How to Change the Finder’s Dock Icon in OS X

By Matt Klein on May 27th, 2015

The one thing Mac owners probably take for granted is its customizability. True, Apple does impose strict rules on how the interface looks and acts, but in between all that, there are countless potential lost hours just adorning your system with new wallpaper and icons.

Replacing your system’s icons is one of the most distinct changes you can make which will have an immediate impact. Interacting with OS X is largely icon-driven (as it is with all graphical user interfaces) and thus it tends to be bright, colorful, and a general pleasure to look at and click.

In fact, when it comes to icons Apple urges developers to “spend the resources necessary to ensure that it makes the right impression on users.

We’ve previously discussed how to change icons on OS X but that was limited to folders and applications. That may be enough for most users, but for the more adventurous of you, today we want to talk about changing the Finder icon on the Dock.

Changing the Finder Icon

The Finder icon has always been the same essential “Happy Mac” design throughout most of the Mac OS’s history.

Much has changed during the course of the Mac’s evolution, but the Happy Mac more or less remains the same. Image source: Wikipedia.

The Happy Mac Finder icon then, is not too much different on the most current version of OS X;  just a little bit of refinement, but otherwise the same exact design. When searching for a suitable replacement icon, you ideally want to find a transparent PNG file that is at least 256×256 pixels. There’s a bevy of icon resources on the Internet if you just do a simple search.

Customizing the Dock, such as changing its appearance with the use of colors, dividers, and even themes is relatively easy with the right application. But, to actually change something like the Finder icon, you have to do some (just a little) work.

To change the Dock’s Finder icon, first open the Finder and use “Command + G” to go to any location on your Mac.

Go to “/System/Library/CoreServices/Dock.app/Contents/Resources/” (copy and paste everything you see between the quotation marks).

Screen Shot 2015-05-24 at 1.37.38 PM (2)

In this screenshot, we see the “finder.png” and “finder@2x.png”, which are Finder icons for normal and Retina displays, respectively.

When you browse to this folder, you need to back up one or both of these Finder icons. We’ve already moved our new Finder icon into the Folder.

Screen Shot 2015-05-24 at 1.35.17 PM (2)

We’re only changing the one Finder icon because we don’t have a Retina display.

We simply now need to rename our current Finder icon to something like “finder_old.png” and then rename our new Finder icon to “finder.png”.

Whenever we make any changes in the “Resources” folder, whether it is to move something into it, out of it, or rename a file, we have to enter our system password.

This means if you are changing the Finder icon you should expect to have to enter your password several times.

Once you’ve successfully replaced the old icon with the new one, it’s time to trash our Dock’s icon cache. Again, use “Command + G” to go to “private/var/folders/” – remember you can copy and paste everything between the quotation marks.

Our next order of business is to search in the “folders” folder for “com.apple.dock.iconcache”; as the name implies, this is the icon cache for the dock.

You need to drag this file to the Trash. Don’t worry, this won’t harm the system in any way. In fact, in the next step we’re going to force the Dock to rebuild this cache so it uses our new Finder icon.

Make sure you click the “folders” button when you perform this search.

Next, open a Terminal window. You can do this either from the Applications folder or use Spotlight.

With a Terminal window now open, type “killall Dock” and hit the “Enter” key. The Dock will be forced to quit and reload itself.

Once the Dock reloads, you will now see your new Finder icon.

If you want to revert to your old Finder icon, you only need to follow this procedure again, but change the “new” finder icon so it is backed up, then revert the original Finder icon to “finder.png”. Kill and reload the Dock, and you will see the original Finder icon.

There are other system and even file type icons you can change, and we’ll explore these in future articles. In the meantime, if you have any questions or comments you would like to contribute, we urge you to lend us your feedback in our discussion forum.

Matt Klein is an aspiring Florida beach bum, displaced honorary Texan, and died-in-wool Ohio State Buckeye, who fancies himself a nerd-of-all-trades. His favorite topics might include operating systems, BBQ, roller skating, and trying to figure out how to explain quantum computers.

  • Published 05/27/15
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