Finder Icon Replacement Problems

A common problem people have when trying to use custom Finder icons is that they try to set the icon to a file, instead of the image in a file's contents. Instead of the icon image they want, they get a default image JPG or PNG icon. You can use a custom icon by copying the contents of an image, from an app like Preview.
Video Transcript / Captions
Closed captioning for this video is available on YouTube: Finder Icon Replacement Problems.

There's a common problem a lot of people have when they try to use custom icons in Mac Finder. A few times over the last month somebody has contacted me about exactly the same problem. So I thought I'd explain what the issue is.

Say you have a folder like this Project A folder and you want to make it stand out. So you want to use a custom icon. You could be using a custom icon for a file or an application or anything. This is the same process.

You would select it. Use Command I to bring up information about it and there you've got the icon there in the information window. You can even click and select it there and you can see it gets highlighted. Now you want to replace it. Say with this red folder icon graphic. You could have maybe made that in photoshop or you could've downloaded it. But you have this graphic that you want to use as an icon.

So the first thing you might think to do is to drag this file here and drop it. But instead of getting this nice red folder you get an icon that says png in it. The file type for this graphic. That's not what you wanted at all. So you think, well maybe I need to copy and paste. So I'll select this file here, Command C to copy. I'll go back to the info window. I'll go to here, Command V to paste. The same thing! I still get the png icon there for the folder which is not what I want.

Maybe if I select the icon file there, I'll use Command I on it, and I grab that icon. I can see that the icon is not actually what I see here but it's actually that same icon there, that png. So you actually were, in those cases, applying the icon of the red folder file to the Project A folder. But that icon was actually png, not this. This isn't the icon. This is actually a preview that the Finder generates. Since it's an image it replaces the icon with a preview of the image.

So this is frustrating. How do I get this red folder icon there? Well, the important part is to remember that there's a difference between the file and the file's contents. Think of it like getting an old fashioned letter. The letter arrives in an envelope. The entire letter is the envelope and the piece of paper inside. But you want the contents. The contents is just the letter inside. So what we want is just the image which is the contents inside the file.

So I'm going to double click it and it will launch Preview and open up the image. I can see this graphic here. Now I'm going to select All and I can see a border goes around the entire image. I'm going to Copy. I'm copying the contents of the file as opposed to the file itself. So now when I go to my Project A folder there. Use Command I. Click on the icon. Command V to paste. It's going to paste the contents of the red folder icon into it which gives me the replaced icon there. I'm actually replacing the contents, the graphics, into the icon rather than the file itself into it.

That's how you do it. The problem a lot of people run into is trying to use the file to replace the icon rather than the contents of the file. It's pretty easy to do. You can just use Preview to get those contents out by copying them in Preview and using them as an icon there.

Comments: 5 Responses to “Finder Icon Replacement Problems”

    1 year ago

    Maybe a little off topic, but related. I made up a bright red folder icon ‘file’ and assigned it to the icon of all my USB flash drives. It really stands out when on the desktop, and helps mitigate (but doesn’t eliminate) the problem of leaving said drives behind.

    Mark D.
    1 year ago

    Thanks, I learned something new. I’ve always used the “Apple Icon Image” file type (.icns) for my custom icon needs. You can find some pretty cool icons (and icon sets) on, as well as some really nice desktop wallpapers.

    1 year ago

    Easy to do with google images. Just drag an image (like a Red Cross logo) to the desktop. Double click to open it in Preview, >Edit Select All > Edit Copy then paste it on a folder using File Get info to paste in the upper left of the folder.

    1 year ago

    Thanks, in addition to making a custom icon, was wondering if there’s a way to make an icon that is on the Desktop larger?

    1 year ago

    Gene: You can’t make a single icon larger, but you can make them all larger. Just click on the Desktop background to make sure the Desktop is what is selected, then View, Show View Options and you can adjust the size.

Comments Closed.