SD cards are a common type of memory card that can be used in cameras, smartphones, and other digital devices to store data. If you’re using an SD card on a Mac, you may need to format it to ensure it works properly. Formatting an SD card on a Mac is a quick and simple process that can be done using the built-in Disk Utility application. In this article, we’ll provide you with a step-by-step guide on how to format an SD card on a Mac.

What Is An SD Card?

There is something very important that you need to know before we dive in. That is, not all SD cards are the same; in fact, older SD cards may not even be compatible with newer cameras. Also, the newest SD cards are likely to be incompatible with much older cameras!

Why is this? Because there are three different kinds of cards in the “SD” family: SD, SDHC, and SDXC. SD (Secure Digital) itself is the oldest form of SD card, and it’s completely outdated now in 2023. Its speeds are impossibly slow, and the capacities are so small they would barely fit just a few photos. SDHC is similarly out-of-date and virtually obsolete, although transfer speeds are a bit faster, and capacities go up to 32GB. Still, you’ll likely want SDXC.

We get into this topic more in-depth here in this article, but, suffice it to say, SDXC memory cards have the speed and capacity for modern cameras.

Before You Begin (Do This First!)

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Before you begin the SD memory card formatting process, there are a few details you should keep in mind. First, make sure the SD card you’re using is compatible with your Mac. Usually, the answer is yes, if you’re using one of the most common brands of SD Card. However, if you’re unsure, consult the manufacturer’s instructions or website for more information. Also, if you’re going to use your Mac’s SD card slot itself, (not an SD card reader) but aren’t sure which Mac is compatible with what type of SD card, this Apple Support page should help.

If you haven’t already, remove the SD card from any devices it is currently being used in before attempting to format it. If your Mac does not have a built-in SDXC card reader, then you’ll want to make sure you have the correct type of SD card reader and cable. This will affect not just your ability to transfer photos and videos to your computer at maximum speed, but it will also affect the time it takes to format the card!

Last but certainly not least, of course, it is critical to back up the images and/or files that may currently be on the SD card before formatting it. As a rule of thumb, always double-check to make sure you fully downloaded and backed up all of your images, even if you’re “pretty sure” you downloaded them all a few days ago. Just get in the habit of always double-checking one more time right before you perform any memory card format! If the SD card you need to back up is corrupted and you can’t access the data on it to back it up, don’t worry.  Professional data recovery software such as EaseUS Data Recovery Wizard for Mac can recover the non-functional SD card.

Formatting the SD Card on a Mac

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Step 1: Insert the SD (SDXC) card into the Mac. Begin by inserting the SD card into your Mac’s SD card slot. If the SD card does not become visible to your Mac, or if your Mac doesn’t have an SD card slot, you’ll need to use an external card reader.

Step 2: Open Disk Utility. Once the SD card is inserted, open Disk Utility by navigating to “Applications” > “Utilities” > “Disk Utility.”

Step 3: Select the SD card from the list of available drives. In the left-hand pane of the Disk Utility window, you’ll see a list of available drives. Select the SD card you want to format from this list. (If you have an external SD card reader with two SD cards plugged in at once, be extra careful to double-check which card you are selecting to format!)

Step 4: Click on the “Erase” button. With the SD card selected, click on the “Erase” button located at the top of the Disk Utility window.

Step 5: Choose the format type and name for the SD card. In the pop-up window that appears, choose the format type you want to use for the SD card. The most common format types are FAT and ExFAT, which are often the only file systems that are compatible with your camera. This is also something that your camera’s user manual will list. You may also see options like NTFS or HFS+, but those are mainly reserved for purposes such as using a memory card as if it were an external hard drive. Next, choose a name for the SD card that will help you easily identify it in the future. If you have multiple SD cards, it’s a great idea to include a sequence number or letter in each card’s name!

Step 6: Click “Erase” to begin the formatting process. Once you’ve chosen the format type and name for the SD card, click the “Erase” button to begin the formatting process. This may take a few seconds or a few minutes, depending on the size of the SD card,  the format type you’ve chosen, and the speed of the card reader.

After Formatting Your SD Card on Mac

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Once the formatting process is complete, eject the SD card from your Mac by dragging it to the trash or clicking the eject icon next to it in the Finder. You can then reinsert the SD card into the device you want to use it in.

If you have any backed-up images on your computer that you wanted to keep on your memory card to view in your camera or phone, then you can transfer them back to the memory card at this time. However, we generally don’t recommend this practice for professional photographers.

Professional Photographers | Should You Format Your SD Card In-Camera?

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One question that we often get at our photography studio is, which is safer? Formatting a memory card in your computer, and then putting it back in your camera and using it immediately, or should you always format your memory card using your camera’s built-in format option, too?

There used to be differing opinions about this workflow detail, however, after many years and literally millions of photos captured and transferred using hundreds of different SD cards, on Mac and PC, we have not noticed a difference in the professional safety of formatting your SD cards one way or the other. So, you can feel free to use whichever method feels the safest to you! Personally, most of our photographers just do both: our SD cards get formatted on a computer, and then we format them again as soon as we put them in our camera, even if they’re empty.


Formatting an SD card on a Mac is a simple process that can be done using the built-in Disk Utility application. By following the steps outlined in this article, you can quickly and easily format an SD card on your Mac to ensure it works properly with your digital devices. Remember to always back up any important files before formatting an SD card, and make sure to choose the correct format type for your needs.