How to change icons in Mac OS X

Lou Hattersley
1 April, 2015
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Mac, OS X, icons, macworld australiaIcons represent all kinds of things and items in Mac OS X. Your Mac uses icons to represent apps, utilities, folders and files. Generally speaking, icons are designed to look like the thing they represent, so a folder looks like a paper folder, and the Notes app looks like a notepad. Over time you get used to the OS X icons and they help you quickly navigate around your Mac.

When Apple introduces new icons, like the red iTunes icon, it can be jarring. Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to change the icons in OS X to whatever you want.

This is also great for people who want to customise their edition of OS X, and achieve a particular look with the icons they want. It’s also fun to look at Apple’s icons up close (they are beautifully crafted) and change them to the ones you want.

In this tutorial we’re going to take a look at the iTunes icon (because it seems to be the current whipping boy), but you can use these instructions to change any icon in OS X you want.

How to swap icons in Mac OS X Yosemite

Before changing any icons for key apps, it’s worth playing around with icons for disposable files and folders to figure out how the icon-swapping process works.

How to cut and paste icons in Mac OS X

Icons in Mac OS X use the .icns format. These icons can be cut and pasted from one item in Mac OS X to another. To test this out we are going to create an empty folder on the desktop, but give it an icon from a blank text document. It’s better to start out with these disposable items rather than jumping straight into editing app icons.

  1. In Finder, choose File > New Folder.
  2. Open Text Edit and choose File > New then File > Save. Select the Desktop and click Save.
  3. You should now have a folder called ‘Untitled Folder’ and a file named ‘Untitled’ on the desktop. Select the folder and choose File > Get Info (Command-I) to open its Info window. Now select the file and choose File > Get Info.
  4. You now have two Info windows. One for the folder and one for the file. Each has a small graphical preview of its icon at the top of the Info window. Click the small icon graphic in the text document’s Info window. It should now be highlighted in blue.
  5. Choose Edit > Copy (Command-C).
  6. Now highlight the icon in the folder’s info window and choose Edit > Paste.

As you do this you’ll see the folder on the desktop change from a folder graphic to a text document graphic. You’ve just changed its icon! Here are some things to note:

  • You haven’t changed all folder icons, just that specific icon for that folder. Open a Finder window and all other folders will have the regular icon.
  • The ‘Untitled Folder’ is still a folder. You can double-click to open it, and even drag the Untitled text document into the folder.
  • Notice how confusing this is. Icons are metaphors that represent items, actions and concepts. Changing icons is a neat OS X trick to know, but you will rarely improve the Mac experience by changing icons around.

How to create new app icons in Mac OS X

With all that in mind we are going to look at changing an icon on the Mac. Of course, it’s easy to swap icons around using the trick above. But you can only change one icon for another one already in use. What if you want to replace an icon with a completely different one: can you design icons or download icons for Mac from the internet?

Format images online

 

The great news is that you can. Icons are stored using the .icns format. This is important to remember: do not use png or jpeg, or confuse ICNS with ICO (that’s the Windows format).

You can design your own files using a program like Adobe Photoshop or Pixelmator and then convert them to icns (the dimensions are 1024 x 1024 pixels; be sure to use a clear alpha background and save the files as PNG then convert them to ICNS).

There are many programs on the App Store that enable you to convert a graphic to icns. Alternatively you can use an online converting service such as iConvertIcons.

You can also download replacement icons from the internet. Services like Icon Archive enable you to download icons. Just remember to pick the ICNS format.

How to replace the red iTunes 12 icon with the old blue one from iTunes 11

  1. Open Safari and enter the following into Google Search: ‘iTunes 11 icon kind:png’. Click Images in Google search to view all the images available.
  2. Scan across the images to find one that is 1024 x 1024. Check that it has an alpha background (that means the background is a checkerboard of grey and white squares, not a solid white). Drag the file to the desktop.
  3. Now open the iConvertIcons.com website.
  4. Drag the file you downloaded from the desktop to the ‘Drag an image here’ area of the iConvertIcons website. Wait for the conversion to take place.
  5. Click the blue download icon marked ICNS.
  6. Open the Downloads folder.
  7. Click the file ending in HQX. It will extract a text document with the icon and instructions. Select the file and choose File > Get Info.
  8. Open the Applications folder and select iTunes. Choose File > Get Info.
  9. Select the blue iTunes icon in the text document’s Info window and choose Edit > Copy.
  10. Select the red icon in the iTunes Info Window and press Edit > Paste.
  11. Because this is an application you will need to enter your admin password and click OK.
iTunes 12 using the classic blue icon

The iTunes app in the dock won’t change immediately. But when you open the iTunes app it will immediately switch over to the new blue icon.

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