Apple’s user interface is heralded as a sleek, modern experience. A great deal of attention is paid to the design of icons, and a guide is published to help ensure that developers also create icons which meet the standards of OS X.
If you’d like to use custom icons in OS X — whether for applications, files or folders — there are a couple of different ways to achieve your goal.
- On an individual basis — i.e. selecting individual files or applications and just changing that one icon
- On a system-wide basis — applying an ‘icon set’ to change the look and feel of all the OS X icons system wide
The Simple Method
The easiest method of changing individual icons requires no software, and is very straight forward. It essentially involves copying the icon from one file/folder/volume to another.
- Select the item whose icon you want to stamp onto another.
- Perform a ‘Get Info’ action, and select the icon towards the upper left of the window.
- Press Command-C to copy the icon to the clipboard
- Select the item you’d like to change the icon of, perform ‘Get Info’, then click the icon in the top left
- Press Command-V to replace the icon with the one copied previously.
This is great for changing a limited number of icons. If, however, you want to change the appearance of the whole operating system, there is a need for a more powerful tool.
CandyBar is an application designed by Panic, which makes organizing and applying icons (and icon sets) remarkably straight forward. It costs $29, but there is a free trial available so you can decide whether it is worth your hard earned money.
CandyBar allows you to customize individual icons easily, including those which can be difficult to alter with the simple method (such as the Recycle Bin icon). It also provides the ability to apply a system icon set to your whole computer. This is useful if you’d like to change the style of folders system-wide, or alter the toolbar icons in the finder. The user interface for storing and applying icons is very straight forward.
Finding Icons and Resources
So you’re not starting from scratch, here are a few fantastic icon sets which will go a long way towards improving your Mac experience.
- Somatic – A thoroughly unique and ‘cartoony’ icon set, which can completely change the style of your Mac
- Agua – Alternatives to the default Aqua icons for OS X. Keeping a similar style, but with arguably a more simplified, professional style.
- Agua Folders – A set of Leopard-style folders, which make it easy to illustrate the content of your folders
- Litho System – A bright and well-worn system replacement icon set. Colorful and unique.
- Amora – Futuristic system and app icons, includes robots and mechanical devices in a black and white color scheme.
A great community and forum dedicated to Mac icons and themes is MacThemes, where you’ll find regular new releases and the latest news surrounding icon applications. Other communities and resources include:
- The Iconfactory – This is undoubtedly one of the largest Mac icon archives. It’s also the home of the CandyBar software.
- Pixelgirl Presents – Housing hundreds of Mac OS X icon sets that cover the full range from simple, professional icons, to funky and cartoon-style. If you’re looking for something unique, check out their designs.
- InterfaceLIFT – This site offers over 775 icon sets in a wide range of subjects. Some are better than others, but it’s an excellent resource.
If you come across any particularly good icon sets, please do let me know in the comments. In future articles I’ll be explaining how to customize the style of the OS X Dock, showcasing some interesting wallpaper applications, and highlighting how you can apply a different theme to your windows and applications.