How to change the icon of a storage device in macOS

To tell different volumes and drives apart, you can paste in custom icons.

Mac hard drive icon

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Apple hides some of its best features through obscurity, not intentionally. For many years—at least 15, by my research—you have been able to select and change the icon for any file, folder, volume, or drive. But it’s a multi-step process that requires starting with the right image.

You can find the source icons all over the place. Generic ones are available at places like IconArchive and DeviantArt (which has a lot of NSFW content, but not drive related); companies that sell drives often make downloadable icons available of all the models they sell, like One World Computing and LaCie; and you can copy an icon from an existing volume. You can also find little projects, likese these 20 icons made from historic Japanese patterns by a designer at software maker Panic in 2012.

(In the below steps, don’t select or drag onto the larger icon shown at the bottom of Get Info if the Preview section is expanded. That shows a larger size of the item icon, but it can’t be copied, and dragging onto it, is like dragging onto a folder or volume.)

mac911 panic waritsuki drive icons IDG

A designer at Panic made these lovely Waritsuki drive icons.

To copy an icon from an existing volume, folder, or other item in the Finder:

  1. Select the item.
  2. Choose File > Get Info (or press Command-I).
  3. Click the small icon in the upper-left corner and press Command-C to copy it.

To replace the icon on an existing volume or other kind of item in the Finder:

  1. Find the item you want to use. If it’s another icon already in use, follow the steps above to copy it to the clipboard.
  2. Select the target item.
  3. Choose File > Get Info (or press Command-I).
  4. If the icon is in the clipboard, select the icon in the upper-left corner and paste; if it’s a downloaded file, you can just drag it from the Finder over the current item in the upper-left corner.

In some cases, you may be prompted to enter your password (or an administrator’s account and password) to complete the change.

You can make your own custom icons quite easily. Finder item icons are square, and are best created at 1024 by 1024 pixels in any software you use to edit or create art or images from scratch, and then crop or export to 1024 by 1024 pixels.

The Finder relies on the ICNS file format, which stores multiple resolutions of items, so you can opt to customize the appearance at sizes from 16 by 16 up to that full-sized 1024 by 1024 pixels, and macOS always picks the most appropriate or closest size for its purposes.

However, if you just create the largest size, you can use free online tools or free apps in the Mac App Store to convert your regular image file into a properly formatted ICNS file. Image2icon, for instance, allows drag-and-drop simplicity for free, and offers more options with in-app purchases. Cloudconvert offers a web-based utility for converting all manner of files, including a huge array of formats into ICNS.

This Mac 911 article is in response to a question submitted by Macworld reader Luis.

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