is more complicated. There you have to manually edit the registry entries, which is not fun at all. Fortunately, there are a couple of free programs out there that do their job without any clutter.
Change the icon for the file type in Windows XP
Step 1. Open “My Computer” and select “Tools” and then “Folder Options”.
Step 2. Click the “File types” tab and you will see a list of all file types registered on your computer with extensions and an icon
Step 3. Scroll down to the file extension for which you want to change the icon, and then select it from the list. Then click the Advanced button at the bottom of the dialog box.
Step 4. Click the Change Icon button at the top. to the right and select the replace icon.
Here’s how to easily change the icon for a file type in Windows XP and Windows Vista. Now let’s talk about Windows 7 and Windows 8.
Change file type icon in Windows 7/8
For Windows 7 and later, there are several free utilities that can change file icons for you without fiddling with the registry. I will mention two that I have used that work well.
Types is a very simple application that only does one thing. It would be nice if the program were a standalone executable that didn’t require installation, but unfortunately it isn’t. Anyway, once you install and run it, you will get a window with all types of files currently registered on the system and their icons.
In my example, I want to change the default icon for text files, so I scrolled down to the TXT extension and selected it. Click the gear icon at the top and the properties window will open.
On the Class tab, you can see the path to the program associated with this file type. In this case, Notepad opens TXT files by default. You can change the default program here if you like, but you can also do this through Explorer.
We are interested in the Icon tab. By default, it shows icons stored in the imageres.dll file stored in the SYSTEM32 directory. This DLL file contains many of the default system icons used on the system.
If you don’t find any suitable icons here, you can read my previous post about extracting icons from EXE and DLL files, or creating your own images and converting them to icons. If you have your own icon, you can click the little yellow folder button and navigate to the icon you want to use.
Just select the icon and close the properties window. You will also see an icon change in the title bar at the very top of the properties window.
As you can see above, I changed the icon for the TXT file type to something else, and now this icon will appear wherever Windows displays it in the operating system.
The second program I really like is from Nirsoft, my favorite company when it comes to free utilities. The program is called FileTypesMan and is better than types because it does not require installation on the system.
After you run it, you can scroll down to the desired file extension using the first column (Extension). In my example, I found the .TXT file extension again, and at the bottom you can see the various activities associated with this extension. This is the same as the Actions tab in Types
When you double-click an entry, a pop-up dialog opens with a range of properties and settings.
Click the little button next to the default icon and select the icon file. You can also tweak many advanced options to show / hide various file extension related settings. If you work a lot with a particular file type and want a better icon than the default, these two programs are the best options.
That’s all. If you have any questions or issues with updating the icon for a specific file type, please let us know in the comments. Enjoy!