How to customise your Mac desktop

Take control of your Mac’s look and feel with these tips to customise, personalise and otherwise beautify the OS X desktop and app windows

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  • personalisation1 Icons
  • personalisation2 Wallpaper
  • personalisation3 Interface changes
  • personalisation4 Customisation Apps
  • personalisation4 Data hacking
  • More stories
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Change the Mac File and Folder icons

Let’s start with quite literally the oldest trick in the book. For two decades it’s been possible to easily customise a Mac’s file or folder icons in the following way.

Start by finding a replacement icon. You’ll find loads online, such as here, or you can use your own image. If using an icon, choose to view the highest-resolution version in GIF or PNG format and download it to your computer (just drag it from the browser to a Finder window).

Double-click to open the picture or icon using Preview. Select all (Cmd+A, or Edit > Select All) and then copy it (tap Cmd+C, or click Edit > Copy). Close Preview. Read about using Preview here: How to use Preview on the Mac.

Select the file(s) or folder(s) whose icon(s) you want to replace then tap Alt+Cmd+I (Option+Cmd+I on some keyboards). See the small icon at the very top left of the Inspector window? Click it once, then tap Cmd+V to paste in your new icon (or click Edit > Paste). Note that this won’t work on a file or folder alias.

The Inspector window will stick around and show details of other file(s) or folder(s) you select. Just repeat the steps above to paste in new icons for them.

To revert back to the default icon(s) repeat the steps to view the Inspector window and click the icon within it but this time tap the Backspace or Delete key.

Read: 10 tweaks for Mac OS X you didn't know are possible

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Next Prev personalisation1

Let’s start with quite literally the oldest trick in the book. For two decades it’s been possible to easily customise a Mac’s file or folder icons in the following way.

Start by finding a replacement icon. You’ll find loads online, such as here, or you can use your own image. If using an icon, choose to view the highest-resolution version in GIF or PNG format and download it to your computer (just drag it from the browser to a Finder window).

Double-click to open the picture or icon using Preview. Select all (Cmd+A, or Edit > Select All) and then copy it (tap Cmd+C, or click Edit > Copy). Close Preview. Read about using Preview here: How to use Preview on the Mac.

Select the file(s) or folder(s) whose icon(s) you want to replace then tap Alt+Cmd+I (Option+Cmd+I on some keyboards). See the small icon at the very top left of the Inspector window? Click it once, then tap Cmd+V to paste in your new icon (or click Edit > Paste). Note that this won’t work on a file or folder alias.

The Inspector window will stick around and show details of other file(s) or folder(s) you select. Just repeat the steps above to paste in new icons for them.

To revert back to the default icon(s) repeat the steps to view the Inspector window and click the icon within it but this time tap the Backspace or Delete key.

Read: 10 tweaks for Mac OS X you didn't know are possible

 

Step 2 of 5: Changing the wallpaper on a Mac

It’s easy to change the wallpaper on Mac OS X: just right-click the desktop and select Change Desktop Background, or open System Preferences and select the Desktop & Screen Saver option. You can set your own image by simply dragging it from a Finder window to the screen preview square at the top left of the System Preferences window. If you’ve a folder of images drag the entire folder to listing at the left of the System Preferences window.           

If you find a picture you like while using Safari, just right-click it and select Use Image As Desktop Picture.

Bonus hint: To make the wallpaper thumbnail images larger in System Preferences, just hover the mouse cursor over them and use the pinch-expand gesture on your trackpad.

Bonus hint #2: Apple provides some amazing images as part of its screensavers and you can nab them for desktop wallpaper. Click a blank spot on the desktop, then tap Shift+Cmd+G. In the dialog box that appears, paste-in /Library/Screen Savers/Default Collections. Click one you like then click Finder > Services > Set Desktop Picture.

Read: How to find the wallpaper and screensaver images on a Mac

 

Step 3 of 5: Customise the Yosemite interface

Apple allows a very modest set of customisation options for OS X, and you’ll find the options by opening System Preferences and clicking the General tab.

Also in System Preferences you can mitigate some of OS X Yosemite’s “flat” look and feel by clicking the Accessibility icon, selecting Display at the left, and putting a tick alongside either Reduce Transparency, which will turn off translucent window backgrounds, or Increase Contrast, which will add thin black borders to windows and toolbars.

To personalise the size and spacing of desktop icons right-click in a blank spot and select Show View Options. The options should be self-explanatory. The four different view modes within a Finder window (icon, list, column and CoverFlow) can also be separately personalised via the same technique – right-click in a blank spot of the window and select Show View Options. Icon view alone allows you to change the background to a colour or image of your choice.

Every folder can be have its own unique look, or you can configure one folder how you like and then click the Use as Defaults button at the bottom of the window to apply the style to all future Finder windows.

 

Step 4 of 5: Apps for customisation

Sadly, the above is about all you get when it comes to built-in personalisation. There’s no way to “theme” the Safari browser like you can with Google Chrome or Mozilla Firefox, for example. For more control you’ll need to look to third-party hacks, such as Flavours (£13.15). This lets you theme the colour scheme and interface elements used within every program window in OS X. CrystalClear (£9.91) takes this one step further by adding transparency effects. At the time of writing these two apps aren’t compatible with OS X Mavericks.

The Dock can be resized and moved to the left and right of the screen using the options in System Preferences, but to alter its look and feel you’ll again need to look to third-party apps. cDock (free) features a variety of different looks that can be applied to the Dock in one click, including “Yosemite 3D”, which will restore the old-fashioned 3D Dock that was abandoned in the move to Yosemite.

cDock can also restore colour icons to the Finder sidebar, as in older versions of OS X. HyperDock (€6.95 from here or the Mac App Store) can also alter the Dock’s look and feel, and it also adds useful new features, such as window previews. Read: 12 Mac OS X Dock tricks

Be aware that these apps hack system files, although most people report that they work just fine.

 

Step 5 of 5: Data hacking

Finally, here’s a few quick hacks for Yosemite’s Dark mode. The first is from former Macworld contributor Rob Griffiths. Yosemite overhauled the Dock with a new flatter translucent design, removing the ages-old ability to switch the Dock to black 2D look. If you want something similar to that in Yosemite, open a Terminal window (you’ll find it in the Utilities folder of the Applications list) and paste in the following as a single line, then hit enter:

defaults write -g AppleInterfaceStyle Dark;killall Dock;sleep 3;defaults remove -g AppleInterfaceStyle

Sadly, this only lasts until you next reboot, when you’ll have to repeat the procedure! To restore the dock to normal at any time, just type killall Dock into a Terminal window.

To be able to activate Dark mode instantly, try this hack. Again open a Terminal window and paste in the following, which should be entered as a single line:

defaults write -g _HIEnableThemeSwitchHotKey 1

Then log out via the Apple menu, and log back in again. Once you do so you’ll be able to switch instantly to/from Dark mode by tapping Ctrl+Alt+Cmd+T (Ctrl+Option+Cmd+T on some keyboards).

To deactivate the keyboard shortcut, again open a Terminal window and paste-in the following before logging out and back in again:

defaults delete -g _HIEnableThemeSwitchHotKey

Read: How to turn on Dark Mode in Yosemite

Read: 10 tweaks for Mac OS X you didn't know are possible

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