How to make an OS X Lion USB thumb drive

Here are three different ways to put Lion on a USB thumb drive. If you buy and install Lion from the App Store  it downloads all 3Gigabytes from the App Store, installs Lion, then deletes the installer!  So when you go to install it on another machine it needs another 3Gigabyte download! Here’s how to make a re-usable installer.

Option 1: Put a full bootable Lion installation on the USB Drive with a recovery partition.

What you need: an 8G thumb drive and OS X Lion from the App Store.

What you get: A USB stick you can boot off and repair your Lion installation from.

Download the Lion installer from Apple App Store. DO NOT INSTALL IT ONTO YOUR COMPUTER OR THE INSTALLER WILL DELETE ITSELF. MAKE A COPY OF THE INSTALLER.  If you have already installed it and it has deleted itself,  go back into the App store and click on ‘purchases’ and next to Lion it will say ‘Installed’. Now option-click on ‘purchases’ and ‘installed’ will change to ‘install’ so that you can re-download the installer.

Format your Thumbdrive using a GUID Partition Table, and ‘ Mac OS Extended (Journaled)’, then you can run the Lion installer and install Lion onto the thumb drive.

More info here:

Option 2: Create a Lion Recovery Disk.

You’ll only need a 4G USB Drive for this option.

What you get: A USB stick you can repair your Lion installation from, but not run Lion from.

If your Macintosh has an existing Lion Recovery partition (this will be the case if Lion came pre-installed on your machine when you purchased your computer from Apple), you can use this method. It will not be a fill installer but it will use the internet to install Lion onto another computer. It involves downloading a program from apple called ‘Lion Recovery Disk Assistant’

More info here:

To test if you have a Lion recovery partition, Just hold down Command-R during startup and Lion will give you the option of going into recovery mode if the recovery partition is there.


Option 3: Make a Lion Installation USB Thumb drive like the one you buy from Apple.

What you get: A USB stick you can install Lion from – like the one that comes from Apple.

You’ll need an 8G USB thumbdrive.

1. Purchase and download the Lion Installer via the App store as in Option 1 above.

2. Right-click on the installer and select “Show Package Contents” and find  the file called  “InstallESD.dmg” in the SharedSupport folder.

3. Use Disk Utility to ‘Restore’ this dmg file to a thumb drive to make a Lion Installation USB drive like you buy from the Apple Store. (the thumb drive must first be formatted as Mac OS Extended (Journaled) with GUID Partition Table.)

More info on this here.


3 responses to “How to make an OS X Lion USB thumb drive”

  1. Jeffe Aronson

    I”ve already installed Lion on my MacBook Pro, but when I go to the App store, it doesn’t see that for some reason, and says “install”. I want a bootable thumb drive with Lion on which I can also put Disk Warrior and Data Rescue in the Utilities folder so I can use those when needed on my and my wife’s computers. Recovery drive is on the thumb now, but it won’t let me do anything except use Disk Utility. So… if I click “install lion”, will it be safe, considering I already have Lion? Will it give me a folder and files where I can do the show package contents and then go from there, or will it instantly start to install over my current Lion? What can I do to accomplish my goal of a bootable thumb drive with a useable copy of Lion on it (it’s a 16gb), and also Disk Warrior, Data Rescue, etc. in the Util folder and useable? Thanks for the help.

    1. Stephanie

      Hi Jeffe,
      I am trying to do the same as you – did you ever work out how to do it? When i attempt to install osx onto my usb, my computer restarts halfway through, so it doesnt work! I want to create an osx on a usb to run disk warrior. My macbook crashed… I could run disk warrior from my mac mini, but apple change the Firewire so I cant boot up my crashed macbook as a target drive, or run diskwarrier that way – so im hoping to use a usb. IF not I will have to track down MORE CABLES AND CONNECTORS!!! argghhhh seems like they change everything to make you spend money, and so you never have what you need!

  2. Easiest way would be to use CArbon Copy Cloner or Super Duper to make an exact copy of your existing OSX to the thumb Drive, but don’t copy apps or user folder to keep it small.

    In answer to your question, when you click ‘Install Lion’ It asks you where to install it to, and you can select where to install it to.

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