Custom folder icons in Mac OS X Lion

Since I converted to Mac OS X a couple of years ago a feeling to keep my OS nice and tidy has grown slowly but steadily. Today I installed a small Subversion server in my home folder to keep track of my programming changes and discovered that the folder didn’t look as nice as I wanted to. A big blank folder spot in the middle of my vanilla Apple folders, gasp! Searching the net for a minute my patience ran short and I decided that I had to do something about this myself, right away.

This post is a guide to make your own Apple-like folders. It’s not pixel-perfect in any way but a good starting point for anyone who wants to try. The result is something like this (or whatever icon you want to make):

Requirements for this tutorial:

  • Mac OS X
  • Photoshop
  • AppleFolderIcon.asl (Free Photoshop CS5.1 layer style made by me)
  • Xcode developer tools (Found on your Mac OS X install medium)
  • IconDroplet (Free)
Note: Some pictures is in swedish since my OS is in swedish, shouldn’t be any problems for the tutorial though :)

1. Find the default folder icon

Most of the familiar Mac OS X (Snow Leopard) icons can be found in:

Here you’ll find the file GenericFolderIcon.icns which is the default icon for folders.

2. Extract the PNGs

Every .icns file consists of 5 different images representing the various sizes an icon can have: 512×512, 256×256, 128×128, 32×32 and 16×6. In order to make a custom folder icon we have to create four of these since the default folder icon only has four
(well, we can use only one size but the end result isn’t as good).

I used to extract the files since the conversion preserves the transparency and quality: Upload your GenericFolderIcon.icns and download the (Linux) PNGs sized 512, 128, 32 and 16.

3. Import layer styles

Using the layers I’ve created, download, you can pretty much get vanilla-like Apple folder icons from any black/transparent shape. The download is an .asl-file that contains four different layer styles used for each size of the icon. Just double-click the file and Photoshop will import them.

To check that the styles are imported, go to: Edit → Preset Manager… → Select Styles from Preset Type and look for the four blue styles (presumably at the end).

4. Create the icons!

Open up the GenericFolderIcon_512x512x32.png that you downloaded in Photoshop and create a new layer (⇧ + ⌘ + N). Then draw or paste you desired form or logo into the new layer. For this tutorial you can test with the custom Subversion logo I made, link.

It’s important that you only use black as color if you want the icon to look Apple-like since the layer styles uses black as base when you apply them, or else you get the wrong facet. I don’t say the layer styles create a perfect Apple-like-facet but it’s the closest I got.

When you’re satisfied with your new layer you apply the style you previously installed. Select (Window → Styles) and the upper right box on the screen changes to “Styles” (With default settings in CS5.1). Scroll down the styles and you’ll find the four blue styles you imported.

Be sure to choose the right style depending on your icon size, hover the styles to see details.

Now you should get something that looks pretty much like an Apple folder with a custom bevel. Now you have to do this for the other icon sizes so you’ll have a set. Follow these previous instructions but be sure to choose the correct layer style for each one!

Tip: You can paste your 512px-sized black shape into the smaller 128px icon layer and resize it to 25 % of it’s original size since 128 is 25 % of 512. Select the whole black-shape layer with ⌘ + A. Copy and paste it into the smaller icon image and then do a free transform with ⌘ + T. At the upper bar you’ll see two percent fields named W: (width) and H: (height). Move the shape into place and you’re done. You can use this little trick with the other sizes aswell, just make the 32 to 16 transisiton 50 %.

When you’re done (phew!) you’ll have four different sizes of the same icon. Save each one in PNG format ( ⇧ + ⌘ + S  → Select PNG from the Format: dropdown → Save).

5. Packaging

Now comes the use of Xcode developer tools. Navigate to /Developer/Applications/Utilities and start up Icon Composer. This application is used to create .icns files. Just drag and drop your files from finder into the respective size-box in Icon Composer. Don’t mind about the 256 box. When you’re done, save using the menu.

Now there’s one little thing left to do in order to be able to use your custom icon, usually you just right-click, choose “Get Info” and copy/paste the icon at the top left. If you try that with the .icns file you just created you’ll discover that this icon has taken the place of your gorgeous custom icon.

IconDroplet is a tool “that takes raw icon files (*.icns) and turns them into files that are embedded with the icon. After the files are processed you can “Get Info” on the resulting files and copy/paste the icons to other items.” (description taken from macupdate).

So, download IconDroplet and just drop your .icns file on the application. It creates a file in the same directory as your .icns file.

6. Using

Select and copy the icon

To use your new icon, right-click the file IconDroplet made and select “Get Info”. In the upper right corner you’ll see the icon you made. Left-click it once and copy it (⌘ + C). Then right click and do the same thing to the folder that you want to have the new icon, only paste is instead of copying it (⌘ + V).

You’re done, congratulations! And my home folder has a prettier Subverion folder.