When you create placemarks in Google Earth you can change the icon of the placemark by going to the placemark properties and clicking the icon button found just to the right of the placemark name. Google Earth then shows you a default set of icons you can use. However, it is also possible to use custom icons, which you can easily get from the web, or even create your own. Simply click the ‘Add Custom Icon…’ button and enter the URL of the icon you want or select ‘Browse’ to choose an icon you have created or saved to your local computer.
Also of interest is the option to set ‘No Icon’. This is very useful when you want to put plain text somewhere on the screen.
You can easily find a wide range of icons by searching on Google. The two best collections we know of are the icons provided by Google that are catalogued here and mapsmarker.com, which provides a variety of free icons specifically designed for maps.
There are a few things you need to be careful about when using custom icons. If you use an icon off the web using the URL and at a future date the website you linked to removes the icon, the icon will no-longer display properly in Google Earth. The icons from Google mentioned above should be pretty reliable, but if you get an icon from other sites and you are distributing your KML file, make a judgement as to how long those sites are likely to remain active and consider hosting the icons yourself or downloading them to include in the KML file.
If you use an icon from your local computer and you wish to distribute your placemarks in a KML file, make sure to save the placemarks in the KMZ format, as that will include the icons in the file. If you send someone the placemarks as a KML file, they will not have the icons and will see the red X that Google Earth uses when it cannot find an icon file.
If you add a custom icon it will remain in the list for the duration of the session, but if you exit Google Earth it resets the list to the default set and you have to add it again if you want to use it in new placemarks.
Google Earth’s default icon set has been updated in the past.
Below are some icons that we created for our own use. Feel free to download them to use in your own KML files. They work best if you do not give the placemark a name. If you want to include a name then create an extra placemark with no icon then you can adjust the position of the text. You can save the individual icons by simply right clicking on them and selecting ‘Save image as..’ (or the equivalent depending on your browser) or download the whole collection as a zip file here.
About Timothy Whitehead
Timothy has been using Google Earth since 2004 when it was still called Keyhole before it was renamed Google Earth in 2005 and has been a huge fan ever since. He is a programmer working for Red Wing Aerobatx and lives in Cape Town, South Africa.