Guides Mac News

How to Manually Change Dock Icons in Snow Leopard

Give your Mac’s Dock a face-lift with new icons, even for Finder and the Trash.

It isn’t like Apple cuts corners when it comes to design. But that’s never kept us from setting our own desktop backgrounds or installing skins for our favorite apps. Customizing the Dock might not be quite as simple, but that shouldn’t stop you from giving a personal touch to one of the best aspects of the OS X interface.

With a little elbow grease — or a little help from third-party software — you can substantially change your Dock’s look, and even make your app icons look like the classy iOS icons.

Get the sexy look of rounded-edged iOS apps on your Mac.

Difficulty Level: Medium

What’ll You Need

A Mac Running Snow Leopard
Administrative Permission (You can’t do this logged in as a guest.)

1. Pick Out Some New Icons

Picking out your new icons is the most important step. We like the Flurry and Phoney iOS-style collections. But if you’d prefer a Star Wars theme, or a glassy, all black & white look, you’re in luck. There are thousands of free icon sets available at sites like The Icon Factory to suit your fancy.

Icons for Mac tend to come in one of three formats: image files (typically PNG), ICNS icon files, or empty folders with a hidden ICNS file attached (which you can copy from the top-left corner of the folder’s Get Info window). If you occasionally need to convert one file-type to another, no problem: your Mac has this option built in. Just open an icon file in Preview, select Save As and change its extension.

Typically, icon files will be named after the icon they’re intended to replace, so arranging them all by name in one folder will make selecting individual icons simpler.

Good riddance to those boring Preview and Address Book icons.

2. Set New Icons to Your Folders and (most of) Your Apps

We’ve covered this briefly before, but you can change the icons for almost any item you can locate in Finder just by replacing the icon in the top-left corner of the Get Info pane. Start by copying the ICNS or PNG file for the new and improved icon to the clipboard. Then right-click on the app or folder you want to change and select Get Info. In the window that opens, click on the original icon and hit command+V to overwrite it with the new one from the clipboard. If this item is in the Dock, right-click its dock icon and click “remove from dock.” Then replace it from Finder for the change to take effect.

Most Dock items are apps, but a few miscellaneous folders sit next to them, like Documents and Downloads. So start with the contents of your Applications and Home folders. Don’t forget that just because an App isn’t always in your Dock doesn’t mean it won’t appear there any time it’s running. If the new icon for a folder isn’t showing up in the Dock, right-click it and make sure it’s set to display as a folder, not a messy-looking stack.

Save time with hotkeys: command+C to copy and command+V to paste.

3. Set New Icons for Stubborn Apps

You probably noticed that some apps, like iTunes and iCal, think they’re too good for your new icons. You can still change them though, as long as you have administrative permission. Before closing those Get Info windows, make sure to set your privileges for these apps to “Read&Write.”

Right-click the app and select “Show Package Contents.” This will open a new Finder window containing the app’s under-the-hood files. Open the “Resources” folder and find the ICNS file it’s loading the icon from. Usually it will have the same name as the app. Make sure your new icon is an ICNS file and has exactly the same file-name as the original file, then drag it to the Resources folder. In the finder prompt that pops up, click Replace to overwrite the old file.

Close the resources folder and launch the app: it will reach for its default icon and display your replacement instead. If the change doesn’t show up, restart your Mac (or if you’re feeling bold, run the Terminal command “killall Finder”).

If it’s an ICNS file that looks like the icon, look no further. All the same, we recommend making a backup copy.

4. Upgrade Your Dock’s System Icons

Your Dock is probably looking pretty sweet by now, except that it’s still bookended by the angular smiling rectangle and drab wire basket it came with: it’s time to do something about those system icons.

In Finder, open the System folder (under Macintosh HD), and click through to System > Library > CoreServices > Dock. Right-click the Dock, select Show Package Contents, and open the Resources folder. This time you’re looking for PNG files: finder.png, dashboard.png, ejectmedia.png, trashempty.png & trashfull.png. If you don’t already have PNG versions of each of the icons you want here, open their ICNS files in Preview and use Save As to create duplicates with the extension PNG. Once again, make absolutely sure your replacement icons have exactly the same filenames and extensions as the originals (and make backup copies of the originals), then delete the old image files and move your new ones in. Tada! Restart (or use that Terminal trick) to see your changes.

Note: this isn’t the same Library folder as the one in your Home folder.

5. Maintain Your New Aesthetic

A few apps (looking at you, Google Chrome) love to update all the time and overwrite your new (better) icons. So keep those icon files stashed away somewhere in case an update tries to muck up your Dock’s sleek new design.
Dropbox will overwrite the icon on your Dropbox folder every time the app starts up, so replace the ICNS file named DropboxFolderIcon_leopard.icns (in Contents > Resources) with whatever icon you’d prefer. Each time is replaces the icon upon starting, it’ll replace it with yours!

Consider CandyBar

It’s possible to change every icon in your Dock without any special software, but Panic Inc.’s CandyBar streamlines the process big time. $29 is a lot to pay for drag-and-drop simplicity, but CandyBar’s two-week, 250-icon trial is plenty of time to give your apps and folders a no-hassle makeover. If you decide later on you’d like a different look you can still make those changes, because the following methods for switching icons manually will play nice with changes made by CandyBar.
Trying to change those pesky system icons? CandyBar does all the hard work for you.