8 Finder Tips for Mac Newbies

Akshata Shanbhag 14-09-2015

Navigating files and folders using the native Mac file browser Finder is easy enough, but there are many more features hidden behind menus and keyboard shortcuts.


That’s why we decided to compile this list of common Finder features for the uninitiated. You’ll be surprised just how much you can tweak Finder to suit your workflow.

Note: If you’re coming from Windows A Quick Guide to Using a Mac for Windows Users Every Windows user should know the basics of working on a Mac. Here's a quick guide to help Mac newcomers find their way around. Read More or Linux, set aside a fair amount of time for your muscle memory to catch up with your new workflow. Or you could just find ways to port useful features from your old OS A Perfect Operating System? Getting Windows Style Features in OS X Bring the best features of Windows to OS X. You did not read that incorrectly. Many Mac users won't admit it, but there are some pretty nice features in Windows – particularly Windows 7 and... Read More  to OS X.

See Any File Info

The file and folder information popup is quite detailed in its approach, giving you all manner of information — from the file size on disk to sharing permissions. You can make various changes from this popup: you can share the file, lock it, preview it, hide its extension, and also add tags to it.


File Info is the Mac equivalent of Windows File Properties. There’s no point looking for “Properties” in the context (right-click) menu when Get Info is the option you’re looking for. You can also use the keyboard shortcut Cmd + I as a less frustrating way to get to the file information.


Show the File Path

By default you won’t see file and folder paths in Finder, but displaying them is a quick and painless process. Do it by clicking on View > Show Path Bar. If you prefer to toggle it often, memorize this shortcut: Option + Cmd + P.

To switch between locations fast, double-click on their names in the path bar.


You can also toggle the Status Bar and the Tab Bar from the View menu.


Customize the Sidebar

Finder’s sidebar packs many options, which can be distracting, especially if you don’t use most of them on a regular basis. Luckily you can get rid of them and have the sidebar show only the locations that you need regular access to.

To clean up the sidebar, navigate to Finder > Preferences and head to the third tab (named Sidebar, of course). There you’ll see a list of the locations that appear in the sidebar under Favorites, Shared, and Devices. Uncheck the locations that you don’t need on display.

The screenshot below shows my Finder sidebar preferences (left) and how the cleaned-up sidebar appears (right) on my Mac.



If you want to add a location to the sidebar on the fly, just drag its folder to the Favorites section. You can also remove shortcuts from the sidebar by dragging them out of the area or using context menu. For bulk operations though, the Preferences section is the easier route.

Use Finder Tabs

Finder’s tabbed browsing experience works pretty much the same as it does on most mainstream browsers. Keyboard shortcuts like Cmd + T and Cmd + W that work with your browser tabs also work with Finder tabs.

In essence, each Finder tab functions like a separate entity i.e. independent of other tabs. This means that each tab can display a different location and can have its own view. You can drag and drop files between tabs with ease, and even merge multiple windows into tabs in a single window. To merge Finder windows, keep any one of them active and click on Window > Merge All Windows.


If you prefer a tab-free file browser, click on View > Hide Tab Bar. Note that this option will appear grayed out if you have more than one tab open in Finder. In that case, close all tabs till you’re down to the main tab and try again.

Get a Full-sized Preview of Files

Did you know that on a Mac you can see a full-sized preview of a file without having to open the corresponding app? I didn’t, and I felt delighted when I found out. To see such previews, select any file and hit the spacebar to open its preview pane. Press the spacebar again to toggle back the preview.

You can do this for folders too, which displays the folder size, the number of items contained within, and the date and time it was last modified. If you have selected a bunch of images, you can view them as a slideshow using a preview. If the file happens to be video or audio, you can play it too.


The Quick Look toolbar icon (that resembles an open eye) also launches a preview of a file.

Give Finder a Makeover

You can customize the look and feel of various Finder locations. To do so for a particular location, open up that location in Finder. Then access Show View Options through one of the following places and click on it:

  • The View menu from the menu bar
  • The context menu from anywhere within Finder
  • The settings menu (look for the gear icon) from the Finder toolbar


In the box that pops up, you can scale the file and folder icons, move their labels, and change their grid spacing. You can even brighten up the background with a nice color or image. Look for the Arrange By and Sort By options to clean up the folder views by date modified, file type, tags, etc.

Customize the Toolbar

The Finder toolbar is where you’ll find buttons for functions like switching icon views, editing tags, and sharing items. To rearrange toolbar items to your liking, access the toolbar settings by clicking on View > Customize Toolbar. You can also reach them via Customize Toolbar from the context menu of the toolbar itself.

The overlay that appears provides you with an entire set of toolbar icons at your disposal. Use drag and drop to move them between this overlay and the toolbar or to rearrange existing toolbar icons.


Want to add your favorite apps, files, and folders to the Finder toolbar? Hold down the Cmd key and drag them to the toolbar. To get rid of them, just drag them out of the toolbar while keeping the Cmd key pressed. They’ll vanish in a puff of smoke!

Create Smart Folders

Smart folders are truly a smart way to navigate Finder. They create instant access to specific types of files by allowing you to save your search queries. This makes it easy to find and deal with similar files in bulk instead of wasting time looking for them in different locations.

Set up smart folders to giving yourself handy file groupings such as lists of unused apps, DMG installers, or files that are hogging space 8 Smart Folders You Need on Your Mac (And How to Set Them Up) A Mac Smart Folder lets you group together similar files from all over your machine. Here's how to use them and some great examples to get started with. Read More .

To create a smart folder, click on File > New Smart Folder. You’ll get a choice of locations to search. Choose This Mac to search the entire hard drive and then click on the ‘+‘ icon at the far right. This gives you two dropdown menus that you can use to set search criteria such as type, name, date modified, etc.

When you select an option from both of these menus, you’ll get a set of results that match these refinements.


If you want to narrow down your search further, add more filters by clicking on the ‘+‘ icon at the far end of an existing filter. When you’re satisfied with the filters you have set up, save the search. It will then appear in your user Library folder under Saved Searches (here’s how you can find the Library folder How To Access The OS X Library Folder & Why It's Handy Most OS X Library folders are best left alone, but it's useful to know your way in and around the User Library. Read More ).

Do note that if you have changed Spotlight preferences (under System Preferences > Spotlight) to exclude certain file types and locations from being indexed, files matching those criteria won’t show up in the search results even while creating smart folders.

Apps That Make Finder More Powerful

Let’s get the bad news out of the way first. The popular TotalFinder ($9.99) that would have been a perfect fit for this section is going away. It won’t work beyond Yosemite. Here are other apps that provide similar functionality.

XtraFinder (free)

XtraFinder is not a standalone app. It’s a plugin that adds features like dual panes and cut-and-paste functionality to Finder. You can use it to arrange folders on top, display the number of items in a folder, and add colorful icons to the sidebar. Read more about XtraFinder in our review Give Finder The Upgrade It Sorely Needs With XtraFinder [Mac] People are always going on about the Mac user experience; how it just works. For the most part, I agree with them. The operating system is like a smooth breeze, and most of the default... Read More .

PathFinder ($39.95) [No Longer Available]

Want total control over Finder? Invest in PathFinder. It’s expensive, yes, but it also gives you a rich feature set Find Files Faster and Organize Your Mac With Finder Tags Finder tags are a great way to organize data -- here's how to make the most of this handy organization tool on your Mac today. Read More that’ll prove handy if you intend to be a Mac power user.

From merging folders to integrating your browser workflow into Finder, there’s a long list of tweaks PathFinder helps you with. Take advantage of the app’s 30-day free trial to see if it improves your Mac workflow.

Arthur ($9)

Arthur gives you a set of options to tweak not just Finder, but your entire Mac. Some of those settings are available by default on OS X. But you either have to look for them in different locations or they involve some complex procedures. Arthur bundles up all those settings and puts them in a central, easy-to-access location.

As for the Finder tweaks Arthur includes, here they are:

  • Show all hidden files and system files
  • Show the path bar
  • Show all file extensions


Reveal Finder’s Best-Kept Secrets

If you dig beneath the surface, you’ll realize that Finder is a super customizable tool. Explore the tips we have listed here, and list your own in the comments!

Which Finder tricks and apps can you share with us? Help us build a mammoth list of tips right here in the comments!

Image Credits: Surprised young man via Shutterstock

Related topics: File Explorer, OS X Finder, OS X Yosemite.

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  1. Anonymous
    September 15, 2015 at 5:37 am

    Thanks for this article Akshata. I have recently switched from Windows to Mac, and articles like these are very helpful for us. :)

    • Akshata Shanbhag
      September 15, 2015 at 9:42 am

      Glad to hear that, Devinder :)

  2. Anonymous
    September 14, 2015 at 7:11 pm

    The best tip: Just use Spotlight for absolutely everything.

    • Akshata Shanbhag
      September 15, 2015 at 1:56 am

      Absolutely! And add Flashlight to make Spotlight even better.