Changing Icons in El Capitan

I updated my MacBook Pro to El Capitan last night and at once noticed that my custom icons that I loved had been changed back to the default icons that come with OS X. I tried to change them back to the custom icons I had set up last year, but they wouldn’t ever change. So this morning I set about to learning how to change them.

My dock with custom icons

Since El Capitan is so recent, I did not find any tutorials about this subject, so I decided to take it upon myself to write up a little tutorial for anyone who needs a little help.

One of the new features in El Capitan is the Security Integrity Protection (also called rootless), which is just a fancy way of saying that system files cannot be added, edited, or deleted while the feature is turned on. This means that you cannot change icons for system programs, such as Safari, Messages, and iTunes. So while the main process of changing icons in El Capitan is the same as with previous versions of OS X, you first have to turn off SIP.

It is worth noting that the process outlines below is only necessary when changing system application icons. For any other application it is not needed.


Turn Off SIP

  1. Turn off your Mac
  2. Turn it back on and hold ⌘-R until the Apple logo with a progress bar pops up, this boots your Mac into Recovery Mode
  3. Click “Utilities” in the menu bar, and select Terminal
  4. Type the command csrutil status in order to check whether SIP is enabled or disabled.
  5. If enabled, type csrutil disable, this will turn off SIP
  6. Click the  in the menu bar and select Restart

Change Icons

Since SIP is turned off now, you can change icons! If you already know how to do this part you can skip to the next section (it is the same process as with previous OS X releases).

To change the icon of an application:

  1. Open a Finder window and go to the folder where the new icon is located
  2. Open a new Finder window
  3. Open the Applications folder
  4. Find the application you want to change the icon for
  5. Either right-click on the application and choose “Get Info”, or hit ⌘-I
  6. Now simply drag the new icon onto the icon image in the Info window (as seen in the image below)
  7. If this application is a system application (anything bundled with OS X like Calendar, Reminders, etc.) you will have to enter your password to allow the change
  8. Congratulations! That application’s icon is much prettier now!

In order to see the changes in your dock, open Terminal and enter killall Dock to restart the dock.


Change the Finder Icon

Changing the Finder icon is a more involved process than with other applications.

  1. If the file you want to use as the new icon is a .icns file, change the extension of the file to .png. This can be done by renaming the file
  2. Open a new Finder window and enter the shortcut Command-Shift-G
  3. Paste this address into the dialog and click “Go” /System/Library/CoreServices/Dock.app/Contents/Resources/
  4. Find and copy the finder.png and finder@2x.png files into a backup location
  5. Remove the finder.png and finder@2x.png files from the folder
  6. Move your new icon (with the .png extension) into the Resources folder, you will have to authenticate with your password
  7. Hit Command-Shift-G again and go to this new address /private/var/folders/
  8. Now search for “com.apple.dock.iconcache” and delete the file once it is found
  9. Open Terminal and enter the command killall Dock to restart your dock. Your new Finder icon should show up!

Turn On SIP

Now that you have finished updating the icons that you would like to update, you should turn SIP back on. This process is the same as turning it off, except you will use the csrutil enable command to turn SIP on. I have listed the steps below if you don’t want to scroll back to the top again.

  1. Turn off your Mac
  2. Turn it back on and hold ⌘-R until the Apple logo with a progress bar pops up, this boots your Mac into Recovery Mode
  3. Click “Utilities” in the menu bar, and select Terminal
  4. Use the command csrutil status in order to check whether SIP is enabled or disabled.
  5. If disabled, type csrutil enable, this will turn on SIP
  6. Click the  in the menu bar and select Restart

Enjoy Your New Dock!

I’m not a huge fan of the stock icons for OS X, especially after the design refresh of Yosemite. That’s why I choose to customize the icons of applications on my Mac. I really love the icons made by the wonderful Ollin Bohan, which can be downloaded from his website here.

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Nathan Ansel

Nathan Ansel

Nathan is an iOS Developer that has a passion for making beautiful, well developed apps. He loves Swift, fitness, and playing video games. He can be found on twitter at nathan3o4.