Change folder symbol on Mac: folder does not take over symbol - what to do?

In order to keep the overview on the macOS desktop, in a full folder or elsewhere on the Mac, you can assign individual icons to folders. In theory, this works very simply: select the graphic, drag it onto the folder information and the icon changes. But sometimes the system only uses the graphic file symbol (paper with “GIF” or “PNG” on it) as the folder symbol. What can you do there? You might ask yourself. Since I recently had the same problem, I looked for a workaround - and found it! I share my solution with you here.

Changing the folder icon on the Mac: It's actually quite simple ...

You don't really have to do much to change or define a folder icon under macOS. At least that's what I thought when I recently wanted to visually prepare a folder with a certain topic. This is usually the procedure:

  1. Right click (or secondary click) on the folder
  2. Click on "Information" from the menu that appears
  3. Drag any graphic onto the small folder symbol (at the top)
Click on "Information" in the folder menu, then you can view and change certain (meta) data.

Click on "Information" in the folder menu, then you can view and change certain (meta) data.

You actually drag the selected image onto this small folder symbol. (If you drag it to the large folder symbol below, the image file will be moved to the folder)

You actually drag the selected image onto this small folder symbol. (If you drag it to the large folder symbol below, the image file will be moved to the folder)

Folder does not take over icon - what to do?

So you know how to define folder symbols and have already made or downloaded a nice graphic. Especially PNGs or GIFs without a background layer, which let the desk background come into their own, are visually appealing. But if you drag the file onto the small folder symbol in the folder information, will only the standard graphic for the respective file format be displayed? So this mistake:

There is a workaround with which you can define the graphic as an image for the folder. To do this, you first have to open it in a web browser, for example in Apple Safari.

Set an icon for a folder via Safari

So if you run into the error that I have come across, just use Safari as a workaround. In a few steps you will be at your desired destination:

  1. Right click (or secondary click) on the desired graphic file
  2. In the menu that opens, select "Open with" -> "Safari"
  3. Drag the image displayed in the Safari browser onto the icon in the folder information
Drag the opened picture from Safari into the folder information, then the folder also takes over the picture;)

Drag the opened picture from Safari into the folder information, then the folder also takes over the picture;)

It worked! Change folder symbol on Mac: folder does not take over symbol - what to do?

It worked!

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19 comments

  1. Achim says:

    Hello Sir Apfelot, the workaround doesn't work for me. Only PNG is displayed. Does the picture have to be a certain size?

  2. toppiMS says:

    Great, thank you very much, that helped me a lot!

  3. Marc says:

    Hello!
    Unfortunately, the workaround doesn't work for me - I tried JPG and PNG. Is there anybody with other ideas? Do the files need a certain or maximum size?

    Thanks and regards

  4. Michael says:

    With the normal folders and programs you can overwrite the symbols as explained.

    But how does this work with the address book, mail or Safari?
    This doesn't work here.

    • sir appleot says:

      For normal apps it works like this:
      1. Find the program that you want to change.
      2. Mark the program file and open the info window with CMD + I.
      3. Now open a JPG file and copy it (e.g. in Photoshop open a file with 1024-x1024 px, mark everything and copy with CMD + C)
      4. Now click with the mouse on the small icon at the top left in the app's info window.
      5. Insert the previously copied icon with CMD + V.

  5. Sara says:

    Hallo,

    Thanks for your help. Would you like to explain why this works?

    Thanks and best regards!

    • Jen Kleinholz says:

      Hi Sara! How do you mean? If you want to know what technology is behind it, you might have to ask Apple. I'm not that cracked when it comes to macOS programming. : D

  6. ludger says:

    Super thank you! So far the normal way has always worked for me, but now the exact problem arose that you are describing here. I've never found a solution on the net so quickly! :-)

  7. Kerstin says:

    Hello Sir Apfelot, I wanted to insert an image from my photo file - but only jpeg is displayed. I've already tried it with different pictures, none of them work. The "Live" function has already been deactivated for the images? Thank you for your answer.

    • Jen Kleinholz says:

      Hello Kerstin! I just tested it again on macOS Big Sur. I have selected a JPG file in the Finder (click only once). Then copied with CMD + C. Now the folder information is opened by marking the folder and opening the info window with CMD + I. Now the folder symbol is displayed once at the top and a little larger at the bottom of the window. You click once on the upper, small picture and insert your picture there with CMD + V. It went through cleanly for me and my folder now has a photo as a folder symbol. Where exactly does it hang with you?

  8. Markus says:

    Hello Sir Apfelot,
    I made a nice icon for the programs folder, but unfortunately it can't be changed. Is there another trick?
    I would also like to change the icon on the Finder, because I can't even find the information window.

    • Jen Kleinholz says:

      Hi Markus! Where exactly is the problem? I have just searched for the Finder app with CMD + F and marked it. Then with CMD + I the information window opens and you can see the icon at the top left of this window. You can change that accordingly. I have not yet fully understood where it "hangs" with you.

      • Nicole says:

        Unfortunately nothing happens to me. If I copy the picture and want to insert it in the icon under "Information", NOTHING happens. The old icon remains. I have no idea what's going wrong.

        • Jen Kleinholz says:

          Hello nicole! Do you use the keyboard shortcuts CMD + C and CMD + V? Otherwise I don't know what the problem could be. :-(

  9. Anna says:

    THANK YOU!
    My tolerance for frustration has just come to an end. Thank you for sharing your experience and knowledge.

  10. Michael says:

    Hello Anna

    However, this works again under macOS Big Sur (version 11.5.2).

    The folder or program symbol must first be opened
    (Key combination: ⌘I) or via "File> Information"
    Then the information window appears

    To make changes, click on the lock below on the right to unlock it.
    Images can be saved as folder symbols using the "Image2icon" program and disruptive backgrounds can be removed beforehand.

    Click the icon to be copied in the information window at the top right
    Then copy the desired folder symbols (key combinations: ⌘C) or via
    and insert via (keyboard shortcuts: ⌘V) Copy and Past
    The folder or program symbol to be changed must of course be opened beforehand ⌘I and then marked just click once.

    However, this does not work with programs such as Contacts and Mail.
    These can neither be deleted nor the symbol changed

    Greetings!
    Michael

  11. Diana says:

    Hey dear Michael, first of all: Thank you very much for all your knowledge here!
    I was able to change the icon for 2 folders, but now it no longer works. But do the same steps as before. Huh?
    The problem is usually in front of the screen ... so do you have another tip? :)
    Thank you & best regards Diana

    Got macOS Catalina 10.15.7

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