How to Change an Icon in Mac OS X
You can change the icon of just about any file, folder, volume, or application in Mac OS X. This is an easy way to customize the appearance of items in the file system, and it can be a fun way to add a customized look to the desktop and home folder on a Mac. It only takes a moment per icon, and they can either be changed to icons belonging to another file or app, or changed to any image, and we’ll show how to do both.
Longtime Mac users know this process has been the same since the earliest days of Mac OS (System 7 was when icons first became changeable this way without the need for resource editing), but many newer OS X users are unfamiliar with the process, and thus it’s worth covering.
Change an Icon to an Image in Mac OS X
Customizing icons with any image is very easy. In this example we’ll switch the default Automator application icon for this app that quits everything to a customized icon created through Preview:
- Open the image to use as an icon in Preview, then hit Command+A to “Select All”, then hit Command+C to Copy the image to the clipboard
- Now select the file/folder in the Finder that you want to change icons for, then hit Command+i to bring up the “Get Info” window (Get Info can also be accessed from the File menu and right-click in Finder)
- Click on the icon in the upper left corner, then hit Command+V to paste the image and set the new icon
- Close out of Get Info
The end result is a custom icon appearing in the Finder:
For best results, always use a transparent PNG file for icons, and aim for the origin image to be 512×512 pixels to insure that it will scale up and down properly without becoming pixelated. Using a transparent PNG (or GIF) makes sure the icon won’t have a white border around it when placed in the Dock or on the desktop. If you’ve never done so before, it is very easy to create a transparent PNG on the Mac by using the built-in Preview app. Standard images do work, but without transparency they will draw a border around the icon, looking more like the auto-generated image file thumbnails that appear in the Finder than what an icon should like like.
The video below demonstrates how quick this is, from copying the origin image to use as the icon, then setting it as the new customized icon for the destination app. From start to finish takes less than half a minute:
Customizing icons to have the same icon as one found elsewhere is more or less the same, but rather than going through Preview to open and copy an origin image, you can do everything from the Get Info panel as we’ll discuss next.
Changing an Icon to Another Icon
Similar to changing an icon to an image, you can also swap icons around between items, files, and folders. For example, if you like the icon of an app in your /Applications/ folder and want to apply that same icon to something different in your home folder, this is how you’d do that:
- Select the origin icon or item in the Finder, and then hit Command+i to summon “Get Info”
- Click on the icon in the upper left corner and then hit Command+C to copy the icon to the clipboard, then close out of Get Info
- Now select the destination icon or item in the Finder, hit Command+i again, and click the same icon in the upper left corner of the Get Info window
- Hit Command+V to paste the icon from the clipboard onto the destination file/folder
- Close out of Get Info
This image shows the before and after, which has taken a folder with a generic icon and changed it to the icon of a heart found in a System Resources directory:
Switching icons from another icon is how to put to use the hidden Apple hardware icons in Mac OS X, and many of the free icon packs downloaded from the web from sites like Interface Lift. Typically those icon packs are collections of folders or empty files with an icon assigned to each file or folder in the container, making them very easy to copy and paste and use elsewhere.
By the way, if you like a particular apps icon and want to use that elsewhere, you can use Preview app to quickly extract the highest resolution version of any apps icon.