How to customize system app icons in Mac OS X

By , Jun 20, 2016

System Mac Apps Change Icon

My colleague Timothy Reavis shared just a couple of years ago how you can customize the icons of apps on your Mac. On the other hand, it would seem the process to do this has changed slightly in OS X El Capitan.

In this tutorial, we’ll be showing you a method that works on Apple’s latest operating system release for Mac.

I spent quite a while running around in circles while trying to change an app icon, and after getting frustrated, I turned directly to Apple to find a solution. Fortunately, things worked out in the end, and I found out that OS X El Capitan has some internal changes that make modifying certain things a little more difficult.

Changing your app icons is not only fun, but in some cases you just have to do it to enjoy using your Mac. We’ll talk more about that below.

Why to change an app’s icon

Changing an app’s icon does nothing functionally, but it does change the aesthetic of the app’s icon, which means you get to look at something different. This change will appear in Finder, Dock, Launchpad, and anywhere else that you can launch the app from.

Many people may want to change an app’s icon for the following reasons:

  • They don’t like how an app icon looks
  • They want to theme their Mac with a new look and feel
  • An app icon doesn’t support the Retina display

So if you fall under one of these reasons, and you’re on OS X El Capitan and not having any luck with previous methods of changing app icons on your Mac, then it’s time to try another method.

In full disclosure, this method worked for me even on OS X El Capitan, so it should work for you as well.

Customizing an app icon on OS X El Capitan

To change an app icon on OS X El Capitan, you can follow these steps:

1) Find your app either in Finder, or on your Desktop. Right-click on it, and then click on Get Info.

Change App Icon on Mac El Capitan Get Info

2) This will open the Get Info menu for the app you just queried:

Change App Icon on Mac El Capitan Get Info Menu

3) Next, find the image you want to use for an app icon. Open it up with your Mac’s Preview app.

Change App Icon on Mac El Capitan Open in Preview

4) With the image open in the Preview app, go to Edit > Select All in the Menu Bar to select the entire image.

Change Mac App Icon El Capitan Select All

5) Next, with the image selected (marching ants should be moving around the image at this point) go to Edit > Copy from the Menu Bar to copy the contents of the image to your Mac’s clipboard.

Change App Icon Mac El Capitan Copy

6) With the image in your clipboard, go back to the Get Info window you had open earlier, click on the icon at the top left of the window, and then go to Edit > Paste from your Menu Bar.

Change App Icon Mac El Capitan Paste

7) Depending on the location of the app you’re trying to change the icon of (in this case, it was my Applications folder, which is a system folder), you may be asked to enter your password. Go ahead and enter it, then click on the blue OK button.

Change App Icon Mac El Capitan Enter Password

8) The image should now be applied to the app, but for it to fully take effect, you should restart your Mac.

9) After you get yourself logged back in, you can re-open the Get Info window for the app you changed the icon of, and you should see your changes:

Mac Change App Icon Done

And that’s all there is to it!

This works not only for third-party apps, but also for system apps. It even works for folders and files.

Wrapping up

It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense why Apple changed how to permanently change an app icon in OS X El Capitan, but at least you now have the tools to get it done.

I was doing this for my Private Internet Access VPN app because the stock icon doesn’t support the Retina display, so it looks pretty cheesy. But after I found this much larger icon, it comes up nice and clear on the Retina display and makes things look a whole lot better.

Also read:

Keep in mind however that whether or not an app supports the Retina display is irrelevant. This is a great way to modify your Mac to make it look different from others and give it a level of customization that many Mac users don’t even bother with.

Have you ever wanted to change an app’s icon on your Mac? Share why below.

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  • Can’t it be easier? I remember app for os x 10.5.2

    • ege

      CandyBar? It was cancelled after Lion.

    • :D

      It still works

  • Anonymous

    Now where to go for themes!

  • Moonie Pinkslip

    Doesn’t work on Sierra: just changed to Sierra tonight, and can’t change my icons the old way I used to, as you describe.

  • asteri0n

    CandyBar no longer works with Mac OS 10.11.6 El Capitan.
    Even after applying the ‘hack’ to the plist file, CandyBar does nothing.
    Real shame, as the MacOS icons are just plain fugly.