Changing Icons on OS X

We’re fortunate enough as Mac users to already have many beautifully designed application icons. However, there are always one or two older applications in your dock which seem to lower the standard. There are a few easy ways to rectify this, with numerous tools available to assist with organizing and changing OS X icons.

This how-to will walk you through the process using two different applications, and provide a few useful resources for sourcing some really good looking icons.

Option 1: Via the Finder

There’s a very simple way to edit the icon of a file or application, and it essentially involves opening the ‘Get Info’ window for an application, and proceeding to drag and drop (or copy and paste) the desired icon over the small icon image in the information popup.

Copying a Folder Icon

Copying a Folder Icon

This will only work if you’re dragging an icon of the correct format – the best way to ensure this is to drag it from another file or applications equivalent ‘Get Info’ window. Apple have a step by step tutorial of this process if you’d like a visual walkthrough. Reverting to the original icon is just a case of selecting it, then hitting delete.

Option 2: CandyBar

A more full featured (and unfortunately, commercial) application for managing and changing icons is CandyBar. This long standing tool has a wide range of features, not limited to simply changing icons.

You’re able to import and organize a large icon collection, apply system-wide icon set changes, alter the entire appearance of your dock, and manipulate system icons which you’d be otherwise unable to.

CandyBar in action

CandyBar in action

CandyBar costs $29; not an unreasonable price by any means, but still fairly expensive for an icon utility. That said, it does sport a really intuitive interface and is definitely the way to go if you want to maintain a decent icon collection.

Option 3: LiteIcon

If you’re reluctant to purchase an app purely for modifying your interface, a free alternative called LiteIcon may be more suitable. Whilst not as slick as CandyBar, it is able to open and manage the ‘iContainer’ files used by the commercial app.

Change icons for free with LiteIcon

Change icons for free with LiteIcon

You can manipulate general icons, drives, folders, dock icons and others. When you’ve made some changes there is a handy shortcut to re-load the Finder and display the updated graphics.

Icon Resources

Of course, now that you know how to alter and adapt your application icons, you’ll need a few sources to find them! I’ve compiled a list of several different websites where you can find various icons which look good enough to eat:

  • The Iconfactory – The biggest and best icon repository from the people behind CandyBar. It isn’t updated all that often, but the featured icons are usually excellent.
  • Pixelgirl Presents – Housing hundreds of icons for every taste. If you’re looking for something specific you’re likely to find it somewhere here.
  • InterfaceLIFT – This site offers several hundred different icons, and it’s easy to find the gems through sorting by popularity.
  • David Lanham – A talented and quirky artist, famous for creating Mac icons and wallpapers.
  • Apple – The people behind OS X also post a few icon sets now and then, along with various screensavers.
  • – Looking very dated now, but great if you’re going for a retro Mac OS look and feel.

If you know of any other sources for downloading OS X icons, please feel free to share them in the comments!


Add Yours
  • Thank you for the LiteIcon tip

  • I have found the first method of copy and pasting really effective in the past. For example, at this link there are nice folders for each Adobe program, some of which I use very frequently on several projects.

    To prevent having to copy and paste the icon to a new folder ever time I need a Photoshop or Flash folder, I created a master set of folder icons and I just copy from the master set.

    This allows me to keep my project folders very organized on my computer. Also, if you are uploading these folders on a server, other people can easily tell what type of content is in the folder (if they are a mac user).

  • I use TellingFolders to do add an image to a folder (the folder icon is intact- this just puts an image over top of part of it)… For instance, I put my client logos on my client file folders. Simple and free.

    Another source of freebies is the icon editor pack. You’ll notice that if you GetInfo on some image files, the preview is not in the icon popup– pic to icon (part of this pack) fixes that:

  • Copy paste works fine with me,

  • I love creating icons :)

  • CandyBar is the best and quickest method.

  • I was actually thinking a bout doing this a few days ago but I’m always ambivalent about messing around with the defaults in Mac OS X (I usually just trust Apple has made everything the best it can be). Nevertheless, I may check out LiteIcon later and see if I can’t spruce anything up.

  • One quick edit, it should be “apple has” not “apple have”

    • Actually, both are technically grammatically correct. It all depends on whether Apple is singular or plural. Typical American practice is for Apple to be singular, but it CAN be plural (as is typical with British English).

  • Very nice website. Bookmarking you and sticking my tongue out :P

  • Other resources:
    Macthemes –
    Have a look in Forum > Mac releases

    Jonas Rask Design –
    All his stuff is fantastic but his Pry set(s) is totally stunning.

    Deviantart –
    Customization > Icons > OS Icons > Mac OS
    Very nice set called Sere

    Martin Lexow –
    An unusual set called Blob

    Have fun

  • Don’t forget as a great source for icons.

  • It all depends on whether Apple is singular or plural

  • I learn something new on this site everyday! Great post.

  • I tried before many times, but with no luck. I am so thankful about finding your post. Well explained and well written. Thanks.

  • I hate the small icons from Windows. I think the reason Apple got so much ahead of Microsoft it’s because the better designed icons they had. And error free system.

  • I love customizing my desktop. CandyBar is an excellent way to do so.

  • I second the CandyBar tool. I’ve been using it and love it.

  • I agree with “hostess” on the apple vs. windows interface. It’s definitely a lot more user-friendly.

  • This is really helpful to me, i’ve just bought a mac, and the transfer from PC to MAC is hard.

  • I’ve just bought a MAC, and the transition from PC to MAC is a bit hard. This is very helful to me right now.

  • Any idea how to change the system apple icon on the very left of the menu bar?