Mac OS X: Grabbing Icons from Your Mac Using Preview

| TMO Quick Tip

I constantly need high-quality versions of program icons. They help me not just when I’m writing tips here, but also when I’m sending my tech-challenged friend (let’s call him Ernie) directions on how to navigate around his Mac. It’s pretty easy to extract them, pop the suckers into Preview, and then manipulate them any way you want from there. As a Super-Mega Bonus Tip™, I might even be persuaded to talk about a feature in Preview that you probably don’t know about. You’ll just have to come in to see, won’t you? We can deal with “Ernie” later.

There are several ways to begin, so let’s give ‘em a try. The easiest is to just Command-click one of the programs in the Dock, as doing that shows the application in the Finder rather than just opening it. You can also search for the name of your application in Spotlight and then Command-click on the result, which does the exact same thing. If you don’t like those ways, though, you can always right-click the program’s Dock icon and choose Options > Show in Finder. Hey, it’s the long way around, but who am I to judge? At least it wouldn’t take as long as searching through your Applications folder.

The next piece of our weird puzzle is to copy your selection to your clipboard, so either hit the typical Command-C keyboard shortcut (make sure the correct application is highlighted in blue!) or right-click on the program and choose “Copy [name of application].”

OK, so it’s on your clipboard. Now what? Let’s move along to the Preview portion of our fun and games. So open Preview and either hit Command-N or choose the menu item File > New from Clipboard.

Then the icons for your application appear in all their glory (and in different sizes, so you can pick what works best for you).

Extracting one size of the icon is simple, too. Just click on your preferred size so that it’s highlighted, and then hit Command-C or choose Edit > Copy. If you repeat the File > New from Clipboard command, you’ll have a brand-new document with only your solo icon in it. You can then use Preview to export it into another format or annotate it any way you need to.

As an aside, this “New from Clipboard” function is quite handy—I use it all of the time. You need to edit an image from the Web or from an e-mail and don’t want to go to the trouble of saving it out first? Easy as pie. Just right-click on the picture and choose “Copy,” and then follow the directions above for opening it in Preview. 

So the next time your “Ernie” contacts you and needs to know which program to use to access his e-mail, you’ll be able to help. It’s much easier to point people exactly toward what you mean using images rather than saying “Click on the blue postage stamp with the bird on it.” Unless you’re billing for your time, that is. In that case, feel free to write it all out. Type slowly, too.


Lee Dronick

There are several ways to begin, so let?s give ?em a try.

A bit more of geeky way, but one that can reveal some interesting icons is to highlight the app.

Control or right click and choose Show Package Contents

Open the Resources folder

You will see a lot of files and different file types icons are .icns and are listed as Apple Icon Image

I find it best to put the window in Cover Flow and sort by Kind

Scroll through the icns and find the one you want which you can then open in Preview or whatever. Save/export into the file type you want.

In the Resources folder you will find the graphics used in the program including the leather strip used on the calendar pad Stuff you can repurpose for you own non-commercial/personal needs


Just thought I’d chip in yet another way that takes even fewer steps, but is not initiative at all. In the finder, select the app and choose Get Info. Now click on the app’s icon in the info window, and hit Command-C. Now choose your destination (such as the desktop) and hit Command-V. Voil?. Or rather, “boom”. wink

Melissa Holt

Lee and computerbandgeek,

Nifty! I’m especially impressed that copying the icon from the Get Info window will still allow you to use the “New from Clipboard” command in Preview to select from all the available sizes. Great suggestions!


Lee Dronick

Just thought I?d chip in yet another way that takes even fewer steps,

D’Oh! With a Homer Simpson slap to my head, I forgot about that simple trick that has been around for a long time. You can also use it to paste an icon for a file, say a .txt that you use a lot.

Lee Dronick

Melissa when you get a chance poke around in the Resources folder of an app, there are a lot of fun graphics in there. Some mundane stuff too.

Melissa Holt

Melissa when you get a chance poke around in the Resources folder of an app, there are a lot of fun graphics in there. Some mundane stuff too.

Oh, I have! I love poking my nose in where it doesn’t necessarily belong. smile

Lee Dronick

Oh, I have! I love poking my nose in where it doesn?t necessarily belong.

You will be fine if you just copy out of there. Don’t drag out/move, rename, or replace anything.

I have made some Mail stationary and have been thinking of using that leather strip, they call it a tile, in something.

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