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When Apple introduced System Integrity Protection (SIP) to make your Mac more secure, it put an end to deep system tweaks El Capitan Means The End Of Mac Themes & Deep System Tweaks El Capitan Means The End Of Mac Themes & Deep System Tweaks If you like customizing your Mac, Yosemite might be the last version of OS X that works for you. And that's too bad. Read More . As a fallout of that, starting with El Capitan, your options for personalizing your Mac are somewhat limited. But you do have more options than you think you do. Let’s explore some of them.

Of course, if you insist on having free rein to make exciting changes to your Mac, you can bypass Apple’s restrictions by disabling SIP — but you probably shouldn’t How to Disable System Integrity Protection (and Why You Shouldn't) How to Disable System Integrity Protection (and Why You Shouldn't) There are more reasons to leave macOS' System Integrity Protection on than turn it off, but turning it off is easy. Read More .

A Brand New Wallpaper

If your desktop is a resting place for your eyes only for a few minutes a day, pick a nice wallpaper or a solid background color under General > Desktop & Screen Saver > Desktop. Even this tiny change can make your desktop feel new again.

set-wallpaper

Want to spice things up a bit? Then set the wallpaper to change every hour, use a live wallpaper, or add useful information to your desktop with an interactive wallpaper. To make these advanced wallpaper tweaks, go through the tips and apps in our ultimate Mac wallpaper resource The Ultimate Mac Wallpaper Resource: Apps, Tricks & Tips The Ultimate Mac Wallpaper Resource: Apps, Tricks & Tips Finding the right wallpaper can make staring at your Mac desktop when you should be working an incredibly worthwhile experience. Read More .

To help you find stunning wallpapers, we have rounded up the best sites for free, high-resolution stock images The 15 Best Sites for Free High-Resolution Stock Images The 15 Best Sites for Free High-Resolution Stock Images Free high-resolution images are hard to come by. Wouldn't it be nice if you could get free stock images that are curated for quality and resolution? You can! Read More . Check them out!

A Custom Color Scheme

Apple gives you just one color scheme to replace the default. It’s called Graphite, and you’ll find it under System Preferences > General > Appearance. If you select it, you’ll see this color scheme reflected across buttons, windows, and menus.

Unfortunately, you can no longer add system-wide themes to your Mac using an app like Flavors. Your best bet is to activate app-specific themes. For example, if you use Alfred to control your Mac and have activated Powerpack, use a custom theme to change how Alfred looks.

alfred-custom-themes

To add a sleeker look to your menu bar, set it to appear black by selecting the checkbox for Use dark menu bar and Dock under System Preferences > General. While you’re at it, how about changing the color your Mac uses to highlight selected text? Pick a suitable color from the Highlight color: dropdown menu.

change-highlighted-text-color

If you want to invert the colors on the screen, go to System Preferences > Accessibility > Display and select the checkbox for Invert colors.

Icons and Backgrounds with Personality

You can not only scale icons up or down in Finder (via View > Show View Options > Icon size:), but also change how they look, without using a third-party app.

To use a custom image as a folder icon, first copy the image to the clipboard. Now, in Finder, select the folder whose icon you’d like to replace, and click on File > Get Info.

In the inspector box that pops up, select the icon at the top and click on Edit > Paste. There’s your custom icon in place now. If you’re not happy with it, select it in the inspector and hit the delete key to switch back to the default icon.

custom-folder-icon

 

You can even use an existing folder icon as an image source by copying it from its Get Info dialog. Here’s a snapshot of my Home folder icon after I replaced it with the icon from the macOS Sierra installer.

sierra-icon

 

If you want to use icons from online repositories like Icon Archive, that’s not a problem. The icons will work fine, as long as they’re in the Apple Icon Image format. Look for icons with the .ICNS extension. Once you download them, you can drag and drop an icon file into a folder’s Get Info inspector, right onto the icon you would like to replace.

Can you swap out the default app icons in the Applications folder for custom ones? Sure — not for the applications that come bundled with your Mac though. But you can use the icons of system apps as the icon source for third-party apps. For example, you can replace the icon for your music player application with the system icon for iTunes, like I have done for VOX Music Player as seen in the screenshot below.

replace-app-icon

Give individual Finder folders a new background color or image using the Background: setting under View > Show View Options. This setting is available only in the “icon view” or “grid view” in Finder.

change-finder-background

A Revamped Login Screen

If you want to personalize the login screen on your Mac, replace the default background image and default user picture for your account. You can even throw in an entertaining lock screen message.

To swap out the login background, first find a .PNG image that matches the resolution of your Mac’s display. You can crop an existing image to the required dimensions or download an appropriate image as is from the web. Be mindful of copyright restrictions in any case. Name this image com.apple.desktop.admin.png.

Don’t know the display resolution of your Mac? Look for it under Apple > About This Mac > Displays.

mac-display-resolution

Now navigate to the Caches folder in your Mac’s main Library How To Access The OS X Library Folder & Why It's Handy How To Access The OS X Library Folder & Why It's Handy Most OS X Library folders are best left alone, but it's useful to know your way in and around the User Library. Read More (/Library/Caches). There you’ll find a file named com.apple.desktop.admin.png. Back this up somewhere safe and replace it with the custom image file of the same name you created in the above step.

As an alternative, you can append some indicative text like -orig to the original file, and leave the file right there when you bring in the new image file.

If all goes well, when you restart your Mac the next time, the image you chose should show up as the background for the login screen. I had trouble getting this working, so it can be a bit temperamental.

Moving on to the user picture, you can replace the default from System Preferences > Users & Groups > Password. Click on the existing user picture next to your user name to swap it out for one from, say, Apple’s default set or your Photos library. Hit Save to get the selected picture in place.

replace-mac-user-picture

To set a message for the lock screen, visit System Preferences > Security & Privacy > General and first select the checkbox next to Show a message when the screen is locked. Is this option grayed out? If yes, you’ll need to click on the lock icon at the bottom of the pane and enter your system password when prompted, to gain access to this setting.

Next, click on the Set Lock Message… button, type in what you want the lock screen to say, and hit OK. When you restart your Mac, you’ll see the message at the bottom of the screen, right above the power options.

set-lock-message

A Better-looking, Friendlier Dock

To personalize your Mac’s dock, at the very least, declutter it. Remove dock icons for apps you don’t use often by dragging the icons out of the dock and releasing them when you see the Remove prompt.

You can also reposition the dock, resize its icons, and set them to magnify to various degrees on hover. To access the settings for these tweaks, head to System Preferences > Dock.

dock-settings

Also, add spaces between dock icons for visual clarity, with the Terminal command given below. You can remove a space from the dock just like you remove an app icon.

defaults write com.apple.dock persistent-apps -array-add '{"tile-type"="spacer-tile";}'; killall Dock

You’ll have to repeat this command for each new space you want to add to the dock. That’s not the only command you can use to customize the dock. With hidden Terminal commands Customise Your Mac OS X Dock With These Hidden Terminal Commands Customise Your Mac OS X Dock With These Hidden Terminal Commands From simple tweaks like adding hidden stacks for recent items, to only displaying the currently open applications – there's a lot you can do to customize your Mac's dock. Read More , you can add a custom stack for recently used apps, or display only active apps.

mac-recent-applications

If you want to add a Windows-like Start menu to your dock for launching apps, drag and drop the Applications folder to the dock. You can drag any folder to the dock to access its contents quickly.

display-folder-as-menu

Right-click on the folder’s dock icon and you get to choose whether you want macOS to display the folder as a stack or “Start menu” type folder. You can also choose whether you’d like to see the folder contents as a list, fan, or in a grid.

dock-folder-options

Let’s say you want a custom Start menu in the dock, for easy access to apps, files, and folders that you use often. Creating one is easy!

First create a new folder — let’s call it Start — in a location of your choice in Finder. Now, for each item you want to add to the custom dock menu, select it and drag it to the Start folder while holding down option+command. This creates an alias for that item. An alias is like a symbolic link What Is a Symbolic Link & What Are Its Uses? [MakeUseOf Explains] What Is a Symbolic Link & What Are Its Uses? [MakeUseOf Explains] Read More  i.e. it always leads back to its source file. The difference is that the alias works even if you move the source file to a different location.

Once you have added aliases for all your favorite apps and files to the Start folder, drag the folder to the dock, and your makeshift Start menu is good to go!

Of course, instead of customizing the default macOS dock, you could replace it with a third-party dock app like uBar or Ring Menu.

ring-menu-mac

App-specific Themes and Highlights

Play around with the in-built settings for individual applications to add more personal touches to your Mac. For example, if you have the Slack desktop app installed, brighten up the sidebar with a new theme.

In the Mac Mail app, change how your emails look by tweaking fonts and colors from Preferences > Fonts & Colors. You can also highlight individual messages by selecting them and picking a new color via Format > Show Colors.

highlight-message-mac-mail

Get a new skin for the Terminal application via Preferences > Profiles when you have the application open. Select one of the themes available in the sidebar and click on Default at the bottom of the sidebar to set your choice as the default theme. You’ll need to restart Terminal for the new color profile to show up.

change-terminal-skin

Custom Sounds

You don’t have to limit your personalization efforts to visual changes. Why not add some audio tweaks as well? For starters, pick a different system voice as the default from System Preferences > Accessibility > Speech > System Voice. Next, choose a new alert sound from System Preferences > Sound > Sound Effects.

set-sound-alert

You can even set your Mac to announce the time in a voice of your choice, say, every hour, from System Preferences > Date & Time > Clock.

As you can see above, with a little thought, time, and effort, you can make your Mac desktop truly yours. Then it’ll be even more of a pleasure to look at and work with.

Have you left the default Mac desktop alone or have you added your own twist to it? Tell us how you have personalized it!

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  1. HotManBurning4Love
    February 28, 2016 at 3:16 pm

    Wanting ability to have MULTIPLE Desktops and files IN THEM just as you would have multiple terminals in parallel, but have those ON the Laptop starting wherever the MAIN System was moved or placed.

    • Justin Pot
      February 28, 2016 at 3:56 pm

      I have to be honest, I'm not sure what it is you want, but from what I do grasp I think that there isn't a way to do it. Sorry about that.

  2. Jonnymoe
    May 11, 2014 at 1:20 pm

    Don't forget bowtie for showing now playing information on your desktop from itunes etc.

  3. Mike
    February 21, 2014 at 9:21 pm

    Still looking for a tool that would allow me to change all windows to varying degrees of transparency...

  4. Sarah Reichelt
    February 13, 2014 at 3:07 am

    Pic-a-POD is an app that downloads pictures of the day from a variety of sources and uses then to change your desktop periodically.

  5. Nathanael
    February 11, 2014 at 10:57 pm

    I have Satellite Eyes now- I must say, it is really cool. Flavours, I tried that, but at the time it was not for Mavericks so by the time it was, my trial had ended.