Giniko-Chan's How To Install Icons Updated 29 February 2004

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How To Install Icons For Windows



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What You Need to Know First

To use these instructions, you will need to know the following:



What Are Icons

Icons are those little images that are associated with files and folders. They help give a visual representation of what that file is for. You see these icons on the desktop or whenever you open a file folder using Windows Explorer. Icons are normally stored in one of two places: inside the file itself (if it is an executable program or .dll file) or, more importantly for our purposes, in an icon folder, which is just a folder where we choose to put icon files. What's really neat about these icons on Windows is you change them to anything you want!



Problems with Icon Colors

Before Windows 98, icons had to have only 16 colors. Windows 95 could be modified to show icons with 256 colors but it normally could deal with only 16 color icons. With the introduction of Windows 98, icons could take on more colors, 256 colors being the normal. You can do a lot with 256 colors.

There are two things you need to do to display icons with 256 colors on Windows:

  1. The display must be set to High Color ("thousands of colors" or 16-bit) or True Color ("millions of colors" or 32-bit).
  2. Windows must be told to use all possible colors for icons. This step is different for each Windows operating system.

For Windows XP, icons are always displayed using all possible colors and the desktop is already set for Medium Color (16-bit) or High Color (32-bit) mode so you should have no problems with icon colors. However, to change the icons for system icons, you still need to access the Effects dialog box. Do this by double-clicking on the Display icon in Control Panel or right-clicking on the desktop background (away from any icon) and select Properties from the context menu. Click on the Appearance Tab then click on "Effects...".

For Windows 98/ME and Windows 2000, there is an option built into the Display settings of Control Panel which allows icons to be displayed at their best. To set this option, double-click the Display icon in Control panel or right-click on the desktop (away from any icon) and select Properties from the context menu. Then select the Effects tab to show the Effects dialog box. In the list of check boxes is an option labeled "Show Icons using all possible colors". Make sure this box is checked then click OK.

For Windows 95 and Windows NT 4.0, you need to run a utility from Eclispit (formerly known as Impact Software, and who also make an icon editor called Microangelo) called Icon Color Level. This will allow Windows 95 and Windows NT 4.0 to make use of icons with more than 16 colors. Icon Color Level is a program Impact Software released for free about the time Windows 95 was released. We have a copy of it here on Otaku World in the Utilities Area of the Toy Chest. Just set your screen color resolution to High or True Color, run Icon Color Level and enjoy the view!



How Icons are Distributed on Otaku World

On Otaku World, icon collections come in three forms: individual icon files, .DLL files, and .ICL files. These are archived as .ZIP files to make them smaller and take less time to download. After you download the archive, you will need to extract its contents using an archive program that handles ZIP files. When you are done unzipping the archive, you will have one or more files ending in either .ICO, .DLL, or .ICL.

A .ICO file contains a single icon.

A .DLL can contain more than one icon and therefore are easier to handle. Unfortunately, not all icon collections Otaku World gets are bundled as .DLL files.

.ICL is a format for icon collections introduced with Windows 95 and supported on all later versions of Windows. This file is called an Icon Library file. It not only holds the icon images but also allows the icons in the library to be named. However, you need a program that understands the Icon Library format to view those names ( Eclipsit's Microangelo has this support). The individual steps for installing icons under Windows detailed later explain how to handle .ICL Icon Libraries (they are treated the same way as .DLL files).

After unzipping the icons from the ZIP archive file, copy the icons to your favorite icon folder. Although Windows maintains its own icon folder, Windows can use icons stored anywhere on your hard drive. Besides, it is better for you in case you want to update or delete icons: you will know where they are and be confident in the knowledge that all the icons in your favorite icon folder are not part of Windows and will not be affected if you upgrade or patch Windows.

Making use of icons is a pretty straightforward for Windows starting with Windows 95. Older versions of Windows such as Windows 3.x and Windows NT 3.x require slightly different steps.



Installing Icons on Windows 95, Windows 98, Windows ME, Windows NT 4.0, Windows 2000, and Windows XP

Windows 95/Windows NT 4.0: you can change icons on shortcuts and file associations only! You cannot change icons on actual programs. Shortcuts allow you to put an icon on your desktop and connect it with a program, allowing you to run that program directly from the desktop. You can also put shortcuts in other folders to the same program without having to copy the program to many different locations. Shortcuts are usually designated by a little arrow in the lower left corner of the icon (Windows adds this arrow).

File associations are used by Windows to determine what to do if you double-click or open a file in Windows Explorer or from the desktop. For example, files ending in .TXT are usually associated with WordPad or Notepad and so double-clicking a .TXT file will cause WordPad to run and load that text file automatically. If you change the icon of a file association, you change it for all files of that type everywhere. However, since file associations are usually for connecting file types to programs, Windows will use any icons from the associated program instead of any icon you may select from somewhere else.

Windows 98/ME, Windows 2000, Windows XP not only support changing icons for shortcuts and file associations but they allow changing the system icons as well. This is accomplished from the Effects dialog box available in the Display settings of Control Panel.

To view your new icons, run Windows Explorer and open your icon folder. If you have a collection of individual icon files (ending in .ICO), you will see the icons displayed for you in the Explorer's window. If necessary, select Large Icons from the View menu to properly see them.

To view the icons stored in a .DLL collection of icons, you will need to take the same steps you would normally take to actually change the icon of any shortcut.



Changing icons on shortcuts

Here are the steps to change an icon on a shortcut:

  1. In Windows Explorer, select a file and create a shortcut (either by opening the File menu and choosing Create Shortcut or by right-clicking on the file and choosing Create Shortcut from the menu that appears). Don't worry about this new shortcut as you can delete it later. If you want to change the icon for an existing shortcut, just select the existing shortcut instead.
  2. Select the new (or existing) shortcut then choose Properties from the File menu (or right-click on the shortcut and choose Properties).
  3. Click on the Shortcut tab at the top of the dialog box.
  4. Click on Change Icon. You will be presented with a list of default icons for the file associated with this shortcut. These icons can come from the file itself (if it is a .EXE, .DLL, or .SCR file) or from Windows. However, these are not the icons you want (or you wouldn't be changing them).
  5. Click Browse and go find the .ICO, .DLL or .ICL that contains the icon(s) you want to look at. Select the file and click OK in the Browse dialog box.
  6. In the Files of Type list, you can select "Icon Files", "Programs", "Library", "Icons", and "All Files". Selecting "Icon Files" (the default setting) will show all files ending in .EXE ("Programs"), .DLL ("Libraries"), and .ICO ("Icons"). To access .ICL Icon Libraries, you will need to select "All Files" and look for files ending in .ICL.
  7. In the Current icon list, you will now see all the icons from the selected file.
  8. Select an icon and click OK to change that shortcut's icon. Otherwise click Cancel to leave the original icon alone.
  9. If you created this shortcut and you want to get rid of it, select it then open the File menu and choose Delete or right-click on the short-cut and choose Delete.

Again, these steps are used to change the icons of an existing shortcut (or create a new shortcut you want to keep). Note: if you create a shortcut in Windows Explorer and you want that shortcut on the desktop, just drag it from Windows Explorer to the desktop. The shortcut will be copied onto the desktop. Then, if desired, you can safely delete the original shortcut you created.



Changing icons on file assocations

Note: Windows should normally be allowed to handle all icons in file associations. Making a mistake changing icons for file associations can lead to problems which may not be easily corrected. Proceed with these steps at your own risk.

If you want to change the icon for a file association, do the following:

  1. In Windows Explorer, Windows 98/ME and earlier, open the View menu and choose Options. Windows 2000 and Windows XP, open the Tools menu and choose Folder Options.
  2. Click the File Types tab to view all file associations and their current icons.
  3. From the list, select the file association you want to change. The file extensions used by the association will appear in the Details box below the list.
  4. Once you have found the right association, click on Edit (Windows 98/ME, Windows NT 4.0) or Advanced (Windows 2000/Windows XP).
  5. In the Edit File Type dialog box, click Change Icon. At this stage, if you are changing the icon for the first time, write down the path that appears in the File Name box. You will need this path to restore the original icon if you want to put back the proper file association icon.

    Avoid clicking Set Defaults, whatever you do! This can break the file association and you will have to reinstall the program that set up that file association in the first place.

  6. Click Browse and go find the .ICO, .DLL, or .ICL file that contains the icons you want to use, select it and click OK to close the Browse dialog box.
  7. In the Current Icon list, you will now see all the icon you can choose from.
  8. Select an icon and click OK to change the file association's icon. Otherwise click Cancel to leave the original icon alone.
  9. Click OK in the File Type dialog box to close it. The association's icon is now changed.


Restoring icons on file assocations

To restore a file association's original icon, do the following:

  1. In Windows Explorer, Windows 98/ME and earlier, open the View menu and choose Options. Windows 2000 and Windows XP, open the Tools menu and choose Folder Options.
  2. Click the File Types tab to view all file associations and their current icons.
  3. From the list, select the file association you want to change. The file extensions used by the association will appear in the Details box below the list.
  4. Once you have found the right association, click on Edit (Windows 98/ME, Windows NT 4.0) or Advanced (Windows 2000/Windows XP).
  5. In the Edit File Type dialog box, enter the path you wrote down when you first changed the icon.

    Avoid clicking Set Defaults, whatever you do! This can break the file association and you will have to reinstall the program that set up that file association in the first place.

  6. Click OK in the File Type dialog box to close it. The association's icon is now restored.


Further Notes

Important: once you have changed the icon for a shortcut or file association, you must leave the icon file you used where it is! Windows will always go to that file for the icon. If you move, rename, or delete the icon file, Windows will no longer be able to use the icons from that file and will show a generic icon instead.

Note: icons are stored in program files as well and it is possible to use icons from another program in your shortcuts or file associations. Often, these program files have more than one icon to choose from. So if the icon to a program is not to your liking, it is possible the program contains other icons to choose from. Use the steps mentioned earlier for changing an icon on a shortcut except there is no need to browse for the program file as all icons that are available in the program will be shown.

You have now successfully viewed and changed icons under Windows! Have fun customizing your desktop!



Installing Icons on Windows 3.x, Windows NT 3.x

Viewing and changing icons in Windows 3.x is relatively straightforward as they are basically the same process. Whenever a program is installed, it will usually create a file group with program items representing all the files for that program. The icon for any program item can be changed under Windows 3.x and Windows NT 3.x. To change an icon for a program item, do the following:

  1. Highlight the program item you want to change, open the File Menu and choose Properties.
  2. Click Change Icon.
  3. In the File Name box, type in the path to the icon file or .DLL icon collection you want to use. Click in the Current Icon list to make Windows load the icon(s).
  4. You can select an icon from this list or enter another path name in the File Name box to get a different icon file or .DLL icon collection.
  5. Select an icon and click OK.
  6. Click OK again to close the Program Item Properties dialog box. The icon has now been changed!

Because you have to type in the path to the icon file, you may want to put all of your new icons into a folder in your root folder, for example, C:\ICONS.

Note: icons are stored in program files as well and it is possible to use icons from another program in your shortcuts or file associations. Often, these program files have more than one icon to choose from. So if the icon to a program is not to your liking, it is possible the program contains other icons to choose from. Use the steps mentioned earlier for changing an icon on a shortcut except there is no need to browse for the program file as all icons that are available in the program will be shown.


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