Windows 7: Taskbar Icon Overlay
       by kirupa  |  17 February 2010

Traditionally, in Windows, your taskbar only displayed an icon of your running application along with some text:

[ the Windows 95 taskbar (source) ]

Even though my screenshot is of the Windows 95 taskbar, nothing really major changed in that area for many years through several major Windows releases. With Windows 7, the whole taskbar area was significantly revamped. You can read more about the new taskbar improvements in this blog post.

One of the overarching themes of the revamp was to allow your taskbar to show more information about your running application. One feature that came out of that is the icon overlays, and you can see an example of that in the Windows Live Messenger icon:

[ notice the different icon overlay in each variation ]

Notice that the bottom-right corner of the Windows Live Messenger taskbar item displays a different visual in each of the three images. That visual represents the icon overlay that you will learn to add to your WPF applications running in Windows 7.

Getting Started
Because this is a Windows 7 feature, you will need to create a WPF project that supports .NET 4. The latest versions of Expression Blend and Visual Studio will allow you to do this. Once you have created a new WPF project, go to the code file Page.xaml.cs and add the following using statement:

using System.Windows.Shell;

Your code should look basically as follows:

using System;
using System.Collections.Generic;
using System.Text;
using System.Windows;
using System.Windows.Controls;
using System.Windows.Data;
using System.Windows.Documents;
using System.Windows.Input;
using System.Windows.Media;
using System.Windows.Media.Imaging;
using System.Windows.Shapes;
using System.Windows.Shell;
namespace IconOverlay
/// <summary>
/// Interaction logic for MainWindow.xaml
/// </summary>
public partial class MainWindow : Window
public MainWindow()
// Insert code required on object creation below this point.

This is a good starting point, so the next two sections will describe the two types of overlays you can add to your taskbar icon - images and XAML visuals.

When your Icon Overlay is an Image
If you want to display an image as your icon overlay, first go ahead and add an image to your project.

[ add the image you want to use to your project ]

If you are using Visual Studio, make sure the image you add has is Build Type set to Resource and its Copy to Output Directory value set to Do Not Copy:

[ the default VS settings for an image ]

Anyway, once you have your image added to your solution, add the following code to display it as your taskbar item's icon overlay:

BitmapImage image = new BitmapImage();
image.UriSource = new Uri("pack://application:,,,/user.png", UriKind.Relative);
TaskbarItemInfo taskbarItem = new TaskbarItemInfo();
taskbarItem.Overlay = image;
Window.TaskbarItemInfo = taskbarItem;

The code for doing this is fairly straightforward, so I am not going to go into great detail. Just note that, because your image is a resource, I am using the extremely weird pack URI syntax for accessing it: pack://application:,,,/user.png

When your Icon Overlay Contains XAML
You are not restricted to using just images for your icon overlay. You can also define content in XAML and have it display in the icon overlay location. First, you will need to create the XAML and store it as a DrawingBrush resource. Once you have your DrawingBrush resource, the second (and last!) thing you will need to do is convert it into a DrawingImage. Don't worry, it is not that scary.

Jump into Expression Blend and create something really simple. I'm going to draw a small red rectangle with rounded corners:

[ draw something that you want as your icon ]

Once you have drawn your shape, make sure it is selected. Go to Tools | Make Brush Resource | Make DrawingBrush Resource:

[ let's make a DrawingBrush resource ]

The Create DrawingBrush Resource dialog will appear. Under Name (Key), give your brush a name that you can remember later. I'm giving mine the name RedVisual:

[ give your DrawingBrush a resource name ]

Once you have given your DrawingBrush a name, click OK to close the dialog. We are done with the XAML for now, so let's jump back into code.

In the code-behind file (probably MainPage.xaml.cs) associated with the XAML document you just edited, the code for displaying your RedVisual DrawingBrush as an icon overlay is:

DrawingBrush visual = this.Resources["RedVisual"] as DrawingBrush;
DrawingImage image = new DrawingImage(visual.Drawing);
TaskbarItemInfo taskbarItem = new TaskbarItemInfo();
taskbarItem.Overlay = image;
Window.TaskbarItemInfo = taskbarItem;

Notice that I am simply converting our DrawingBrush to a DrawingImage so that it can be used as the input to the Overlay property. In your example, if you didn't use RedVisual as the name of your DrawingBrush, be sure to change it appropriately so that you aren't running into any errors.

If I run my version of the application, here is what I see:

[ notice my XAML-ific icon overlay ]

Notice that the red rectangle that I drew earlier and converted into a DrawingBrush is displayed as my application's taskbar icon overlay.

Well, that is pretty much it! There are two common ways to have an icon overlay appear. One way is by setting an image directly, and the other way is by taking some XAML and displaying its visuals there.

Got a question or just want to chat? Comment below or drop by our forums (they are actually the same thing!) where a bunch of the friendliest people you'll ever run into will be happy to help you out!

When Kirupa isn’t busy writing about himself in 3rd person, he is practicing social distancing…even on his Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn profiles.

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