Tags are a great way to organize data, so that you can sift through it fast when you need to zero in on a particular element. Color-coded tags are even better, and your Mac’s file manager Finder has them — those colorful little dots in the sidebar.
Each default tag gets its label from its color. You don’t have to stick with that label though, as we’ll see later on in this article. Let’s take a look at how to make the most of macOS tags.
What Can You Do With Tags?
While naming files well and moving them into logical folders keeps your data organized, tagging files takes it one step further. Tags do the same thing for your files that Gmail labels do for you emails: add context.
With tags, you can make a variety of data easy to find at a moment’s notice. For example:
- Photos you want to edit later.
- Data that’s usable for a short time, such as flight tickets, research for blog posts, and first drafts of anything.
- Saved articles that you plan to read over the weekend.
- Receipts you want to save for tax season.
What’s cool about tags on macOS is that you can combine different types of files under one umbrella. Also, you can use multiple tags both to categorize files and to narrow down your searches later.
How to Create, Edit, and Delete Tags in Finder
Finder allows you to create a tag in a handful of ways.
Tagging From the Context Menu
Right-click on a file and select Tags… in the context menu. A box with a text field pops up right there for you to enter the name of the tag you want to create. Type in that name and hit Enter twice. This creates the tag and assigns it to the file you have selected.
Assign more than one tag: To assign multiple tags to a single file, you’ll have to hit Enter after every tag name you type in and then once at the end to complete the process. If you hit Esc or click elsewhere on the screen instead of hitting Enter at the end, no new tags for you.
If you want assign one or more existing tags to a file, pick them from the list that appears right below the tag field. Just point and click! This list of tags mirrors the one that appears in the sidebar.
“Un”-assign a tag: Let’s say in the middle of tagging you decide you don’t want to use a particular tag for the selected file after all. If you select that tag in the text field and hit the Delete key, macOS will no longer use that tag for that file. This doesn’t delete delete the tag — you’ll have to bring up the tag’s context menu in the sidebar or visit Preferences > Tags for that.
Bookmark a tag: Are you curious about the tags that you can select from the context menu directly? Those are “favorite” tags for quick use in Finder menus. You get to choose which tags show up as favorites. To find out how, jump to the Manage All Your Tags section below.
Tagging From the Toolbar
Instead of bringing up the Tags dialog from the context menu of a file, summon it via the Edit Tags toolbar button when you have a file selected. A “tag box” shows up near the toolbar button. It looks and functions like the one we discussed above, so you should have no trouble making it work.
If you can’t see the Edit Tags button, it’s likely that you hid it during one of your decluttering efforts. To bring that button back, first right-click anywhere on the toolbar. Next, select the Customize Toolbar… option from the menu to view the entire set of available toolbar buttons. Now drag the Edit Tags button from this set to the toolbar.
Tagging From the File Inspector
You can add/remove tags from the Inspector or Get Info dialog for any file or folder. To bring up Inspector for a selected file, click on File > Get Info or press Cmd + I. Again, the tag section here is a replica of the tag creation box we saw above.
Tagging Within Applications
You’ll find the same tagging mechanism we discussed above in a couple of other places as well:
- The “document” menu — The menu that pops up when you click on the name of a file or document in applications like Preview, Pages, and QuickTime Player.
- The Save and Save As… dialogs
Since these tagging options are available within applications, they’re applicable to files only. To tag folders you’ll have to fall back on the context menu, the toolbar, or the Inspector.
Manage All Your Tags
If you want to create, edit, and delete tags in bulk, the Tags tab in Finder’s Preferences is the way to go. Open the Preferences dialog either by clicking on Finder > Preferences… or by pressing Cmd + , on the keyboard.
Next, switch to the Tags tab. Here you’ll see a list of all the tags available for use, including any you have created on the fly via the context menu, Finder toolbar, and so on. To create new tags and delete existing ones from here, use the “+“/”–” buttons below the tag list.
To rename a tag, hit Enter when you have the tag selected. You can even assign it a different color — click on the tag’s existing color in the list to view the menu of available colors. Deselect the checkbox for any tag if you don’t want that tag to show up in the Finder sidebar anymore.
Any tag you drag from the tag list and drop into the “Favorites” area below the list will show up in Finder menus for quick selection and deselection. Drag a tag out of this area to make it disappear from the context menu.
You have probably noticed that you can manipulate tags from the Finder sidebar via their context menu. The options you can pick from are self-explanatory, so we won’t get into those. Keep in mind though the distinction between the Delete Tag and Remove from Sidebar menu options. The latter hides the tag from view, but doesn’t delete it for good.
How to Use Tags to Simplify Your File Search
You might have already figured out that you can filter files and folders by tags by clicking on any of the tags in the Finder sidebar. What can you do beyond this? We have a few suggestions:
- Search by tag in Finder. Start typing in the name of a tag or its color in the Finder search bar and you can then pick from the matching tags that show up.
- Set up a smart folder to filter by (multiple) tags.
- Ask Siri to filter files by a specific tag.
- Organize Finder items by tags via the Sort By and Arrange By options under View > Show View Options.
- Search by tag in Spotlight by typing in tag: tag_name. It’s a pity Spotlight search for tags doesn’t seem to work for everyone, and there’s no easy explanation or solution in sight. Although, this won’t be a problem for you if you use a third-party application that supports macOS tag search.
Do You Use Tags?
We must admit that the tagging system on macOS is a little temperamental at times, but it’s still worth using. If you come across a glitch or two, relaunching Finder should fix the issue. To do that, hold down the Option key and the Cmd key, click on the Finder icon in Dock, and click on Relaunch from the menu that pops up.
If you have ignored tags on your Mac so far, we urge you to test them out. They can help you find the right files and folders with minimal effort every time.
Want more tips for using Finder on Mac? Check out how to complete tasks in a click with Finder’s Quick Actions.