Customizing Default System Icons (10.3.x)
Warning: This article involves editing system files. Xicons is not responsible for any damage you may cause to your system. If you follow these instructions, you do so at your own risk.
Note: If you are interested in changing the Finder and Trash Can icons found in the Dock please see Customizing the Dock.
This article describe how to change system-wide default icons built into Mac OS X 10.3 (Panther).
In previous versions of Mac OS X, most of the default icons were found in a single file named SystemIcons.rsrc. In Panther, the icons are individual .icns files, and in some cases, .png files.
Most of the icons you are used to finding in the SystemIcons.rsrc file can be found in the following directory:
That directory contains about 147 .icns files, only some of which are interesting.
Before editing any files, it is recommended that you back them up. This will allow you to revert to Apple's icons in the future. Please do not email me for the original files. I cannot send them to you.
One way you might backup your files is to create a "BACKUP" directory at each location where you will be modifying files. Copy all of the .icns, .png, and any other files you may wish to edit into this "BACKUP" folder. It is important that you only perform this step the first time you are customizing your icons. Otherwise you risk overwriting your backups with modified versions!
Begin by launching the Terminal application and creating your backups.
cd /System/Library/CoreServices/SystemIcons.bundle/Contents/Resources/ sudo mkdir BACKUPS sudo cp *.icns BACKUPS/
In this case, there are no .png or other file types we're likely to be editing. If there were, we would issue similar copy commands to back up those file types.
sudo cp *.png BACKUPS/
Now that we have backed up our files, we are ready to edit them. To bring up a Finder window containing the current directory, run the following command in the terminal:
In this directory, among a few other things, you will find tons of default system icons. Read through the file names and open any interesting ones you find. I recommend using Iconographer by MScape Software. Keep in mind that these files are owned by the root user and you do not have write permissions to them. This means you will not be able to edit them in place.
Note: Your replacement icons MUST be in .icns format, otherwise they will not work. Icons downloaded from Xicons.com and many other sources are NOT in .icns format. You cannot simply add the '.icns' extension to a file to convert it to .icns format. The best way to make sure your icons is in the correct format is to open it in Iconographer, chose 'File: Save As..." and select the .icns format from the popup menu before saving the file.
For each icon you wish to customize, download a replacement from Xicons or create your own replacement and make sure it is in .icns format (see the note above). Give this icon the exact same filename as the one you are changing, and drag it to the /System/Library/CoreServices/SystemIcons.bundle/Contents/Resources/ directory.
A dialog box will pop up stating that your file cannot be moved because "Resources" cannot be modified. Click on the 'Authenticate' button to continue.
You will now be presented with a standard Finder copy dialog box. If you are moving multiple items, check the "Apply to all" check box. Press the 'Replace' button and enter your password when prompted (requires a user account with Admin priviledges).
Your custom icons are now installed! The changes should be visible next time you log in.
Note: Some of the icons in this directory may no longer be in active use. For instance, changing the Finder and Trash Can icons at this location may not have any effect.
Now that you have successfully modified some of the default system icons, you may have noticed that a number of the icons you want to change are not located in the directory listed above. Below is a listing of other directories you may want to check out for other system-wide icons:
There are even more, but that covers just about everything you will likely want to customize. By the way, a great way to locate .icns and .png files in the system is to run the folling commands from the Terminal:
sudo find /System -name "*.icns" > ~/Desktop/system_icns.txt sudo find /System -name "*.png" > ~/Desktop/system_png.txt
These commands will find all of the files ending in .icns and .png and write their locations to a file on your desktop.
You can launch Finder windows of the parent directories of these files in the same manner as we did above with the Terminal, or you can select "Go: Go to Folder..." from the Finder menu bar. Enter the path name exluding the last part, which is the filename. These files can be backed up and edited in the same way as described in the directions above.
If you get tired or your customizations and want to revert to the original icons you can re-install your backed up files as shown below, using /System/Library/CoreServices/SystemIcons.bundle/Contents/Resources/ as an example. You did backup your files before editing them, right? ;-)
cd /System/Library/CoreServices/SystemIcons.bundle/Contents/Resources/ sudo cp BACKUPS/* .
For your changes to take effect, you will likely need to log out and back in again.
Editing default application and document icons is left as an exercise for the reader.
Note: Please send your feedback about this article, including corrections and suggestions, to the author via the 'contact' link at the bottom right corner of this page.