How-To OS X

Customise any Mac folder, file or hard drive icon

Every Mac comes with a range of icons that are used to represent your files, hard drives and folders in the ‘Finder’ window and on the Desktop, but you don’t have to use these default icons.

While macOS’ default icons do communicate some basic information about each item, macOS uses the same icon for all folders and all hard drives, plus it uses the same icon for all files of the same type. Replacing some of the default folder icons with custom icons can help you see, at a glance, whether a folder contains something exciting like photos of your vacation, or something more practical like tax returns. It can also help you differentiate between files of the same type (which by default all have the same icon) and, if you have several hard drives that you switch between on a regular basis, then assigning a different icon to each drive can help you keep track of which hard drive is currently connected to your Mac.

In this article, I’m going to show you how to replace any folder, file or hard drive icon, with any image that’s stored on your Mac.

Where can I get custom icons?

You can use any image as an icon, including photos you’ve taken yourself or, if you’re feeling inspired, then why not open up your favourite image-editing software and create your own icons? If you do decide to try your hand at icon design, then you’ll find some useful advice over at Apple’s OS X Human Interface Guidelines.

If you’d prefer something ready-made, then you’ll find countless alternative Mac icons available online. If you have an idea about the kind of icon you want to use, then it’s always worth performing a quick Google search to see whether this turns up any results, for example you could try searching for “Mac icon camera,” “Mac icon OWC Express” or “Mac icon Game of Thrones.” Finally, if you’re open to suggestions, then you’ll find lots of alternative Mac icons on sites such as IconArchive and InterfaceLIFT.

Customise any folder or file

To change a folder or file icon:

  • Open a ‘Finder’ window and navigate to the image you want to use as your new icon.
  • Open the image in your Mac’s Preview app, by Control-clicking the file, then selecting ‘Open with > Preview.’
  • Select ‘Edit > Select All’ from the Preview toolbar, followed by ‘Edit > Copy.’
  • Close the Preview application.
  • Navigate to the folder or file where you want to use your new icon.
  • Control-click the folder and select ‘Get Info.’
  • You’ll see the file or folder’s current icon in the upper-left corner of the ‘Get Info’ window. Click this icon once to select it; it should now be highlighted blue.

  • Paste your new icon over the current icon, by pressing the ‘Command+V’ keys on your keyboard. The ‘Get Info’ menu should update to display your new icon.
  • Close the ‘Get Info’ menu.

Check the file or folder in the ‘Finder’ window; you should see that it has a brand new icon!

Applying Custom Hard Drive Icons

You can also change the icon that represents a hard drive, including external hard drives such as USB flash drives:

  • Make sure the drive in question is connected to your Mac.
  • Open a ‘Finder’ window and navigate to the image you want to use as your new icon.
  • Open the image in your Mac’s Preview app.
  • Copy this image, then close the Preview app.
  • In the ‘Finder’ window, navigate to the drive where you want to use this icon.
  • Control-click the drive and select ‘Get Info.’
  • Click to select the drive’s current icon.
  • Paste your new icon over the default icon, using your Mac’s ‘Command + V’ shortcut.
  • Enter your admin username and password if prompted.
  • Close the ‘Get Info’ window.

Rinse and repeat for every hard drive that you want to customise.

Restore your Mac’s Defaults

To restore a file, folder or drive’s default icon, simply:

  • Control-click the folder, file or drive in question.
  • Select ‘Get Info.’
  • In the ‘Get Info’ window, click to select the icon in the upper-left corner.
  • Press the ‘Delete’ key on your keyboard, and the folder, file or drive will revert to its default icon.

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About the author


I've been a passionate evangelist for Apple and the Macintosh throughout my working life, my first love was a Quadra 605 working with a small creative agency in the south of Norfolk UK in the mid 1990's, I later progressed to other roles in other Macintosh dominated industries, first as a Senior graphic designer at a small printing company and then a production manager at Guardian Media Group. As the publishing and printing sector wained I moved into Internet Marketing and in 2006 co-founded which grew to become one the top 200 visited sites in the US (according to Quantcast), at its peak receiving over 15 million visits per month. For the last ten years I have worked as an Affiliate and Consultant to many different business and start ups, my key skill set being online marketing, on page monetisation, landing page optimisation and traffic generation, if you would like to hire me or discuss your current project please reach out to me here.

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