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How To Add Windows 10 Desktop Icons

Posted by Jamie on December 29, 2018

The Windows 10 desktop is an immensely configurable place, and the amount of ways you can change the look and feel of it to turn it into your digital home is impressive. You can change the color, transparency, wallpaper, folder color, size, shape, look, sound, and feel. And these changes don’t have to just be aesthetic. They can be practical, too, as you can also add Windows 10 desktop icons, either as shortcuts from programs you have installed or from icon packs that replace all of your default icons with custom ones. This tutorial will walk you through adding Windows 10 desktop icons, as well as replacing them with new ones.

What’s in an icon?

Icons are our window into Windows and provide fast access to our most used programs and features. There is a balance that needs to be struck, though. Too many shortcuts makes the desktop look untidy and forces you to search for the one shortcut you need, and at that point it isn’t really fair to call it a shortcut. Too few and they are somewhat pointless, as you’ll likely still spend a fair amount of time hunting for the programs you need.

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Add Windows 10 desktop icons of installed programs

You have several options if you want to add Windows 10 desktop icons for programs you have already installed. You can:

  1. Drag and drop the executable directly from the folder it is installed in.
  2. Right click and select Send to, Desktop (create shortcut).
  3. Drag the icon from the Windows Start Menu
  4. Drag the icon from the Windows Taskbar

Usually, programs will install an icon automatically but that isn’t always the case. Even so, as you can see, it’s not a difficult process.

Add a Windows 10 desktop shortcut during installation

When you install apps and programs on your computer, one of the last options you get to choose is usually, ‘Add shortcut to desktop.’ The option is usually accompanied by a checkbox option, which you can leave checked to add the icon or uncheck if you don’t want to clutter up the desktop.

I tend to leave the checkbox selected on apps that I know I’m going to use a lot and unchecked for those programs I won’t use all that much. It strikes a happy medium between easy accessibility and a usable desktop. I can always use Cortana or the Windows Start menu to access a program without a shortcut.

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Change the default icon in Windows 10

You can manually change the default icon of any given Windows feature or third-party program. If you don’t like the look of the scheme you have, then go ahead and change it up. It’s simple.

  1. Right click the icon you want to change and select Properties.
  2. Select Change Icon in the next window.
  3. Select an icon from the presented list, or select Browse to find others.
  4. Click OK twice to apply the change.

The icon will now be permanently changed to the one you selected. If you don’t like the options presented, you can download icons from the internet to give your desktop a truly personal look.

Remove the shortcut arrow from Windows 10 desktop icons

Another neat trick to make your desktop more attractive is to remove the small arrow that denotes a shortcut. I really don’t know why Windows still uses the little arrow, as most users don’t care whether they use a shortcut or the executable directly, and the end result is the same. Nevertheless, it is easy to remove.

The change requires modifying a registry entry, so it might be a good idea to create a Windows restore point first. It’s better to be overly cautious rather than not cautious enough. Then:

  1. Press Windows key + R, then type ‘regedit’ and hit Enter.
  2. Navigate to ‘HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer’
  3. Right click the Explorer folder and select New, Key and name it ‘Shell Icons’.
  4. Right click your new ‘Shell Icons’ key and select New and String Value. Call it ‘29.’
  5. Right click 29 and select Modify.
  6. Paste ‘%windir%\System32\shell32.dll,-50’ into the Value data box and click OK to save the change.
  7. Reboot your computer for the change to take effect.

When Windows reboots, the desktop will now look so much better without those little arrows everywhere!

Create a desktop icon for a Windows function

You can also create your very own Windows 10 desktop icon. You can link it to a Windows function that you might use often, such as initiating the lock screen or entering Airplane mode. This sort of custom shortcut can be very useful if you have a setting you use often.

  1. Right click an empty space on the Windows desktop.
  2. Select New and Shortcut.
  3. Type a setting code into the input box from this list of available codes.
  4. Click Next, name your shortcut, and Finish.

In the examples above, to initiate a lock screen you would paste ‘ms-settings:lockscreen’ into the input box. You would paste ‘ms-settings:network-airplanemode’ into the box in order to start Airplane mode. You get the idea. Then you just double click the icon to execute the command. Easy!

Icons are incredibly important to Windows users and the ability to move, add, or change them can make a big difference to how Windows looks and feels and, therefore, how comfortable we are using the operating system. Now at least you know how to customize Windows 10 desktop icons. Check out the other Windows 10 tutorials from TechJunkie for more customization guides!

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