What do I do if I need to format my USB stick or SD card?

Sometimes digital devices don’t quite work as directed. USB and SD card storage devices are easy and reliable to use, but occasionally you may run into a problem with these storage devices.

One helpful troubleshooting technique is to format your storage device. This is especially helpful if your your plugged-in device isn’t recognized, or if you encounter error messages.

So, what does it mean to format? Basically, the format or “file system” of your storage device is similar to a language it uses to communicate with other devices. All of your devices need to speak the same language in order to work with each other.

IMPORTANT: If you do choose to format, be sure to back-up your files first, as this process will erase all content off of your storage device.

While you are formatting the drive, we would suggest selecting either the FAT32 or NTFS file system.

FAT32 and NTFS are ideal if you want to read and write to the drive on both Windows and Mac OS X systems. It is compatible with most TV and digital projectors which accept external storage media like SD cards and USB sticks. This format does not support files larger than 4 GB or drives larger than 32 GB.

Once you have successfully formatted your storage device, you can copy the digital decorations onto the device for use with your display or projector.

METHOD 1: Windows Computers

1. Connect the storage device to your computer. If possible, plug it directly into your computer and not into a hub to increase the speed of the format and file transfer. For SD cards, you may need to purchase an external hub.

2. Wait for your computer to detect the device. You should see a pop-up bubble in the task bar at the bottom-right of your screen notifying you once your device has been installed successfully and is ready for use.

3. Open Computer/My Computer/This PC. This window displays all of your connected drives. You can access it from the Start menu, or by pressing the Windows key + E. In Windows 8.1, click the Start button (or press the Windows key), type this pc and press Enter.

4. Right-click on the device that you have just connected to your computer. It should appear in the list titled "Devices with Removable Storage" as a removable disk with the drive letter that appears latest in the alphabet.

5. Click on "Format" from the pop-up menu. This will bring up the Format window with the window title indicating which drive you are about to format.

  • Leave the "Capacity" as is. Your computer automatically detects the capacity of your flash drive and fills it in this location.
  • Tick the box next to "Quick Format" if you want to quickly format the drive. You will still have access to all of the free space after formatting, but the original information will not be securely deleted, meaning it could possibly be retrieved.[1]
  • Keep the allocation size as the default allocation size.

6. Choose the FAT32 or NTFS file system.

7. Start the formatting process. Press Start at the bottom of the Format window after you have finalized your selections. Confirm your action by pressing OK in the pop-up window. Remember, all the data on your storage device will be deleted. Once completed, the drive will be formatted according to your specifications.

METHOD 2: Mac OS X Computers

1. Connect your storage device. Depending on whether or not it is formatted already, your device may appear on the desktop. You can ignore it for the moment.

2. Open the Utilities folder. Click Go and select "Utilities." If you are using an older version of OS X, click Go and select "Applications," then open the "Utilities" folder. You can also press Shift + Command + U while in Finder to open the Utilities folder.

3. Open Disk Utility. Disk Utility is a tool in Mac that will let you format an external storage device.

4. Select your storage device. You can see a list of your connected drives in the left frame of Disk Utility. Click on the appropriate device.

5. Click the "Erase" tab. This will let you set the options for the format process.

6. Label your storage device by entering a name in the "Name" field. This is optional.

7. Choose the FAT32 or NTFS file system.

8. Start the formatting process. Once you have chosen your file system and given the drive a name, click Erase.... In the window that appears, click Erase to confirm.

Mac OS X users may need to take an additional step to use their digital downloads on an external storage device. 

For more information, please check out this article about Mac computers and “dot underscore files”.

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