This is how to change the icon of files and folders in macOS

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Did you know that you can change the icon of files and folders in macOS? If you did not, in this article I will show you how it is done!

Out of the box, macOS uses a generic blue icon for folders. That’s perfectly fine as you can always identify the folder by its name. Well, not always, and that’s where the ability to change folder icons comes in handy.

Why change the default folder icon?

I added a couple of frequently used folders to the Dock, right next to the Trash can and the Downloads folder. The problem is, that without hovering over the folder with the mouse, I don’t see the name of it. True, the preview of the folder’s contents sometimes gives me a visual clue, but not always. As a result, when I try to drag and drop a file into my “Scans” folder, I have first to confirm which one the correct folder is. I figured it would be much easier if each folder had a unique icon that would relate to its name.

macOS - How to change the icon of files and folders
My original Dock

How to change the icon of files and folders

To change the icon of a folder, open Finder and select the folder you would like to change the icon of. Then press COMMAND + I or use File –> Get Info to bring up the Info Sheet. In the upper-left corner of the Info Sheet, you will see a smaller version of the folder icon.

  • Open Finder and select folder
  • Open Info Sheet (COMMAND + I)
  • Drag and drop image file onto folder icon on Info Sheet

Next, pick an image file that you want to use as the new folder icon. I typically go to iconfinder.com to find free icons I can use. Then drag and drop the image file onto the folder icon on the Info Sheet to replace it. I have found that ICNS files work best, so make sure you select the correct file type when downloading the icon. The same principal applies to files, but I haven’t had the need to replace file icons yet.

macOS - How to change the icon of files and folders
Info Sheet in Finder

According to Apple’s knowledge base, you can also open any image file in Preview, select the entire image (Edit –> Select All or COMMAND + A), copy it (Edit –> Copy or COMMAND + C) and then open the Info Sheet, select the current icon and paste the previously copied image into it (Edit –> Paste or COMMAND + V). The advantage of this approach is that you can use any image file type, such as PNG or JPG.

If you don’t see the icon of your folder change in the Dock, it’s because of folders in the Dock, by default, show a preview of the contents. To change that, just right-click on the folder in the Dock and choose “Folder” under “Display as.”

How to delete a custom folder icon

How to delete a custom folder icon
Click on the image to watch the video on YouTube.

Deleting a custom folder icon and reverting to the standard is straightforward. Select the folder that you would like to reset the icon of, open the Info Sheet, select the custom icon and press DELETE on your keyboard. I have recorded a short video clip that demonstrates how to change the icon and how to revert it back.

The results

I have changed all the folder icons in my Dock with images that visually represent what the folder is for:

  • Downloads
  • Screenshots
  • Scans
  • Processed files
  • Pinned*
macOS - How to change the icon of files and folders
My final Dock

The last one is a so-called “Saved Search” pseudo-folder, and even though I changed the icon in Finder, the icon in the Dock doesn’t change. Maybe that’s a bug in macOS, or it’s just how Apple intended it to work. Also, I have noticed that after my last macOS update, the icons of shared Dropbox folders (i.e. Scans) changed back to their original icons.

macOS - How to change the icon of files and folders
Changed icon of a Saved Search

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9 thoughts on “This is how to change the icon of files and folders in macOS”

  1. does anyone know how to fix this? I changed all the icons for multiple folder inside another folder, I moved all the folders to an external drive to make room for some new downloads and when I moved the folder back to the mac, all my folder icons/images are gone. All the folders are back to the default black blue folder icon. Can anyone help?

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  2. Hi, I have been able to change many icons in the finder windows and on the dock. System apps such as mail and itunes etc don’t appear to be changeable, but third parrty apps such as Chrome and Whatsapp are. However, I have found that when a third party app has an update, the icon reverts back to its original state. Is there any way to prevent this from happening? It’s becoming very annoying and I have become quite used to my altered and home made app icons.

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  3. Thanks! Although this article is focused on folders, I am having trouble changing the default icon for PDF files on my MacOS Mojave, after uninstalling Adobe Reader DC and installing Foxit Reader. I AM able to change the icon for a specific PDF file using File -> Get Info, highlighting the icon in upper left corner & pasting Foxit icon (from Preview). However, it does NOT change the default icon for any other PDF file (and, yes, I checked/verified that Foxit Reader is set as the default app for all PDF files; btw – there IS a FoxitReader.icns file in the app’s Resources folder, so why I’m even needing to do this I’m not sure.) So, I’m stymied…

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  4. I tried to change two icon in the desktop, Onedrive and Trash following your methods, step by step. It didn’t work for either…

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