How to Use Custom Icons in Mac OS X (And Where to Find Them)

Tim Brookes 17-04-2015

Tired of the way your Mac looks like everyone else’s? Brighten things up by installing your own custom icons for favorite software and system components.


The hardest part of this tweak is deciding which replacement icons you want to use. Reverting back to defaults couldn’t be simpler, so you don’t even have to worry about messing things up.

How to Change Icons

Brightening up your Mac with a new set of icons was never a particularly hard thing to do How To Create & Change Mac Icons Quickly & Easily Read More , but changing system icons for components like Finder, Trash, and System Preferences is a little more tricky.

The basic technique still works for most applications and folders:

  1. Find the application, folder, drive or other item you want to modify.
  2. Hit command+i or right click and select Get Info to bring up the inspector.
  3. Click and drag the icon you would like to use and release over the existing icon.

Note: If you have changed an icon for an item that is pinned to your dock Everything You Need to Know about Your Mac's Dock It's the primary way many users interact with Mac OS X, but a lot of people still don't know some of the most basic and useful things the dock is capable of. Read More , you’ll need to open Terminal and run the killall Dock command in order to see it.

How to Use Custom Icons in Mac OS X (And Where to Find Them) changemacicon


Your icon will now have changed. In order to get it back, simply bring up the inspector, highlight your replacement icon by clicking it and hit backspace to revert.

Changing Your User Icon

Often forgotten but glanced at every time you turn on your computer, your user icon requires little effort to change. Simply head to System Preferences > Users & Groups and click on the current icon.

How to Use Custom Icons in Mac OS X (And Where to Find Them) usericon

Changing System Icons

If you want to change system icons there’s an excellent little bit of freeware that makes the whole process effortless. LiteIcon is an icon management tool from FreeMacSoft, the same studio responsible for the rigorous space-reclaiming tool AppCleaner AppCleaner: The Best Free Uninstaller App For Mac Leave no crap behind. AppCleaner is a free uninstaller for Mac that searches for and lets you delete all the settings, caches and other junk files programs you delete that would otherwise remain. Read More .


LiteIcon uses a similar method to OS X when it comes to changing icons, except the application places all customizable icons within the one interface. In addition to lists of installed applications and currently-mounted volumes; folders, the dock, external devices and other default icons are separated by type.

How to Use Custom Icons in Mac OS X (And Where to Find Them) liteicon

LiteIcon is very easy to use:

  1. First download and launch LiteIcon, then find the application, folder, system component, hard drive or other item you would like to customize in the list.
  2. Click and drag your icon or image file and release over the icon you would like to replace.
  3. Hit Apply Changes and admire your handy work.

If you would like to revert to the default icon, click and drag the custom until it disappears, then hit Apply Changes again. If you’ve made too many changes and simply want to get back to where you started, launch LiteIcon and in the menu bar at the top of the screen choose Tools > Restore All System Icons.


Using an Older Mac?

If you’re using an older machine that doesn’t support OS X Mavericks or Yosemite (10.9 and 10.10 respectively) then LiteIcon won’t work. Instead you’ll need to use an old application called CandyBar, which is now unsupported freeware.

The application makes changes at a system-level, so if you find the changes you made using the OS X inspector aren’t sticking, this should work. CandyBar works with OS X 10.5 and greater.

And speaking of older Macs, why not trying giving your Mac a retro look 6 Fun Ways to Give Your Mac a Retro Look Wish your Mac looked a little more retro? Here's how to get a classic look, complete with icons and fonts, on your modern Mac. Read More  while you’re changing icons?

Icons, Sizes & Filetypes

Icon files should be square, with a 1:1 ratio. For Mac computers without a Retina display, the recommended image size is 512 x 512 pixels, and for Retina display MacBooks or the 5K iMac you should use files of 1024 x 1024 pixels to avoid unsightly pixelation Why Do Some Apps Look Bad On My Retina Display? (And How to Fix It) When Apple released the MacBook Pro with Retina display this time last year, they raised the bar for laptop display technology, as they previously did for the smartphone and tablet industries. The only issue they... Read More .


How to Use Custom Icons in Mac OS X (And Where to Find Them) iconsizes

OS X uses a proprietary icon format with the .ICNS file extension, but image files work just as well. Many icons found online will be in the .PNG format, but even .JPEG files will work. The key is to find image files that are big enough in the first place — if you’re using a Retina screen How Does The Apple Retina Display Work? [MakeUseOf Explains] These days, people are crazy about the Apple Retina Display. Supposedly, it does wonders! A completely non-pixelated screen? Who would have ever thought?! However, many questions loom the supposedly revolutionary technological advancement. Is it really... Read More  your choices will be limited to icon sets released within the last few years.

Finding icons can be tricky, but here are a few of the best resources for high resolution sets:


How to Use Custom Icons in Mac OS X (And Where to Find Them) iconarchive

Probably the largest collection of useful icons on the Internet, with a focus on freebies and providing icons in a variety of formats (.ICNS and .PNG included). The high resolution collection is worth a look if you’re looking for elusive replacements for your Retina display.


How to Use Custom Icons in Mac OS X (And Where to Find Them) flaticon

Still riding the “flat UI” wave of recent design decisions, FlatIcon focuses entirely on simple two-dimensional icons that emphasize simplicity and minimalism. Included icons are available in .PNG among other formats (including .SVG and .PSD downloads), completely free of charge but the largest download seems to be 512px, which means you’ll need to download the vector and export your own Retina version if need be.


How to Use Custom Icons in Mac OS X (And Where to Find Them) deviantart

Another rich source of icons is DeviantArt, though you may find yourself wrestling with the search tool in order to find exactly what you want. The website is as much a community as it is a resource, and you can sign up to rate, comment and follow your favorite artists.


How to Use Custom Icons in Mac OS X (And Where to Find Them) clker

This may seem like an odd choice to feature on a list of icon resources, but Clker has arguably the biggest collection of free vector files on the web. Unlike raster images, vectors scale without loss of quality providing you with a great basis from which to create your own icon files.

Convert Files to Icons

If you happen upon an icon you cannot use (maybe it’s in the Windows .ICO format), you might have to convert it. Fortunately there’s a free online tool that allows you to do this in the form of the iConvert Icons Online Converter.

iConvert also has a standalone Mac app ($9.99) which provides this functionality on the desktop.

Have you changed your Mac’s default icons?

Related topics: OS X Finder, OS X Mavericks, OS X Yosemite.

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