How to Create Custom Mac Icons

Creating Custom Mac Icons

Creating customized Mac icons for your folders, files, and applications is very easy – the most difficult part is ensuring that you have the right tools for the job. But hey, that’s why I’m here. 🙂 I’ve done the research to find the best ways to create your own customized Mac icons. Here’s a little tutorial on a couple methods that I have personally tested and confirmed.

Please note that this tutorial was originally written in August 2010, and was copied over from my old blog. Unfortunately, I can’t guarantee that all techniques and screenshots remain accurate with current versions of the tools referenced below.  I have, however, at the time of this posting, tested my links to ensure that they still work and the software still exists.  Please leave me a comment if anything looks awry!

First, Create or Choose your Icon

First, you need to create the icon that you intend on using. I like to use Photoshop and start with a 512 x 512 pixel image. Since this is the largest an icon can be enlarged, it ensures no pixelation at every size. You can use a direct .psd file in method 1, but if you plan to use method 2, “save as” the image. Png and .tif work best – avoid using .jpg if you want to retain any transparency. Simply saving as a normal .psd file works as well, though it may cause some Alpha Conversion issues when using method 2. Also remember that you might want to incorporate a drop shadow to make the icon pop from a user’s desktop background. Below is the icon that I created for a program.


Also, it is possible to have icons that change as they get larger or smaller. Many times, icons will be more complex when they are larger and reduce in complexity as they shrink. If you’ve never noticed this before, try changing the icon sizes on your desktop or in Finder and pay attention to how the icons change. If you want this functionality, just design multiple icons for each size. Note that if you want your icon to do the same, you will need to use method 2 below, as method 1 will only let you use one image per icon. See below for a collage of my icon at different sizes.


Method 1: Quick, Easy, Simple

This is the quick, no-frills solution. Head on over to Img2Icns and download the software. Though the paid version ($12) affords you more features, the basic free version will suffice.

With this software, you will be able to convert any image file (.psd’s included!) to an .icns that you can then set as the icon for any file, folder, or application. Once the app is downloaded, open it and you will see this screen.


Like the text explains, just drag and drop any image file into the dotted lines. After doing so, you will be greeted with this window.


Click the top-right option, icns, then select where you would like the icon to be saved. Once the icon is saved, right-click the file whose icon you would like to change and choose “Get Info”. Now you can copy and drag the newly saved icon to the top of the Get Info screen over the current icon (in the below picture, it’s to the left of “file.txt”), and it will replace the current icon.


That’s all! One disadvantage of this method is that it can only make one image the icon, so it will not be possible to have icons that change as they change sizes. If you want this to happen, use method 2.

Method 2: More Control, More Complexity

Method 2 affords you more control over the way that your icon appears – particularly in that it allows you to define different images for different icon sizes. This requires a little bit more work, however.

Icon Composer

Icon Composer is part of the Xcode developer suite that Apple distributes freely at its website. It is not by default installed on their computers. Basically, the program allows you to drag and drop images into boxes for each icon size. You can also drag images from one box to another box to avoid having to go back to your Finder every time, but if you do so, remember to always start with the larger sizes and drag toward the smaller sizes. This will avoid pixelation that would occur if you drag the other way.


Icon Droplet AppleScript

After you have saved the .icns, you cannot drag and drop it over the old icon like you could with the .icns from method 1. This is because the .icns files created by the Icon Composer are meant to be used on a full application package (created with the rest of the Xcode suite). To make the file draggable, use the Icon Droplet AppleScript from this website. It will create a dummy app that uses the icon. You can then drag and drop from the Get Info window for that dummy app into the Get Info window for the actual file whose icon you want to replace.

Method 2.1: For Mac OS 10.0/10.1 PowerPC

If you’re running Mac OS 10.0 or 10.1 with a PowerPC processor, the Icon Droplet AppleScript above will not work. Luckily for you, though, there is a piece of software that will convert the .icns file to a .rsrc file which you can click and drag over an icon to replace it (in the same way that you would have copied the .icns from method 1). Click here to download Icns2Rsrc, a program that is highly recommended for this task on a lot of forums. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work on new Macs.


You now have a customized Mac icon.