How to personalize your macOS desktop by replacing file and folder icons with other images...

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in macOS
If the macOS desktop is looking a little boring, or is in need of a little more personalization than a change of background image, one solution could be to change how files, folders, and apps look. AppleInsider tells you how to quickly change the icon for the majority of files stored on your Mac.




Changing the appearance of an icon can be performed as a way to jazz up a stale desktop, but it also serves a number of other useful purposes as well. When staring at a sea of identical-looking blue folders in Finder, it could help to identify a specific one you need to access by making it stand out from the rest, or by making each folder's icon give some clue to its contents aside from its name.

Switching the icon can also be used as part of a practical joke or to hide documents in plain sight, such as by making the thumbnail of one image look like it's something completely different.

For whatever purpose you need to change an icon for, the process itself is quite easy to perform, and to undo.

Changing the icon

The first step is to make a copy of the image you want to use for the icon in the clipboard.

Open the image in your selected image editor, or in Preview, select the portion of the image you want to use, and then copy it by either going to Edit in the menu followed by Copy, or by using the Command-C keyboard shortcut.




Navigate to the file, folder, or app that you want to change, right-click it, and select Get Info to bring up its information window. This can also be done by selecting the file, then going to the menu to select File and then Get Info.




At the top left of this information window will be a small icon. Click it to highlight the small icon with a border.




Lastly, paste the image onto the selected icon, by either selecting Edit in the menu then Paste, or by using the Command-V keyboard shortcut.

At this point, the small icon will change to the pasted image, updating the appearance of the file at the same time.


Copying another icon

If you plan to reuse an icon already in use by another file or folder, it is a similar but slightly different process.

Summon the information window for the file you want to copy the icon from using the Get Info instructions above. Select the small icon, and copy it by using Edit then Copy in the menu, or the Command-C keyboard shortcut.




Once copied, close this window and open the information window for the file you want to alter. Select the small icon, then paste using the keyboard shortcut Command-V or by selecting Edit then Copy in the menu.




Again, both the small icon in the window and the regular icon will change to use the copied graphic.


Restoration

Changing the icon back to its initial form is slightly easier, started by bringing up the information window using the same Get Info instructions as above.

Once in the information window, select the small icon, and either select Edit then Cut in the menu, using the shortcut Command-X, or by pressing Delete.


Extra notes

In AppleInsider's testing, it has been able to change the icon on the vast majority of file types in macOS. There are some exceptions to this, such as Apple's Calendar app, which cannot have their icons changed.

If you want to change the icons for apps on the Dock, you will need to change them within the Applications folder. You then need to remove the app from the Dock by dragging it off, and then re-add it by dragging the app from the Applications folder to the Dock.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 18
    tzm41tzm41 Posts: 78member
    Yeah cuz the calendar icon is dynamic.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 2 of 18
    hexclockhexclock Posts: 486member
    This feature has been around forever, and although I haven’t used it in quite some time, it’s nice Apple still allows you to do it. 
    randominternetpersonwatto_cobra
  • Reply 3 of 18
    I know how to do this, but haven't done it in years. It just doesn't add much in terms of usefulness. On the other hand, I wish Apple would restore color to the sidebar as well as full-size color labels for files and folders instead of little dots that are barely noticeable.
    randominternetpersonTripleTroubleStrangeDaysalanhlarz2112deepinsiderroundaboutnow
  • Reply 4 of 18
    phone-ui-guyphone-ui-guy Posts: 1,018member
    I know how to do this, but haven't done it in years. It just doesn't add much in terms of usefulness. On the other hand, I wish Apple would restore color to the sidebar as well as full-size color labels for files and folders instead of little dots that are barely noticeable.

    Are you talking about having the Tags on the sidebar? They are there on mine, but we down off the screen by default. Or was there something else in a previous version? Agree on the dot. It doesn't stand out like the old way I remember. You can add a column for tags in the list view which helps for that view at least. 
  • Reply 5 of 18
    SoliSoli Posts: 8,468member
    I've tried doing this for a .VNCLOC shortcut for a headless Mac mini Server I keep in my Dock. It works the first time, but then it will revert to the original icon after that. I'm not sure how to resolve it without replacing the default .VNCLOC icon for the system.
  • Reply 6 of 18
    urashidurashid Posts: 86member
    The iconfactory has carried free, themed sets of Mac desktop icons for years. Some them are really cool (like Studio Ghibili). I used to customize my desktop a lot in early days. Now, not so much. https://iconfactory.com/freeware/icon
    edited March 2018
  • Reply 7 of 18
    anomeanome Posts: 1,224member
    I kind of miss using ResEdit to hack the complete desktop, including icons. Then again, it was responsible for some horrible icon art.
    hexclockdeepinsiderspheric
  • Reply 8 of 18
    hexclockhexclock Posts: 486member
    anome said:
    I kind of miss using ResEdit to hack the complete desktop, including icons. Then again, it was responsible for some horrible icon art.
    I wish there was a modern version of Candybar, that would not make the OS completely unstable. 
    Since we are strolling down memory lane, I’d like to have window shade and the window zoom sounds back too. 
    edited March 2018
  • Reply 9 of 18
    tallest skiltallest skil Posts: 43,399member
    You used to be able to replace folder icons systemwide by just overwriting the .icns files in the System folder. Thanks to... whatever OS blocked you from accessing that except as root, it’s not drag and drop anymore.
  • Reply 10 of 18
    fastasleepfastasleep Posts: 2,284member
    anome said:
    I kind of miss using ResEdit to hack the complete desktop, including icons. Then again, it was responsible for some horrible icon art.
    Or use Kaleidoscope to install different "themes" for the entire Finder interface in Mac OS 8/9.
  • Reply 11 of 18
    fastasleepfastasleep Posts: 2,284member
    Raise your hand if you were immediately irked by the idea of someone keeping their shopping list in an .rtf instead of just using Reminders.
    Soli
  • Reply 12 of 18
    SoliSoli Posts: 8,468member
    Raise your hand if you were immediately irked by the idea of someone keeping their shopping list in an .rtf instead of just using Reminders.
    Or just use Notes. There are bullets, checkboxes, and other mark up that make it a great app for organizing lists.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 13 of 18
    paxmanpaxman Posts: 4,589member
    Used t odd this wayyyyy back, pre OSX. :smiley:  Not interested in changing Folder Icons, anymore.
  • Reply 14 of 18
    SpamSandwichSpamSandwich Posts: 30,575member
    I know how to do this, but haven't done it in years. It just doesn't add much in terms of usefulness. On the other hand, I wish Apple would restore color to the sidebar as well as full-size color labels for files and folders instead of little dots that are barely noticeable.
    I am onboard with bringing back coloring the entire name with the tag color. The dots are useless.
  • Reply 15 of 18
    fastasleepfastasleep Posts: 2,284member
    Soli said:
    Raise your hand if you were immediately irked by the idea of someone keeping their shopping list in an .rtf instead of just using Reminders.
    Or just use Notes. There are bullets, checkboxes, and other mark up that make it a great app for organizing lists.
    I use Siri to add and remove items from my Reminders list via my Watch. Not sure if you can do that with a Note?
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 16 of 18
    SoliSoli Posts: 8,468member
    Soli said:
    Raise your hand if you were immediately irked by the idea of someone keeping their shopping list in an .rtf instead of just using Reminders.
    Or just use Notes. There are bullets, checkboxes, and other mark up that make it a great app for organizing lists.
    I use Siri to add and remove items from my Reminders list via my Watch. Not sure if you can do that with a Note?
    It's not possible since Apple hasn't given us Notes on watchOS.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 17 of 18
    fastasleepfastasleep Posts: 2,284member
    Soli said:
    Soli said:
    Raise your hand if you were immediately irked by the idea of someone keeping their shopping list in an .rtf instead of just using Reminders.
    Or just use Notes. There are bullets, checkboxes, and other mark up that make it a great app for organizing lists.
    I use Siri to add and remove items from my Reminders list via my Watch. Not sure if you can do that with a Note?
    It's not possible since Apple hasn't given us Notes on watchOS.
    Ha, I didn’t even think of that. 
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 18 of 18
    One more useful thing... hold down the shift key when you select the portion of the image you want and you will get a nice square for the icon... which fits the actual proportions of an icon and makes everything look much better.
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