How to Format SD Cards on Mac

Want to make sure you format SD cards on your Mac the the right way? Here’s a step-by-step guide for formatting both SD and microSD cards on Mac using two free tools to make sure that the card is ready for use in your camera or device.

Text & Photos By David Coleman
Last Revised & Updated:
Filed Under: Memory Cards

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Before you can use an SD or microSD card, it has to be formatted.

While many memory cards come pre-formatted out of the box, it’s still best practice to format it yourself before using it. If you do that in the camera, which is the recommended method, it checks that the card has the correct file system and that the folders and files are where they need to be on the card. 

But it’s also possible to format a memory card on your computer. There are more options, and there are more choices. Which means there are more places to get it wrong. But it’s quite doable, and with the steps and settings I outline below, the SD card will be ready for use in your camera or device.

To minimize the risk of any problems, you want to keep it compliant with SD Association specs. And that means it’s important to choose the correct filesystem to format the card with.

At the top of this post, I’ve included the quick version. After that, I’ve got a more detailed step-by-step guide. And I’ve also included an alternative approach using the SD Association’s SD card formatting app that provides a risk-free way of setting the card up properly.

So here’s a quick guide on how to format SD and microSD cards on Mac.

How to Format SD Cards on Mac: A Quick Guide

How to Format SD Cards on Mac: A Quick Guide

  1. Connect your SD card to your Mac using an SD memory card reader

    If your Mac has a built-in reader (many do), you can use that. If your Mac doesn’t have one, you’ll need to add a separate SD card reader via USB.

  2. Open the Disk Utility app

    Disk Utility is part of the macOS operating system, so you don’t need to download or install it. Find it under Applications > Utilities folder.

  3. Select your SD card

    In Disk Utility from the left panel.

  4. Choose Erase function

    A popup will warn you that you’re about to delete everything on the card.

  5. Enter SD card name (optional)

    You don’t have to do this, but it makes it easier later to identify the card.

  6. Choose the filesystem format.

    If 64GB or larger, choose exFAT. If 32GB or smaller, choose FAT32.

  7. Erase

    Once that process finishes, the card is ready to use.

How to Format SD Cards on Mac: A Detailed Guide

That was the quick version. Here’s the more detailed version.

The good news is that you don’t have to download some expensive app to do it—everything you need is already there as part of the macOS operating system.

First, though, I should point out that if you’re using your SD card in a camera, it’s best practice to format the card in the camera itself. That way, the camera can set it up how it wants and expects it to be, and it reduces the risk of filesystem issues interrupting your shooting. All cameras have a “format card” function (sometimes it’s called something similar). Some even have a low-level formatting option, which is a more thorough (but also slower) process.

But if you want to go ahead and format your SD card on your Mac, here’s how to do it. Before starting, make sure you’ve saved any data you want to keep from the memory card, because formatting the card will delete all of the data on it.

Step 1: Connect your SD card to your Mac

There are different ways to do this. Some Macs come with a built-in SD slot. If you have one of those, you can insert the SD card directly into that.

If your Mac doesn’t have a built-in SD card slot, you can use a memory card reader that plugs into the computer’s USB port. Another alternative is that some cameras can function as a memory card reader when connected to a computer, but that depends on the specific model—not all cameras can do this.

If you’re using a microSD card, put the microSD card into an SD adapter cartridge (it probably came with one) first, and then put that into the SD slot on your computer. You can also use a USB SD card reader.

Step 2: Open macOS Disk Utility App

Disk Utility is part of the macOS operating system, so you don’t need to download or install it. You can find it in your Applications folder under the Utilities subfolder (Applications > Utilities > Disk Utility). Or you can use Spotlight (the magnifying glass icon at the top right of your screen) to search for it by clicking on the icon and then typing “disk utility”.

Step 3: Identify Your SD Card

On the left side of Disk Utility’s screen is a list of the various drives in your Mac and connected to it.

So it will show your Mac’s internal drive as well as external drives. The SD card should show up in the External section. If it hasn’t been formatted before, it might have a name like “NO NAME” or “UNTITLED”.

If you click on it, you’ll see how much storage it is. Make sure that it matches what you expect—that is, if you’re inserting a 64GB SD card, make sure the capacity is showing as 64GB or close to it. If you see something like 1TB instead, you’ve selected the wrong drive from the list.

Screenshot of macOS Disk Utility Erase function

Step 4: Choose Erase Function

From the list of functions at the top, choose Erase. You’ll get a popup warning you that you’re about to delete everything on the card.

Step 5: Enter the SD Card Name

In the Name field, you can assign a name to the card. This is an optional step—it will work just fine if you leave it as NO NAME or UNTITLED—it’s just a convenience issue to display a friendly name when you’re viewing it in Finder or making sure you’re importing from the correct card when ingesting images into Lightroom, for example. Keep the name short and simple—any long names or special characters will get rejected. Perhaps something like SDCARD1 or GOPRO, for example.

Screenshot of macOS Disk Utility entering name field

Step 6: Choose the Filesystem Format

Under the Format drop-down menu, you have several options. The only ones we’re interested in here are MS-DOS (FAT32) and ExFAT. Which to choose depends on what size storage cards you’re using. If your SD card is 64GB or larger, choose ExFAT. If your SD card is 32GB or smaller, choose MS-DOS (FAT32). [1]

Screenshot of macOS Disk Utility selecting filesystem type exFAT

Step 7: Hit Erase

It will say it’s unmounting it, and then, after a few moments (or perhaps a little longer), you should get a message that the process is complete.

Screenshot of macOS Disk Utility Progress indicator erasing SD Card

And with that, you’re done, and the card is ready to use.

Screenshot of macOS Disk Utility finished erasing SD card

As I mentioned earlier, it’s best practice to format memory cards in the camera, but if you want to format your SD card on your Mac, this is how you do it.

Things to Know

Older versions of macOS don’t support exFAT. Specifically, exFAT support was added to macOS in version 10.6.6, which was Snow Leopard released in 2009. If you have any of the newer macOS versions released since then–including Lion, Mountain Lion, Mavericks, Yosemite, El Capitan, Sierra, High Sierra, Mojave, Catalina, Big Sur, or Monterey–those all have native exFAT support baked in.

It’s a good idea to be extra careful when selecting your SD card from the list. You don’t want to accidentally format another drive.

When you format a memory card, you should be prepared for everything to be deleted from the file. But in reality, it might still be possible to recover files from the card even after formatting. If you find yourself needing to try, take a look at my post on how to recover files from SD cards.

I’ve put together a guide to the different types of SD cards separately.

Alternative Method: SD Card Formatter

There’s an alternative method to formatting an SD card on your Mac that involves downloading a free SD card formatter app provided by the SD Association. The SD Association is the organization that designs and controls the SD specification, and their app is specifically designed to conform perfectly to the official specifications.

It’s very simple to use, with just a single screen that looks like this:

Screenshot of the SD card Formatter App

It does have some small benefits over using Disk Utility. One is that it automatically detects what is and isn’t an SD card, and it won’t make non-SD cards (or non-microSD cards) available. This means there’s less chance of accidentally erasing the wrong drive.

Another is that it will automatically detect the size of the card and choose the appropriate filesystem. If you insert a 64GB card, it will only allow you to format it to SDXC specifications using exFAT. So it takes out any risk of selecting the wrong option. And they do provide this warning:

It is strongly recommended to use the SD Memory Card Formatter to format SD/SDHC/SDXC Cards rather than using formatting tools provided with individual operating systems. In general, formatting tools provided with operating systems can format various storage media, including SD/SDHC/SDXC Cards, but it may not be optimized for SD/SDHC/SDXC Cards, and it may result in lower performance.

It’s free, and you can find it here. There are versions for Mac and Windows.

How to Recover Data from a Memory Card

If you’ve accidentally deleted videos or photos from your camera’s memory card, there’s still a good chance that you can recover it.

The first thing to do is stop using the card. The more data is overwritten, the harder it will be to recover what you’re after.

The next thing to do is to download data recovery software to scan the card to find recoverable data. There are a number of good options for doing this. I go into more detail separately in these posts:

(Although the titles of these posts refer to SD cards, they apply equally to other types of memory cards (and external hard drives and thumb drives, for that matter.)

  1. It is technically possible to format the SD card with the other filesystem (e.g., a 32GB card with exFAT or a 128GB with FAT32), but it can be risky to do that with some cameras. Some cameras will throw an error if the card isn’t formatted with the system it expects as defined in the SD Association’s specs. So if you do want to go against the specs, it’s worth making sure that your camera will accept it before heading off to shoot.[]
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David Coleman

I'm a professional photographer based in Washington, DC. Seven continents, up mountains, underwater, and many places in between. I've been shooting for 30+ years, and my photos and time-lapse videos have appeared in a bunch of different publications, from major newspapers to magazines and books, billboards, TV shows, professional sports stadiums, museums, and even massive architectural scrims covering world-famous buildings while they're being renovated. You can see some of my travel photography here and here.


  1. a professional RAM to Mac converter – Avdshare Video Converter can convert the RAM file to any Mac QuickTime player best supported MOV, MP4, MP3 to allow the compatible RAM file playback on Mac computers.

  2. I read all the Q&A. Both of my Mac Utility and SD Card Formatter said completed but nothing is erased. It’s not protected. But I just cannot erase anything. Do you know why?

    • Something to try is to attempt to format it in the camera first and then, if you need to, try on the computer again. For whatever reason, I’ve had that work in similar situations.

    • I’ve just checked on my setup with Catalina, and it’s offering me the usual MS-DOS FAT and exFAT options. So maybe it’s something to do with the card. Is it a very old, very low-capacity (i.e., 4GB or smaller) card?

  3. After formatting the sd card I am told I need to highlight and paste the new firmware update onto the card itself. I have an Apple Mac computer I understand the command copy function but can not figure out from there how to get it to the sad card itself from the firmware file.

    • The SD card should be showing up in both Finder and on the Desktop as a mounted disk. You can then drag and drop the firmware file you’ve downloaded on to the card. It’s possible to highlight and paste, but it’s not the simplest or most intuitive way to get the file onto the card using a Mac.

  4. Hey!

    I have downloaded the SD formater, followed the steps, the app goes throught the process and at the end says my card is free, but when I go to check my card nothing is erased and I still get the error on my camera, any help would be apreciated, I dont mind losing whats inside the card, I just NEED it to work again. (64gb)


    • Do you happen to have the write-protect switch on, by chance? It should warn you if it’s write-protected, but that could be one reason the formatting isn’t actually formatting.

  5. I am trying to use a micro SD card in a carrier to be the storage for my OneDrvie on a 2014 Mac Air. I have tried everything on the net but am thwarted by the ejectable nature of the device. This is not replicated on my surface pro where i have done exactly the same thing with no problem,
    Can you advise me if there is a fix for this please either through third party software or even a different type of reader/carrier.
    Hope you can help me!

  6. Hi there, thanks so much for this post and your knowledge. I had this very problem, and figured out how to format the MicroSD card on my Mac, and I can then see it in Finder. However, I have a subsequent problem and would love to know if you can help.

    When I take the Sandisk 64GB Micro SD (now formatted properly on my Mac), my action camera then doesn’t recognise it as being formatted. It makes me format it in the camera itself, which then works to capture video on the camera/card… but THEN when I take back to Mac, it doesn’t recognise unless I erase again/reformat again! So frustrating .. .any help at all would be HUGELY appreciated, thanks heaps /

  7. An error message saying “erase process has failed following your instructions above.

    I selected msdos as my sd card is less than 32gb

    can you help me resolve this issue please as I use my card in my dash cam and It voice prompted me to check sd card for some reason.

    The capacity of the card is 15.81 gb and I have used 15.81 so I want erase it all so that I can reuse it again.


    • Does the dashcam have a format option built in? Maybe you’ve already tried that, but that’s the first thing I’d try. If that’s giving you and error and the Mac is giving you an error, that suggests to me a faulty card. I assume you’d get a more specific error message if the SD card was locked, but that’s another reason that cards can’t be formatted (more on that here).


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