Add Custom and Standard Dock Spacers to Your Mac

Group Mac icons on the Dock by category

The Dock is a useful application launcher, but its organizational skills are a bit lacking. You can rearrange Dock icons to put them in the order you want, but that's about it. When you have a Dock full of icons, it's easy to get lost visually and waste time searching through the Dock for a specific icon.

However, the Mac's Dock allows the use of spacers, which are blank areas between Dock icons that you can use to better organize the Dock. The trick for creating these blank spacers using Terminal is well known, but you can also create custom icons to use as Dock spacers.

Information in this article applies to Macs running macOS Catalina (10.15) through OS X Lion (10.7).

Both methods of creating and using Dock spacers with your Mac are useful for grouping icons. You may want to group your work apps, media apps, browsers, or any other categories that work for you. Adding a visual space between each category makes the groups easy to locate at a glance.

Medical personnel looking at a Mac
Show off your Mac organizational skills. Hero Images / Getty Images

Better Organization for the Dock

What the Dock needs are visual clues to help you organize and find Dock icons. The Dock already has one organizational clue: the vertical-line separator located between the right and left sides of the Dock. The larger left side holds applications and system items, while the smaller right side is home to the Trash, minimized windows, documents and folders. If you have a lot of icons on the Dock, it could probably benefit from additional separators.

A blank icon that is added to the Dock acts as a spacer. The icon adds a gap between two Dock icons of your choice, providing a simple visual cue that can save you time and aggravation.

There are two different Terminal commands for creating Dock spacers: one for the left application side and one for the right document side. After you add a spacer, you can rearrange it, just like any other Dock icon, but you can’t move it past the vertical line separator.

Use Terminal to Add a Spacer to the Application Side of Your Dock

Typically, it is the App side of the Dock that benefits from spacers because it holds the most icons. Making spacers is easy using a Terminal command.

  1. Launch Terminal, located in Applications > Utilities.

  2. Enter the following command line into Terminal. Copy and paste the text into Terminal. The command is a single line of text, but your browser may break it into multiple lines. Enter the command as a single line in the Terminal application.

    defaults write com.apple.dock persistent-apps -array-add '{tile-type="spacer-tile";}'
  3. Press Enter or Return.

  4. Enter the following text into Terminal. If you type the text rather than copy and paste it, be sure to match the case of the text.

    killall Dock
  5. Press Enter or Return.

  6. The Dock disappears for a moment and then reappears with a blank spacer toward the far right side of the apps on the Dock, next to the vertical line that divides apps from documents.

    The Mac Dock with a blank spacer
  7. Enter the following text into Terminal:

    exit
    
  8. Press Enter or Return.

  9. Quit Terminal.

Repeat this process for as many blank spaces as you need to group the app icons for easy use. After you make a spacer, drag it anywhere on the Dock, just like any icon. Use multiple spacers to group apps to make them easy to find.

Mac Dock with two blank spacers

When you no longer want a spacer, drag it off the Dock or right-click the spacer and click Remove from Dock.

Use Terminal to Add a Spacer to the Document Side of the Dock

Although not as common, dock spacers can be added to the document side of the Dock.

  1. Launch Terminal, located in Applications > Utilities.

  2. Enter the following command line into Terminal. Copy and paste the text into Terminal as a single line.

    defaults write com.apple.dock persistent-others -array-add '{tile-data={}; tile-type="spacer-tile";}'

  3. Press Enter or Return.

  4. Enter the following text into Terminal. If you type the text rather than copy and paste it, be sure to match the case of the text.

    killall Dock
  5. Press Enter or Return.

  6. The Dock disappears for a moment and then reappears.

    Mac Dock showing a spacer on the document side of the divider
  7. Enter the following text into Terminal:

    exit
    
  8. Press Enter or Return.

  9. The exit command causes Terminal to end the current session. You can then quit the Terminal application.

You can drag the spacer anywhere on the right of the divider line. Remove it by dragging it off the Dock or by right-clicking the spacer and selecting Remove from Dock.

Custom Dock Spacer Overview

If a blank spacer isn't what you were looking for, you can create a custom Dock Spacer or download an icon you found that you want to use. Once you have an icon you want to use as a Dock spacer, pick an app to function as a host for your new icon.

After you install the new icon in the host app, you drag the host app to the Dock to make use of it as a custom spacer. Remember, you're not using this app as it was initially intended, but only for its ability to act as a host for the custom icon you want to have appear in the Dock as a spacer.

What's Needed

Start by selecting an app. It can be one you already have installed on your Mac and never use, or you can download one of the many free apps available in the Mac App Store.

After you select the app to serve as the host for your custom spacer, rename it Dock Spacer or something similar so that you know what it's being used for.

You also need a custom icon to use. This icon replaces the host app's standard icon and appears in the Dock when you drag the host app to the Dock. The icon you use must be in the .icns format, which is the native icon format used by Mac apps. If it isn't already in .icns format, use one of the free online converters to convert your file to the .icns format.

There are sources for Mac icons if you don't want to create your own, including DeviantArt and the IconFactory. When you locate an icon you want to use, download the icon and then prepare it for its new job.

Preparing the Custom Icon

Locate the icon you downloaded on your Mac (or created) and confirm that it's in the .icns format. In the Finder, it should show up as the icon name with .icns appended to it. If the Finder is set to hide file extensions, you can see the full file name by right-clicking on the icon file and selecting Get Info from the pop-up menu. The file name with extension is displayed in the Get Info window.

With the icon file confirmed as having the .icns extension, rename the icon file to Icon.icns.

Insert the Custom Icon in the Host App

  1. Locate the host app you're going to use. It's probably in the Applications folder, but it can be wherever you want to put it. You renamed it already. In this example, its name is Dock Spacer.

  2. Right-click the Dock Spacer app and select Show Package Contents in the pop-up menu.

    Path to Show Package Contents in an app
  3. In the folder that appears, open the Contents folder.

  4. In the Contents folder, open the Resources folder. In the Resources folder is a file with a .icns extension that matches the app's current icon. Copy that file's name.

    An app's Resources folder on a Mac
  5. Rename your custom icon (the one named Icon.icns) to match the name you just copied.

  6. Drag your newly named icon into the Resources folder.

    If the folder is locked, right-click Resources and select Get Info. Click the lock at the bottom of the Get Info screen and enter your password to unlock the folder.

  7. Confirm you want to replace the .icns file that already exists. Click the Replace button.

Add the Modified Dock Spacer App to the Dock

Go to the Applications folder and drag the Dock Spacer app to the Dock. Drag the custom Dock spacer wherever you want to position it on the Dock. To remove the spacer, drag it off the Dock or right-click it and select Remove from Dock.