How to set different icons for the open and closed folder in Explorer

With Windows Vista, there was a little change in Explorer which has remained the same in Windows 7 and Windows 8.1 or Windows 8: it shows the same icon for open and closed folders.

In earlier releases of Windows before Vista, when a folder was expanded in the navigation pane of Explorer, it used to show a different icon. This change makes it more difficult to see which folder you are viewing by just looking at the icons. This change also affects the tree view in Registry Editor and in the Windows 7 Start Menu All Programs view.

If you preferred having distinct icons for open and closed folder states in Explorer, then there's good news for you - it can be done. I will show you how to set the folder icon for a closed folder in Explorer of Windows 8, Windows 8.1, Windows 7 and Vista. The method is the same for all these operating systems.

  1. Open the Registry editor. If you are not familiar with the Registry editor, see this detail tutorial.
  2. Go to the following key:
    HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\SOFTWARE\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\Shell Icons

    Tip: You can access any desired Registry key with one click.
    Note: If the Shell Icons key does not exist, just create it.

  3. Create a new REG_EXPAND_SZ value at the above key called 3 by right clicking in the right pane and choosing New -> Expandable String value. Set its value to the following string:
    %windir%\System32\imageres.dll,5

  4. Close all Explorer windows and restart Explorer. Alternatively, instead of restarting Explorer.exe, you can also log off and log back in.

That's it! The result will be as shown in the picture below:

Notice the different icon for closed folders. To restore the default Explorer appearance, delete the 3 value at the Shell Icons key and restart the Explorer shell.

See the following video if you have any questions:

Instead of changing the closed folder icon, you can also choose to change the open folder icon to make them both different from one another. Why the value's name was 3 above is because the 3rd icon from shell32.dll was being replaced (note: icon indexes start at 0, not 1). So if you want to change the open folder icon instead, just change the value to 4 and the value data to the new icon number in the DLL, ensuring that the first icon is 0, not 1.

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