Getting Around a Common Custom Icon Problem

Creating a custom Finder icon for a file or folder is as simple as copy and paste. However, a common problem people experience is when they try to copy and paste a whole file as the new icon and get a generic image icon instead of the picture. The trick is to copy the image inside the file, and not the file itself.
Video Transcript / Captions
Closed captioning for this video is available on YouTube: Getting Around a Common Custom Icon Problem.

Recently I've noticed a few people, both at MacMost and elsewhere, complaining about a problem creating custom icons. I believe there's a method that used to work in the past but doesn't work with the current version of Mac OS. But it's easy to work around as long as you know what's going wrong and why.

As an example, say I want to take this folder here. I want to create a custom icon. So instead of the default folder icon it's a picture. It could be a file too. It doesn't need to be a folder. It works the same way. So what you may want to do is take an image like this image right here which is a file, a JPG file, and the first thing you want to do is copy it. You can use Edit, Copy. Command C. Then select the folder or file that you want to make the custom icon for. Go to File, Get Info. This brings up the information window about it.

You click on the icon here at the top of the information window and you Paste, Command V or Edit, Paste in. What you get is an icon that says JPG. It looks like a little default JPG icon. This isn't what you wanted. You wanted the picture that's here. Why isn't this working?

The reason it doesn't work is because when you select this file here and you copy it, you're copying the file. If you like, think of it like old fashioned mail. A letter is an envelope with a piece of paper inside it. You're copying the entire thing including the envelope. So when you paste it into the icon in the info window you're actually trying to paste the file in there. Not the image. What the Finder does it, it says well I have a file here what do I do with that. Well, the file has an icon and that default icon is that JPG icon. I'll use the icon from that and paste it here since it looks like it's the icon that should be paste. You end up with this generic icon.

So, how do you get the image pasted here? It's actually really simple when you work around it. You need to copy the image inside it. So the simplest way to do that is to double click it. It's going to open up in Preview and it displays the image. Now when I Copy I'm actually copying the image in the file. Now I can Quit Preview. Select that folder there again and Get Info on it and Select. When I Paste it's going to paste the image in there. You can see now it's changed it to that image. Now the icon there is the image.

So it's just the difference between trying to Copy and Paste the file as opposed to trying to Copy and Paste the image inside the file. That should fix the problem if this is something you're experiencing.

Comments: 6 Responses to “Getting Around a Common Custom Icon Problem”

    11 months ago

    Related; For years I’ve changed the icon’s of all my flash drives to solid bright red. It mitigates the issue if inadvertently leaving one behind. Great videos, Thanks!

    11 months ago

    Is there a way to add the image on top of the folder icon–with the folder edges showing all around it? I want the folder to look like a folder, not just an image.

    11 months ago

    Suzanne: Yes. You just have to build the image that way. You can use Preview, Photoshop or whatever image editing tool you are comfortable with to create such an icon. There are also many online collections that feature folder-looking icons. See

    11 months ago

    In the olden days…80s…we were taught to get info on the jpg file, copy, get info on target folder or file, paste…The only problem is that these days sometimes those icons don’t transfer through the cloud…it appears the jpegs can become stripped of those images…work around is to re-save jpeg when it lacks and icon…new file has icon…and then return to method I just outlined…

    10 months ago

    Hi, how would you revert? Is it just a case of selecting the icon again in file info and deleting it?

    10 months ago

    Marcus: Right. You Get Info, then click to select the icon, then press the Delete key on your keyboard.

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