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How to Change Default Icon of All Folders in Windows 10 & 11

Changing the default icon of all the folders is one of the easiest ways to customize your desktop and operating system to make it look how you want. In one of my previous tutorials, I wrote how to change a specific folder’s icon using the Custom Icon option in folder properties. In this tutorial, I will show you the steps to change the default icon of all folders. That way, all the folders including the new ones you create, use the custom icon of your choosing instead of the default one. Let’s get started.

Windows folders with default icon
Windows 11: Windows folders with the default icon

Before You Begin

  • You need administrator rights.
  • You are required to modify the registry to change the default Windows folder icon. So, back up the registry editor before proceeding.
  • Make sure you have the icon file in the “.ico” file format available in your system. For example, I’ve downloaded an icon from FlatIcon and placed it in the “Custom Icons” folder at the root of the C drive.
new folder icon

Steps to Change the Default Icon of All Folders

To start off, open the Run dialog box by pressing the “Windows key + R” keyboard shortcut. Once it opens, enter “regedit” and click “OK” to open the Registry Editor.

regedit run command

Go to the “HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer” folder in the Registry Editor.

navigate to the explorer folder in the registry editor

Right-click on the “Explorer” folder and select “New” > “Key” to create a new sub-folder under it. Use “Shell Icons” as the name of the sub-folder.

create shell icons key under the explorer folder

Right-click on the “Shell Icons” folder and select “New” > “String Value” to create an empty string value. Use “3” as the value name.

string value 3

Again right-click on the “Shell Icons” folder, select “New” > “String Value” and use “4” as its name.

string value 4

Double-click on the newly created “3” value. Enter the path to your custom icon file in the “Value Data” box and click “OK.” The path should be the full path to an “.ico” file, like C:\Path\To\Your\Icon.ico.

add folder icon path to the string value 3

Next, double-click on the “4” value and enter the path of your custom icon file in the Value Data box. Click “OK.”

add folder icon path to the string value 4

Close the Registry Editor and open File Explorer by pressing the “Windows key + E” keyboard shortcut.

In the File Explorer, open Folder Options as shown below:

  • On Windows 10: Go to the “View” tab and click on the “Options” button.
  • On Windows 11: Click the three dots icon on the command bar and select “Options.”
File Explorer folder options button

Go to the “View” tab in the Folder Options window, select the “Always show icons, never thumbnails” checkbox, and click “OK.”

select always show icons checkbox

restart your computer to apply the new default icon. To restart, right-click on your Start button and select “Shut down or sign out” > “Restart.”

After restarting, all the Windows folder icons will change to the custom icon you chose.

default Windows folder icon changed to a new icon
Windows folders with the new custom default icon

Important Notes:

  • Here, the 3 and 4 values correspond to the default icons of the closed and opened folder state.
  • Once you set the new default icon, you shouldn’t move or delete the icon from its place. Otherwise, the folders will revert to the default icon or may not display correctly.

Troubleshooting Steps

Some of the common issues many Windows users face when changing the default icon of all folders is that the new icon may not take effect, doesn’t apply uniformly across all folders, or revert to the default icon under certain conditions, such as when opening an empty folder. In those cases, follow the below troubleshooting steps.

The icon file should be in “.ico” format: Make sure that the icon you are using is in .ico format. If it’s in some other format, such as “.png” or “.jpg,” convert it to the “.ico” file format. If you cannot see the file format at the end of the file name, enable file extensions (for Windows 11).

Check if the file path is correct: Ensure the icon file path you added to the registry is correct. To make sure there are no mistakes, go to the folder where the icon is located, “Shift + right-click” on the icon file, and select “Copy as Path.” This will copy the icon file path to the clipboard. Go to the registry values, open them as shown above, and paste the file path in the Value Data field.

copy icon path

Make sure you enable the “Always Show Icons” option: On some folders, the thumbnails can override the new icon and show the old default icon. This causes the issue where the new icon is not applied uniformly across the operating system. To fix it, open “Folder Options,” go to the “View” tab, and select the “Always show icons, never thumbnails” checkbox [detailed steps above].

Clear icon and thumbnail cache: By default, Windows caches and manages icons and thumbnails so that they load faster. However, this can sometimes cause icon inconsistencies. To fix it, clear the icon cache and thumbnail cache.

Restore the Default Folder Icon for All Folders

If you want to restore the default icon for all the folders in Windows, follow the below steps.

Open the Registry Editor, go to the “HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer/Shell Icons” folder, and delete the “3” and “4” values. Simply select the value with your mouse and press the Delete key. If prompted, click Yes to confirm your action.

After deleting both the “3” and “4” values, restart your computer to restore the default folder icon for all folders across Windows.

Wrapping Up – Desktop Customization with Custom Folder Icons

By following the above steps, you can easily change the default folder icon across the operating system to customize the Windows desktop to make it look how you want. To make sure that the new icon appears without any issues, ensure that the icon file is in “.ico” format, the file path is correct, and you’ve enabled the “Always show icons” checkbox in Folder Options. Optionally, clear the icon and thumbnail cache.

If you have any questions or need help, comment below. I will answer.

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