Preview System File Icon Location

Does anyone know where Preview stores system file icons for individual PDF files?

I’ve searched the world over and cannot locate them. The internets don’t seem to know, either.

REASON: I need greater visual distinction among files. Preview, Pages and others use similar icons and I need more contrast between them.

It seems to me that these are dynamically generated with the quick look previews (at least that’s what I get on my end)

If you need a better way to separate them, would showing file extensions and sorting Finder windows by type help?

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unfortunately no. I already show extensions. I need them to pop at a glance.

I often have crowded folders filled with Pages files and pdf’s. sometimes I can separate them into groupings but often my workflow and work-reality demands I keep them in the same folder.

from previous efforts my guess is that the individual file icons are an icns file but I’ve tried and tried and can’t find the spot. admittedly, after 15 minutes of scrolling and testing various searches I give up, usually.

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I don’t know where icons are saved, but if you want to change the icon of a file, you can copy and paste an image into the Get Info panel.


File icons are defined by the default application to open them. The icons are saved inside the application bundle, so, Right click on the app, select show package or something like that, and it’ll open the bundle in Finder as a folder. The icons are normally in a folder called Resources.

But, there’s a catch. If you muck about with anything in the application bundle there’s a good chance you might make the app unusable because it’ll break the cryptographic signature of the application. Not advised, especially for system apps.

If all you want is to be able to see the icons better you might be better off picking a different app to be the default for pdf. But… really, the OS insisting to use icons as file previews is the real issue here.

The application icon is in the application bundle. But are the document icons there as well? I think that’s what he wants to change.

You may be able to tag files using finder tags based on what you want the icon to be, then use AppleScript (or possibly other tools) to change the icon (as you would via the Get Info window). The ability to change icons is so baked into the Finder and has been for so long that I have to think it’s scriptable.

If this works, it might only stick until you open the file again, in which case Preview would presumably generate a new thumbnail from the contents. It may be possible to have Hazel watch the directory and then replace the icon, either on change, on file close (if that’s possible) or just on a frequent schedule.

Not the cleanest approach, but unless there’s a (hidden?) preference for the automatic preview icons, it may be the best you can get.

You can’t modify on Big Sur, and I’d assume Catalina as well.

I wonder if it would be possible to use another PDF reader and have its icon used instead. I’m thinking of something like PDF Expert, etc.


I think another reader set as default would work. problem for me is I have my kung fu designed around Preview. I could use something else that’s fairly light, and might work. I’d have to see though. I’d rather a native app. from time to time I have a lot of pdf windows open, and yada yada.

You might try creating an Automator app that just opens files in Preview and then set that as default. You could try changing that icon in the app package.

Maybe I lost something, but won’t the finder color tag suffice to do what you ask?

If you only use it for pdfs they will have a colored dot that stands out a lot imo. and you can use something like hazel or AppleScript to automatically tag pdfs.

like this: