Windows

Re-enable icon transparency on your desktop in Windows XP

Sometimes changing a desktop theme or desktop background in Microsoft Windows XP inadvertently disables the Use drop shadows for icon labels, which is an item in desktop settings. Greg Shultz explains how to re-enable this setting.

Have you ever changed your desktop theme or just your desktop background and discovered that the text for your desktop icons is no longer transparent? Instead you now have a colored background box behind the text. If you have experienced this situation, chances are that you searched high and low for a solution, but were unable to find one.

Unfortunately, this is because the setting that allows you to control the icon transparency is very poorly named. Rather than being named something makes sense, Microsoft choose to name the setting "Use drop shadows for icon labels on the desktop." To make matters worse, this setting is buried in the Performance Options dialog box rather than on the Display Properties dialog box.

In any case, sometimes that act of changing a desktop theme or desktop background inadvertently disables the Use drop shadows for icon labels on the desktop setting. Fortunately, re-enabling is it easy. Here's how:

  1. Access the Control Panel and double-click System.
  2. When you see the System Properties dialog box, select the Advanced tab.
  3. Click Settings button in the Performance section.
  4. When you see the Performance Options dialog box, scroll down the list and select the "Use drop shadows for icon labels on the desktop" checkbox.
  5. Click OK twice -- once to close Performance Options dialog box and once to close the System Properties dialog box.

You should now have your transparent icons back.

Note: This tip applies to both Windows XP Home and Windows XP Professional.

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About

Greg Shultz is a freelance Technical Writer. Previously, he has worked as Documentation Specialist in the software industry, a Technical Support Specialist in educational industry, and a Technical Journalist in the computer publishing industry.

28 comments
dbajason
dbajason

Check if your using a PNG image as your background... if so convert it JPG..

sales
sales

I currently have a customer's PC on the bench with this very issue but fix does not correct the problem. I have also checked the web tab setting in the customise desktop area of display properties to ensure nothing is enabled there as well ensuring that Lock web items on desktop is not enabled as well. This one has me really intrigued and I can't seem to crack it. When rebooting into safe mode the Administrator logon had the same problem but I was able to clear it using your Fix above but main user still suffers from the original problem. Any assistance would be greatly appreciated, I thought maybe Webshots may have caused a problem and the customer at some stage has enabled large fonts as well in the desktop properties.......got me beat!!!! Folks I have since solved my issue the answer was under my nose all the time, read Post No 12 above for the answer.

juliang
juliang

I only have one comment. Whay don't "they" use olain language in these option and call that option "Transparent Icon Background" ?. I have always turned that feature off before because I thought it would create a black shadow on the icons. That's what I consider a "drop shadow". Sorry, just venting

repeters11
repeters11

It worked like a charm for me. Thank you.

AtCollege
AtCollege

Yeah! I have been searching for this solution for one of our employees. It wasn't a life and death type of problem, so I put it on the back burner. But now we know. Thanks so much for this article.

lcramos
lcramos

I tried to change my windows working area to an image, soon I did it, the image stayed in the background only, leaving the color choosed instead - there was no "transparent" color option. So, the image kepts hidden. Can you guys figure this out? Many thanks... L.

Milnivri
Milnivri

I think that when you change the Color option in Display > Properties > Desktop, the colour of the text background will change to the colour selected in the option. I accidentally changed it to a certain colour, then can't change it back to transparent. But on another user account I noticed that the colour selected was some shade of blue and the text had a transparent background.

owens3
owens3

Doesn't work. I have been trying to figure out this for several days with no luck. I am an admin on my computer. ???

tom
tom

Seems that isn't the case on my machine. I'm an admin and Visual Effects are set to "Let Windows choose what's best...." which includes a checked ???Use drop shadows for icon labels on the desktop??? checkbox. all of my text shows the colored background and will not change

okn916
okn916

The check box works when checked from within my administrators account but not from my usual limited, I'm stuck with a box of text - Where would I find this setting in the registry? Much thanks,

madelynnf48
madelynnf48

Since I'm still searching for an answer to this problem I clicked "View all posts" and unless you're adding the reply posts there is no 12. Counting each post and replies I decided #12 was the Accessibility High Contrast issue. Which I went to on my computer and it's not checked. So I'm still searching for an answer other than leaving the Desktop Icons unlocked.

madelynnf48
madelynnf48

It seems every time I install XP I get a different set of features or bugs from the same install cd. Last install the "checking drop shadow box" worked great. This install it's already checked, unchecking & rechecking doesn't help. I found that unlocking the desktop icons removes the background box BUT then you have to continually fight to keep the icons where you want them. No combination of steps will let you lock the desktop and not have the shadow box. This is REALLLY frustrating. Any more ideas?

ctrogers
ctrogers

I had a user with a Limited-User account manage to undo the icon label drop shadows merely by saving an image onto the desktop. I had to go to display properties->desktop items->Web->and remove the picture from the web pages list.

res04j39
res04j39

I recently went through several days of Heck trying to make my icons transparent using all of these tricks. No Luck. Then I began to notice that I had no backgrounds on web sites or stationery on e-mail. I finally discovered that somehow the box for "Use High Contrast" was checked in Control Panel\Accessability. Gross! Once unchecked, the Use drop icons worked again....and I had stationery and backgrounds.

RipVan
RipVan

I disable most of the desktop settings, considering it useless eye candy. But since I use my home pictures for my background, I am partial to getting rid of the ugly box around the text. However, my work comptuer was recenlty upgraded and I completely forgot about this setting until I saw this article. So I went in the settings to change it, and to my surprise, it was already selected!!! Well, I am sure most TR readers will know right away about the quirks in Windows, and what to do about it. (And you would be right.) I took the checkmark OUT of the box and clicked "Apply", put the checkmark back in the box and clicked "Apply" again, and sure enough, the operating system with no quirks that always works right out of the box corrected itself. Sometimes it is worth reminding yourself that frequently when you find something weird like this that is "already" set, but not working, you may need to undo it and redo it. It is, after all, a very ordinary operating system...

eikelein
eikelein

. . . your graphics card. I see a lot of older or bargain basement computers that show the same behavior. Sometimes the customer wants an upgrade of the graphics card and voila, the ugly background boxes are gone.

roadkilled229
roadkilled229

Thanks Mike. I never thought of looking for the transparency as a "Performance Option" but your tip worked for me and I got rid of all of those stupid little boxes which were obscuring my view of the clouds.

jjesteadt
jjesteadt

The registry location you are looking for is[HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\Advanced]. And the value is: "ListviewShadow"=dword:00000001 If you copy [HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Microsoft\Windows\CurrentVersion\Explorer\Advanced] "ListviewShadow"=dword:00000001 into a text file and save it as a .reg you should be able to run it without editing the registry, if you should want to avoid messing with the registry.

sales
sales

Well you did select the right post relating to Accessibility High Contrast Issue. This post is actually titled Another,,another thing and when you select his post you will notice above the title i actually reads Discussion - Post 12 of 26. Fortunately this was the solution to my problem. I hope you find an answer soon to solve yours.

lee9w
lee9w

At this same location (display properties->Desktop->Customize Desktop->Web) I discovered the "Lock Desktop Items" checked. Un-checking that is what fixed it for me, not the homepage.

sales
sales

I should have read all of these posts before posting No 24. After just about giving up on this issue I have applied your suggested fix which has worked a treat. Thanks for your input on this forum it has helped me greatly and I am very appreciative of it, well done!!!

tom
tom

Been there, tried that too... Nada The Video card is a NVIDIA Quadro4 980 XGL. It should handle it...

okn916
okn916

Seems to me the only way to fix this is to unlock desktop items? Does anyone have their desktop items locked and not have the boxes of text under their icons? Thanks JJ but that value was already set in the registry.

rodegaard
rodegaard

As some have been experiencing, the "fix" of un-checking drop-shadows and re-enabling it didn't work. Your suggestion of right clicking the desktop an ddoing the Arrange Icons by thing DID work, however. Thanks!

tom
tom

Thanks for your post I find that the only way I can get rid of the box outline is if I disable the web content. Too bad as I use this to display different images of my family on different monitors. I wonder if there is a work around for this?

nshour
nshour

.. to get rid of the box outline around the text on desktop icons. Right-click a blank area on the desktop, and then click Properties. On the Desktop tab, click Customize Desktop. On the Web tab, uncheck any items in the center dialog box.

zarebatoo
zarebatoo

None of these worked for me, but after months of trying I found that Right Click on Desktop and click Arrange Icons By and Uncheck Lock Web Items on Desktop. I have no idea why, it just worked for me. ...Z