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The Complete Guide to Using Custom Icons in OS X

Posted by Jim Tanous on July 15, 2014
Custom OS X Icons

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.

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

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.
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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?
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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.
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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 :).
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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?
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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.
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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.
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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?
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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.
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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
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Kristoffer Engdahl says:
Use these ones ๐Ÿ™‚
http://imgur.com/a/g0RV4
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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
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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.
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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?
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Will says:
bump. Same experience here for Yosemite. Method above does not work.
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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
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Emilie says:
Hi there!
I already changed my different icons (thanks for your help! ๐Ÿ˜‰ ), but before upgrading to Yosemite, I was wondering if it will change everything again…
Thank you in advance for your feedback!
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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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