How to give folders and files unique icons


How to give folders and files unique icons
Mac Tip #510, 02 November 2011

Wouldn’t it be great to give files and folders an icon that’s meaningful (or even just attractive)? Look at one of your folders in the Finder, using the Icon view. Although the documents you’ve created may have an icon that shows a preview of what’s in the document, the folders probably all look the same. This Tip shows how to make them look how you want them to look.

These step-by-step instructions look long and complex. It takes longer to read them than to add a custom icon though. Once you know how it’ll take you only a second or two each time.

Quick start

  1. Copy a picture in a graphics editor or Preview.app.
  2. Get Info on a file.
  3. Paste over the icon at top left of the Get Info window.

Read on for detailed steps.

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Find or create some icon images

Perhaps you like to draw your own images, or maybe you’ve found some to download. In my screenshot I found an icon I like at FindIcons.com.

I like this icon I found on the web, so I downloaded it.

I like this icon I found on the web, so I downloaded it.

Be a bit careful: Lion can display icons up to around 512 pixels by 512 pixels. The one in my screenshot works up to 128 pixels but looks fuzzy larger than that.

Copy the picture

See also this MacTip from 2002, though its info is now somewhat outdated: Cool Icons. If you run an older version of Mac OS X it may still be useful.

The new icon in my Downloads folder.

The new icon in my Downloads folder.

It used to be enough to copy the icon you needed right in the Finder. That no longer works reliably, so:

  1. Open the picture in an image editor or in Preview.app.
  2. Use a selection tool to select the picture or the part of it that you want to use. In Preview.app choose the Select tool from the Tools menu.
  3. Draw a selection box around the picture.
  4. The picture is selected in Preview.app.

    The picture is selected in Preview.app.

  5. Choose Copy from the Edit menu. This copies the picture to the Clipboard. Close Preview now as you’ve finished with it.
  6. Select a folder or file in the Finder whose icon you want to replace.
  7. Choose Get Info from the File menu. The Get Info window opens. In the top left corner is a small icon beside the name of the item you selected. The icon shows the existing icon for that file.
  8. Click once on the icon in the top left of the Get Info window to select it.
  9. Choose Paste from the Edit menu. This pastes the picture from the Clipboard into the Get Info window. If you have the Preview section of the Get Info window open you should see the image there change as well as the icon in the top left corner.
  10. Close the Get Info window.

The file or folder should now be displayed in Finder’s Icon View with the image you pasted.

The new icon is in place.

The new icon is in place.

Delete a custom icon

If you don’t want a file or folder to display a custom icon:

  1. Select a folder or file in the Finder whose icon you want to remove.
  2. Choose Get Info from the File menu. The Get Info window opens. In the top left corner is a small icon beside the name of the item you selected. The icon shows the existing icon for that file.
  3. Click once on the icon in the top left of the Get Info window to select it.
  4. Press the Delete key on the keyboard. The custom icon is removed. If you have the Preview section of the Get Info window open you should see the image there change as well as the icon in the top left corner.
  5. Close the Get Info window.

Copy a custom icon

If you already use a custom icon for a file or folder it’s easy to copy it to other files or folders. Just copy it directly from the top left of one Get Info window to another.

Some icons can’t be deleted

Mac OS X assigns special icons to some folder such as Movies, iTunes and others. I found in testing I was unable to delete those special icons, but I was able to paste a custom icon to replace them. If you then delete your custom icon the special OS X icon returns.

 iTunes and other special folders have their own special icons anyway.

iTunes and other special folders have their own special icons anyway.

Have you customised your Finder icons? Tell us about it in the Comments at the website.

These books will help you with Lion

I recommend the ebooks Take Control of Upgrading to Lion and Take Control of Using Lion to anyone moving to Lion. I’ve read them myself and they were extremely helpful. Click the covers below to buy through my affiliate link. Every book you buy through my link helps MacTips.

Take Control of Using Lion.   Take Control of Upgrading to Lion.

Credit where it’s due

This Tip was written by Miraz Jordan, http://mactips.info, and is available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

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