Burning an ISO file on macOS

If you’ve ever been curious about trying out a Linux distribution on your Mac computer, then you might know that you have to download its disc image. A disc image is also called an “ISO file” or “ISO image,” and is a full virtual copy of a software application or operating system. Once you download the disc image for free from the developers’ official website, you have two choices. The first one is to use a pen drive to burn the ISO on your Mac, creating a bootable flash drive that hosts the Linux OS. With it, you can boot the Linux distribution from any computer. The second choice is to use a virtual machine. This option is practical; you don’t have to burn the ISO on your Mac and don’t need to use a USB drive. However, booting the Linux distro from a virtual machine provides limited hardware performance and requires a big chunk of your system’s storage space. Furthermore, with this option, you can only try out the OS on the computer which hosts the virtual machine.

If you are interested in burning the OS on a pen drive so that you can install it on any pc, then this step-by-step guide is for you.

If you landed on this page but are a Windows 10 user, then click HERE for the procedure. As for Linux users, you can find a guide on how to burn an ISO image from your OS HERE

Choosing a distribution

To burn an ISO image on Mac, you first need to know which distribution you want to try. If you are on the fence, here are some suggestions:

Also, don’t forget to take a look at desktop environments! A desktop environment is how you interact with your operating system. Without it, you would have to use the Terminal and execute commands to do anything at all. Each DE provides a different graphical interface, with specific widgets, taskbar, menu design, application access and display, software manager, and integrated applications. Linux offers several desktop alternatives. Some are considered “heavier” and have a more polished, modern look similar to what we are accustomed to seeing on macOS. Others are considered “lightweight” and offer lightfast speed and performance. If you are new to the concept, you can find more information here:

For those wanting to burn the Windows 10 ISO on Mac, READ THIS: Particular steps are required to make the Windows 10 disc image bootable on a pen drive. Windows uses its own proprietary UEFI boot sequence. In other words, you cannot use this article’s procedure to create a Windows 10 bootable USB drive. If you follow the steps below, your flash drive will not be bootable, and you won’t be able to install Windows 10. But there is a solution! Please refer to this article on how to burn Windows 10 on your USB drive from MacOS.

This article provides a how-to guide on how to burn the ISO on your Mac using different applications available for free. As each macOS release has its own set of tools and compatible software, the procedure will vary depending on your current OS. 

If you’d rather use the command line instead of a software application to burn the ISO on your Mac, you can find a handy guide on how to do so HERE.

Different ways to burn an ISO on your Mac 

Depending on your version of macOS, burning a disc image can be done using the tools available on your system, or impossible to do without third-party software. 

For Mac OS X Yosemite and older

  • You’re in luck! If you’re amongst the few who still use this OS, then do as follows. Download your ISO file, open the Disk Utility, click “Open Image File,” select your disk image, and choose the burning option. Voilà! 

For Mac OS X El Capitan until macOS High Sierra

  • Ever since Mac OS X 10.11 and later, the Disk Utility tool no longer supports disk image burning. You can still mount disc images using Disk Utility, but you won’t be able to burn the ISO on your Mac using this tool.
  • However, you can still burn your disc image! Insert a formatted pen drive. Download your ISO file, open the Finder, and select the file. Then click on the “File” menu and select “Burn Disk Image [name] to Disc…”. Choose your USB key as the destination, then click “Burn.” Voilà!

For macOS Big Sur

  • Unfortunately, to burn an ISO on your Mac is no longer possible using integrated macOS tools such as Disk Utility or a Finder option.
  • However, there is a solution! You can use the Terminal to burn the disc image (you can find the guide HERE). Alternatively, you can use a third-party software application that will allow you to burn the ISO from Mac. In this article, I will show you how to create a bootable pen drive of an OS disc image using this second option.  

Third-party Software:

For this procedure, we will use UNetbootin. It is not only entirely free but is also a well-recognized staple of ISO burning tools. Don’t judge it by its old school look! It is a powerful little app with a user-friendly learning curve. 

How to burn your ISO on Mac using UNetbootin 

Download your ISO file of choice.

Insert a formatted pen drive.

Go to https://unetbootin.github.io, then click on “Download (macOS).”

UNetbootin download page

Once finished downloading, click on the UNetbootin icon.

UNetbootin icon

If you get an error message saying that macOS can’t open UNetbootin because it is from an unidentified developer, do the following:

macOS Mojave error message "can't be opened because it is from an unidentified developer"

Open your System Preferences, then click on “Security & Privacy.” Under the general options, you should see a message stating that “‘unetbootin’ was blocked from opening because it is not from an identified developer.” Click “Open Anyway”.

macOS Mojave error message "can't be opened because it is from an unidentified developer"

You will see a box stating “‘unetbootin’ is from an unidentified developer. Are you sure you want to open it?”. Click open.

macOS Mojave error message "can't be opened because it is from an unidentified developer"

In UNetbootin, the “Distribution” option is selected by default. Select the “Diskimage” option instead.

burn an ISO on Mac using UNetbootin

Click on the three dots icon, then choose your ISO file.

Under “Type,” USB drive should already be selected. Leave it as is. UNetbootin makes the “Drive” selection automatically; double-check to make sure that it has chosen your USB drive.

burn an ISO on Mac using UNetbootin

Optionally, if you want to make sure that the drive used by UNetbootin is your USB flash drive, open the Terminal. Type:

ls -a /Volumes

Make sure to use the correct drive to burn an ISO on Mac using UNetbootin

You will see your external volume. If you have a single USB key inserted, you will see that the application is using it.

Go back to UNetbootin. Click “Okay.” It will start the burning process.

burn an ISO on Mac using UNetbootin

Once you are done with the installation, click “Exit.” 

burn an ISO on Mac using UNetbootin

Voilà! Your OS disc image is now on a bootable pen drive.

Owner and content creator behind ITgirl.tech. Geeky girl and blogger based in Montreal, Canada. Chocolate and nature lover (in that order). View all posts by Larryssa →

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