Before you use your SD card for the first time, it is critical that you format it once so that you don’t run into any issues with corrupted file systems or misplaced data on the card.

The last thing you want is to be outside taking a photo and realizing that your SD card is not functioning properly.

In this post, we’ll cover how to format an SD card in 4 ways:

  • Using Windows
  • Using Mac OS X
  • Using the command line in Windows
  • Using Terminal in Mac OS X
  • Using your camera (Canon in this example)

How to format your SD card: 4 ways

In case you’re reformatting your SD card, please, please, please back up your files to your computer before doing so.

Once you format the SD card, all your data is gone.

How to format an SD card on Windows 10

Formatting an SD card with Windows 10 is super easy. You just need a computer running Windows 10 and an SD card reader.

Many PCs have SD card readers built-in. In case you don’t have one, they’re very easily available and quite inexpensive, too.

You can also leave the SD card in your camera and plug your camera into the computer. Many cameras will then show up in your computer as a drive that you can format.

However, when doing this, please double check that the drive your computer is detecting is indeed the SD card and not anything else. You can do this by plugging your camera into the computer, turning it on, and navigating to the new drive on your computer.

Inside the drive, make sure that the photos or files are the same as the ones you saved on your SD card. If they are, you’re good to go.

With that out of the way, let’s look at how to format an SD card on Windows:

  1. When you insert the card into your computer, you should get an automatic pop-up asking you what to do. You can just click the little X on the top corner to close the window
  2. Head to the file explorer by pressing the Windows Key and E together. From the right sidebar, select “This PC”
  3. You should be able to see your SD card now. Hover your mouse over the SD card, right-click, and select “Format”
  4. In the dialog box that opens, you can rename your SD card if you wish. By checking the “Quick Format” button, you’ll speed up the process but it will be like a quick sweep. All your files will still be deleted, but the file system will not be as thoroughly revamped. For a more thorough format, uncheck the “Quick Format” box.
  5. Click the “Start” button to get the ball rolling – you’ll see a warning that your files will be deleted. This is your last chance to back up your files if you’ve not already done so!
  6. Once the format is done, you’ll get a notification that the format was completed successfully.
  7. You’re done! Eject your card from your computer, pop it in your camera, and go have fun!

How to format an SD card on Mac OS X

Formatting an SD card on Mac OS X is also incredibly straightforward. As with Windows, you’ll need a computer(running Mac OS X of course) and an SD card reader.

  1. Insert your card into the card reader. It will show up on your Desktop and in the Finder as a new drive.
  2. Open Disk Utility. The easiest way to do this is to click on the little magnifying glass in the top right to bring up Search, and type in “Disk Utility”. From there, open up the app. Alternatively, you can go to Finder => Applications => Utilities => Disk Utility
  3. In Disk Utility, find your SD card and select it
  4. Then click “Erase” and choose your file system. For cards 32gb or less, choose “MS-DOS(FAT32)”. For cards larger than 32gb, choose “exFAT”
  5. Continue with the confirmation message you get on the pop-up, and your system will begin formatting the card.

That’s it! You’re done, the SD card is now formatted.



How to format an SD card using the Command Line on Windows 10

If you want to feel like a programmer, you can also format your card using the command line. Warning: it’s easy to mess this up, so unless you’re absolutely sure of what you’re doing, stick to the methods above.

  1. In the Windows Search Box, type cmd and hit enter to open up the command prompt. You may need to right-click the icon and select “Run as Administrator” to get it going
  2. On the command prompt, type in “diskpart”. This will open up the disk partition app
  3. Type in “listdisk” to get a list of all the disks on your computer
  4. Note the number corresponding to your SD card in the list that was outputted
  5. Type in “select volume (volume number)”. For example, if the list displayed your SD card as number 3, you would have typed “select volume 3”
  6. Type in “format fs=exfat” to format your volume with the exFAT file system. If you wanted to format with NTFS for some reason, you would have typed in “format fs=ntfs”.

Please note that cameras may not work with NTFS-formatted cards, so you want to stick with FAT32 or exFAT only.

How to format an SD card using Terminal in Mac OS X

If you own a Mac and wish to use the command line(Terminal) to format your SD card, follow these steps. Make sure your SD card is inserted when you start:

  1. Open Spotlight Search(CMD+space) and type in “Terminal”. Open up the Terminal app.
  2. Type in “diskutil list” to get a list of all the disks on your computer
  3. The Terminal will output a list of disks. Locate your disk by the name of your SD card or by the size. You’ll need to note the /dev/… of whichever disk your SD card is.
  4. Supposing your SD card was /dev/disk2, you want to type in “sudo diskutil eraseDisk FAT32 My_SD_Card MBRFormat /dev/disk2”
  5. The sudo command gives you all rights, the diskutil command is the app you’re calling, the eraseDisk command is the specific function you’re calling from the app, the FAT32 is the format you’ve chosen(you could also choose exFAT), My_SD_Card is the name you’re giving to the format(use any name you like), MBRFormat stands for Master Boot Record, and /dev/disk2 is the volume you’re formatting

Yikes! That was unnecessarily complicated.

How to format an SD card using a Canon camera

The following steps are from my Canon mirrorless camera, but you can understand the below steps and navigate to the same option on any brand of camera. The names of the options may be a little different, but you’ll end up in the same place.

Please note that most DSLRs and mirrorless cameras will have this option, but not all point-and-shoot cameras will.

  1. Press the Menu button on your camera to head into the main menu
  2. Go into “Settings”
  3. Select “Format Card”

That was pretty easy! The best way to ensure compatibility is to use the camera itself to format the card. Most modern cameras are very advanced and have formatting functionality built in.


Why it’s important to format SD cards

Formatting SD cards brings them back to a “like new” state. Just dragging the photos from the card to the recycle bin or Trash will still leave traces of the data on your card.

By formatting your card, you’re essentially scrubbing it and redoing the file system for a cleaner slate.

Plus, if you have thousands of photos, it can be a headache to delete them all. Formatting is a one-touch solution.

Which file system should you use to format SD cards

When formatting your SD card, stick to FAT32 or exFAT.

FAT32 is typically used for SD and SDHC cards. The max file size that a FAT32 card can handle is 4 gb.

exFAT is an upgraded version of FAT32 and can handle files larger than 4 gb. exFAT is used by default for SDXC cards.

Most 4K and even 1080p Full HD videos will end up bigger than 4GB, so stick to exFAT and SDHX cards for modern cameras.


So there you have it: 5 easy ways to format an SD card. Periodically formatting your card will keep it working well and optimally.

What’s your favorite method to use?