Quicker custom icons

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Here’s a simple timesaver for your Thursday. OK, so it’ll save you all of a few seconds each time you use it, but still, it’s time saved. Over a year, who knows, you might accumulate an additional five minutes of free time, and we all know how valuable that can be!

Do you use OS X’s ability to create custom icons for your files and folders? You did know you could do that, right? Just visit somewhere like The Icon Factory or InterfaceLIFT for Mac to find icons you like—or if you’re really talented, use an icon editor such as Icon Machine or Iconographer to create your own. You can also use an existing icon off of a file or folder via a copy and paste operation.

Once you have an icon you’d like to place on a file or folder, the usual method of doing so is:

  1. In the Finder, select the file or folder whose icon you’d like to use.
  2. Hit Command-I (File: Get Info).
  3. Click on the small icon image at the top left of the Get Info window.
  4. Hit Command-C (Edit: Copy).
  5. Close the Get Info window.
  6. In the Finder, select the destination file or folder for the custom icon.
  7. Hit Command-I to open the selection’s Get Info window.
  8. Click the small icon image at the top left of the Get Info window.
  9. Hit Command-V (Edit: Paste) to paste the custom icon.
  10. Close the Get Info window.

Whew. Not the most streamlined of processes. You can simplify things a bit by using The Inspector (Command-Option-I), which is simply a live updating Get Info window. This window will float and update as you change the selection in the Finder, making the overall process somewhat simpler. But there’s still a fair bit of mouse clicking.

So here’s the timesaver—at least for those of you running OS X 10.3.3 or newer, including 10.4. You don’t need to use Get Info on the source of the custom icon. Instead, just select the source item in the Finder and hit Command-C to copy it. Now select the destination, hit Command-I to open the Get Info window, click on the small icon image, and hit Command-V to paste. OS X is smart enough to realize that if you’re pasting on top of the icon, then it should paste the icon image on the clipboard. Using this method, you save most of the work on the source file; you simply need to find it and hit Copy.

This hint shows the intelligence of the Finder’s clipboard—the clipboard holds at least three different types of data at the same time. What you get when you paste depends on where you do the pasting:

  • Paste copied item(s) into the Finder: You’ll create a copy of the file(s) (or folder(s)) you copied (you need to paste into a different folder, though).
  • Paste copied item(s) into a word processor: You’ll get the name(s) of the copied items. This is a great way to make a simple, fast list of everything in a folder—just use Command-A to select everything in the folder, hit Command-C to copy the selection, switch to your word processor, and hit Command-V. If you copy the entries from a column view window, the list will be in alphabetic order, too.
  • Paste copied item into the Get Info box: As described here, you’ll paste the copied item’s icon. Obvioulsy, you can’t do this for more than one file at a time.

So the simple clipboard isn’t quite as simple as it may seem to be…

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