How to Change an Icon in Mac OS X

Jun 4, 2013 - 14 Comments

Change an Icon on the Mac

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. This tutorial will show you how to change any icon on the Mac with these methods.

First, we’ll demonstrate how to change an icon to an image on the Mac. Further below, we’ll demonstrate how to change an icon to another icon on the Mac. This works the same in all versions of MacOS and Mac OS X.

How to 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:

  1. 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
  2. Copy an image to the clipboard to use it as an icon

  3. 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)
  4. Change an icon in Mac OS X

  5. Click on the icon in the upper left corner, then hit Command+V to paste the image and set the new icon
  6. Change an icon in Mac OS X

  7. Close out of Get Info

The end result is a custom icon appearing in the Finder:

Custom icon set in Mac OS X

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.

How to Change an Icon to Another Icon in Mac OS

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:

  1. Select the origin icon or item in the Finder, and then hit Command+i to summon “Get Info”
  2. 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
  3. 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
  4. Hit Command+V to paste the icon from the clipboard onto the destination file/folder
  5. 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:

Change an Icon on the Mac

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.

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 MacOS and Mac OS X users are unfamiliar with the process, and thus it’s worth covering and reviewing again. Happy customizing of icons!


Related articles:

Posted by: Paul Horowitz in Customize, Mac OS, Tips & Tricks


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  1. Mo R says:

    This would be the normal way to aplly icons on a Mac. However with Windows .ico it simply does not work. I thought this was the purpose of this manual. ???

  2. AJ says:

    As of June 2019, I am unable to do this in Mojave

    • Paul says:

      Be sure you are trying to change the icon of apps that you have permission to change. For example you won’t be able to change an app icon that is in Applications or the System folders.

      But your user home folder icons can be changed with this in macOS Mojave, MacOS Catalina, etc.

  3. Fritz says:

    Hej Guys,
    thank you so much for this article! Very helpful and easy to understand!

    Have a great day and keep it up,

  4. Richboy says:


    Thanks for the info but if i transfer the file to another computer, will the icon remain?

  5. Peter P. says:

    Does not work.

    “Paste” is grayed out when I select the old folder icon, and I cannot paste the new content.

    Something is missing in your description.

  6. Thomaz says:

    Thanks so much for this post, I was dreading having to redownload many, many png icons with icns files, this saves me so much time now. (Moreover, the new icsn files don’t show the graphics in the Info dialog box anymore.)

    Of course, like all long timer Mac users I know the Cmd-I copy & paste routine but I recently used LiteIcon to automate the procedure for me. It is so convenient & it can use icns, ico, and png files which are the predominant file types nowadays when you go looking for icons. I usually just download the png files because they have the smallest file size. Unfortunately, I found out that LiteIcon can make saving system icons a breeze but it has only a limited number of files that it is set to change but has no browsing capability, so if I want to change the icons of the folders in my Document folder, for example, I have to use the old way. What I didn’t know until today is that the Cmd-I c&v method only works with the old UNIX Executable Files and some old icns files, the new icns & png files when you do Cmd-I, it is a generic icon that shows up in the Info dialog box & if you cut & paste them, it is pasting just a generic image. I did not know that. Now, I can just open the png files (which is set to open in Preview, by default I guess) instead of opening the Info box of the png files to accomplish the same thing. You really learn something new everyday!

  7. Candice Windham says:

    When I first bought my imac (OS X Version 10.6.8) my folder labels on the desktop showed the entire label. Now, I get about 2 letters, some dots, and the last few letters/numbers, so that “taxes, 2014” shows as “ta…14”. Any way to fix this?

    • Nick says:

      To fix the “ta … 14” unreadability problem:

      Click on the desktop and type command-J. This brings up the info window. Probably your “grid spacing” is too low. You may also want to increase the size of the icons themselves.

      I suffered for months before figuring this out. The Applestore Genii had no idea.

      I really wish Apple would stop taking useful things *out* of MacOS-X …

  8. Nico says:

    The transparency tip… you helped me see the ‘obvious’ solution. Essential site !

  9. Bill (veteran IT guy and serial Entrepeneur) says:

    I am constantly amazed by all the super useful information I find in OSXDaily! Keep it up!

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