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The Complete Guide to Using Custom Icons in OS X

The Complete Guide to Using Custom Icons in OS X

Use a Mac long enough and you’ll eventually stumble upon forums like the “Post Your Desktop” threads at sites like MacRumors. Mac users love to customize the look and feel of OS X, and one of the easiest ways to do it is by using custom icons for your apps and utilities.
Apps like CandyBar have long offered a quick solution to managing your Mac’s application icons, but it’s just as simple to change most icons yourself. Here’s an overview on how to use custom icons in OS X.

Standard Apps

Change iTunes Icon OS X
OS X includes a number of “special” applications (e.g., Calendar, Finder, Trash) that need some specific attention when it comes to changing their icons, and we’ll discuss those more below. For most apps, though, the process is fairly straightforward.
First, identify the app you want to modify and find a suitable replacement icon. In our example, we’ll change the icon for iTunes in our OS X Mavericks installation to the Yosemite iTunes icon teased by Apple during WWDC. You can use practically any JPEG or PNG image file as an icon, but you’ll see the best results with uniformly sized PNGs with transparency. Great places to find replacement icons that are properly formatted include deviantART and the MacRumors forums.
Download the image you’d like to use as your new icon and open it in Preview. With the image open and Preview the active application, press Command-C to copy the entire image.
Next, find the original location of your app (not it’s Dock or Desktop shortcut). For almost all applications, you’ll find the correct file in your Applications folder, located at Macintosh HD/Applications. In our iTunes example, the iTunes.app file is found in the top level Applications folder. If you want to change the icon of a system utility like Activity Monitor or Terminal, you’ll find these apps in the Utilities subfolder of the Applications folder.
Quit the app if it’s running and then highlight it in Finder. Press Command-I to open the Get Info window. Alternatively, you can right-click on the application and select “Get Info.”
Custom Icons OS X
Here, click on the small application icon preview at the top of the window, to the left of the application name (not the larger icon preview at the bottom of the window). You’ll see the icon preview outlined in blue once you’ve correctly selected it.
Custom Icons OS X
Now press Command-V to paste the image you copied earlier. You’ll see both icon previews change to display the new icon, and you can close the Get Info window if you’re satisfied with the new look.
Custom Icons OS X
If you don’t like the way that the new icon looks, you can press Command-Z to undo the change, or highlight the small preview icon at the top of the window and press Delete to revert to the default icon.
Custom Icons OS X
Once you’ve made your changes, the new icon will be displayed in Finder or via Desktop shortcuts. To get your new icon to show up on the Dock, either quit and relaunch the app or head to Terminal and enter the following, case-sensitive command:

killall Dock

Repeat this process for each app icon you wish to modify and you’ll soon have a slick custom Dock. Now, what about those special apps we mentioned earlier? We’ll show you how to change the icons for Finder, Calendar, and Trash on the next page.

How to Change the Finder Icon in OS X

Change Finder Icon OS X
The Finder is one of the “special” apps mentioned earlier, and it requires a different approach for changing its icon. Most custom Finder icons you download will include two PNG files: finder.png and [email protected]
We need to place these files in a specific location within OS X’s Dock support files. Navigate to Macintosh HD/System/Library/CoreServices. Here, find the file called Dock.app, right-click, and choose Show Package Contents.
Change Finder Icon OS X
This will take you inside the Dock’s package file structure. From here, navigate to Dock.app/Contents/Resources. Here you’ll find the default finder.png and [email protected] files. Be sure to make a backup copy of these two files in case you wish to revert your Finder icon back to the default in the future. Unlike standard app icons, you can’t undo or delete the new Finder icon without replacing these files again.
Once you’re all set, copy the new icons into the Resources folder, choosing to overwrite the existing files when prompted. As we’re modifying a system file here, you’ll need to enter an administrator’s password to complete the operation.
As before, use the killall Dock command in Terminal to reload the Dock and see the new Finder icon. In some cases, however, you may have to reboot in order to see the change.

How to Change the Calendar Icon in OS X

Change Calendar Icon OS X
OS X’s Calendar app (iCal in earlier versions of OS X) is another unique app that requires some special steps to change its icon. This is due to the live update feature that lets the app display the current date in its Dock icon.
Similar to custom Finder icons, any properly formatted Calendar icon you download will include two .icns files: App-empty.icns and App.icns. If you’re working with PNG files, you can use an app like Img2icns to convert PNGs to .icns files.
Once you have your custom App-empty and App icon files, quit Calendar if it’s open and then locate the Calendar.app file in the Applications folder. Right-click and select Show Package Contents and then continue navigating to Calendar.app/Contents/Resources. Here, you’ll find the original App-empty and App files. As recommended with Finder, make backup copies of these files in case you ever wish to restore the default icon.
Change Calendar Icon OS X
When you’re ready, copy your new files into the Resources folder, choose to overwrite the existing files, and enter your administrator’s password if prompted.
But wait! We’re not yet done. There’s still one more file we need to replace. In the Resources folder, find Calendar.docktileplugin. Open it, and navigate to Contents/Resources. Here, you’ll find another App-empty.icns file. Copy your custom App-empty file here, too, and once again overwrite the existing file.
Quit and relaunch Calendar, or use the killall Dock Terminal command to see the new Calendar icon show up on your Dock.

How to Change the Trash Icon

Change Trash Icon OS X
Yes, you can even customize the Dock Trash Can in OS X. In our example, we’ll be using the new Trash icon from the OS X Yosemite developer builds.
Once again, you’ll need to replace multiple files for the Trash icon, accounting for both empty and full designs in both standard and Retina 2X resolutions. The Trash icon files are located in the same folder as the Finder icons:

Macintosh HD/System/Library/CoreServices/Dock.app/Contents/Resources

Remember to right-click on Dock.app and choose Show Package Contents in order to continue navigating past that point. Here, you’ll find four files that you need to replace:

Most custom Trash icons you download will include these four files. If you’re working with custom images, simply format and name your files appropriately.
Change Trash Icon OS X
Make backup copies of the original files in case you wish to revert to the default Trash icon in the future. Then copy your custom Trash icons into the Resources folder, choose to overwrite the existing files, and enter your Admin password. Again, head to Terminal and use the killall Dock command to reset the Dock and see your new Trash icon in action.

Where to Find Custom OS X Icons

As mentioned earlier, OS X lets you use almost any PNG or JPEG image file as a custom icon, but if you’re artistically challenged like us, you’ll want to utilize some of the thousands of beautifully designed custom icons made by talented Apple fans from all over the world. Here’s a list of some of our favorite sites for finding cool new OS X icons.

Let us know in the comments if you have additional resources we should include.
Featured image via AlienValley/deviantART

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13 thoughts on “The Complete Guide to Using Custom Icons in OS X”

Pascal says:
How can I change the Apple calendar icon on macOS Mojave? I tried in the same way but now I dont have the permission to change the icon-files (shows the ‘no permission’ sign). I also disabled the SIP. What can I do?
Christina Parissi says:
Either this entire method no longer works or I am doing something wrong because I tried to do this with a .jar file and when I did it only replaced it with the generic PNG icon.
Jo says:
I use image2icon, once i’ve moved the custom icon to ‘get info’ can I then delete that newly created icon and will the actual program/file keep the new custom icon, or will it delete due to me deleting the originally created icon file?
Sheldon Buchler says:
I would like to add that in some cases the Finder icon won’t update even after a restart. The solution is to remove /Users/username/Library/Preferences/com.apple.dock.plist (I suggest backing it up to the desktop rather than deleting it.) By removing it and then restarting the dock, the Finder icon finally updated to my new icon.
Vina says:
Hi! I have a MacBook Air running on OS X El Capitan and I have three different accounts (if you don’t count “guest”) on my computer. I am admin, and the other two are standards accounts. I have followed the directions on changing the icon for finder, and on the two other accounts, it shows, but on mine, it stays as the original icon. I’m very confused and haven’t found the solution to this anywhere. Can anyone help? Thanks in advance :).
Marina says:
I upgraded to Yosemite and all my icons are gone except for iTunes. I really like the new iTunes default icon and I’d like to use it but I can’t revert to orginal? How can I get rid of the custom icon?
TekRevue says:
Hi Marina,
You can restore the original icon by loading the “Get Info” window for the app as discussed in the article, selecting the small icon at the top-left of the Get Info window, and pressing Delete or Backspace on your keyboard. The custom icon should disappear and be replaced by the original, default application icon.
Julie Smith says:
Don’t know where I messed up, but my trash icon disappeared completely… it never gave me an option to overwrite files. What do I do? Please help.
Tom Spee says:
I followed your instructions for the Calendar icon (I changed it once and wanted to change it back) but can’t get it working. All 3 .icns files are different by my Dock shows and empty icon, only the date is shown. What am I doing wrong?
TekRevue says:
Hi Tom,
Just to clarify, you restored the default app.icns and app-empty.icns in both Calendar > Contents > Resources and in Calendar > Contents > Resources > Calendar.docktileplugin > Contents > Resources and now your Calendar app has an empty dock icon?
After restoring the files, did you use killall Dock in Terminal? Also, try a reboot in case there is some caching going on.
Tom Spee says:
I got it working, I forgot to make the “empty” icon really empty. I only erased the number, not “Jul”. I created new .png files and converted them to .icns and now it’s working. Thanks.
HELP says:
I changed the finder icon but can’t change it back HELP it was one someone else’s computer as a joke
Kristoffer Engdahl says:
Use these ones :)
http://imgur.com/a/g0RV4
JMSJMS says:
Tek Revue, the issue is that we can’t use images any more since upgrading to Yosemite. It goes to default jpeg icon instead of showing the picture. For us the function above is no longer available with yosemite. Can you advise? Thanks
Johnny Jenn says:
There is any easy to use app available from freemacsoft called Liteicon. Download it
and give it a try. Free with donations accepted.
JMSJMS says:
After upgrading to Yosemite the above procedure doesn’t work for me. I get the default Jpeg image instead of the actual pic. Any ideas?
Will says:
bump. Same experience here for Yosemite. Method above does not work.
HELP says:
Do u mean me or the article
HELP says:
You have to go to finder then get info then click on the pic in the top left hand corner of the screen and paste your pic in its place in addition to what he says up there
Emilie says:
Hi there!
I already changed my different icons (thanks for your help! ;) ), but before upgrading to Yosemite, I was wondering if it will change everything again…
Thank you in advance for your feedback!
TekRevue says:
Yes, unfortunately. Whenever you update OS X, system apps will revert to their default icons. The same thing will usually happen if you update a third party app. Just keep your custom icons handy and you can quickly switch back after you upgrade.

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Jim Tanous

Jul 15, 2014

676 Articles Published

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