Mac Mastery Series: Save Time and Make Things Easier by Customizing the Finder’s Toolbar

Updated November 1st, 2022.

Third in a series of Mac Mastery articles, demonstrating the best tips and handiest features of the Mac and its apps. Learn these features and everything goes better. Read them all!

BONUS: what you learn here will carry over to other apps too. You can customize the Toolbars in Mail, Safari, Numbers, Pages, and many more apps using the same techniques.

Every Mac user spends a lot of time working with files. It’s pretty basic, and not terribly difficult, but think about it: if you have to dig through a couple of folders to find the items you want, and if you have to move the mouse over to the Dock and take a moment looking for a particular app, some number of seconds are taken up, and those seconds add up. This article shows you how to save time and make working on a Mac easier by customizing the Finder’s Toolbar.

Customizing the Finder’s Toolbar by showing button labels

The Toolbar is the strip across the top of every Finder window. Here’s a typical Finder window with the standard Finder Toolbar (this is macOS Catalina):

If you don’t see a Toolbar, go to the View menu and choose “Show Toolbar.”

Finder window with default toolbar
Finder window with default Toolbar

Here’s how it could look with a little customization.

Finder window with customized toolbar
Finder window with customized Toolbar

And here’s how you do it.

First, make sure the Finder is in the front. Not sure? Click anywhere on the desktop, or click the Finder’s icon in the Dock. Double-check: the menu next to the Apple menu at the top left of your screen should say “Finder.”

macOS Finder
macOS Finder

It’s a safe bet that some (maybe most) Mac users have never clicked all of the buttons in the Toolbar. It’s also a safe bet that some (maybe most) Mac users don’t even know what all the buttons do! If we knew what they did, we might click them. But we don’t know what they too. Too bad the buttons don’t have labels!

Turns out the buttons do have labels. They’re just hidden. You can show the labels by holding the Control key, clicking any empty space in the Toolbar, and choosing “Icon and Text.”

Choosing "Icon and Text" after Control-clicking the Finder toolbar
Choosing “Icon and Text” after Control-clicking the Finder Toolbar

Ah, that’s better.

Finder window, toolbar showing labels
Finder window, Toolbar with button labels

Customizing the Finder Toolbar by adding and removing buttons

You may have noticed the “Customize Toolbar…” item in the menu when you Control-clicked to show “Icon and Text.” Control-click the Toolbar again, same as you did before, but this time choose “Customize Toolbar…”

Note: you can also go to the View menu and choose “Customize Toolbar…” You land in the same place either way.

In Catalina, you’ll see the Toolbar’s buttons squirming around, something like the way iPhone icons squirm around when you’re rearranging the Home screen. (The buttons don’t squirm in older versions of the macOS.) Below the Toolbar, you’ll see several new buttons that you can add to the Toolbar. (You can also remove buttons from the Toolbar.)

The Customize Finder toolbars window
The Customize Finder toolbars window

One button I like a lot is the Delete button. It saves a lot of mousing around– when it’s in the Toolbar, deleting a file is as easy as clicking the file, then clicking the Delete button in the Toolbar. No more dragging things to the Trash (and dropping them along the way!) Add the Delete button to the Toolbar by dragging it up and putting it where you want it.

Finder window toolbar with Delete button added
Finder window Toolbar with Delete button added

I don’t use the Group button nor the Edit Tags button either, so let’s take them out of the Toolbar. Just click on them and drag them down, out of the toolbar. (You can always put them back if you want to.)

You get a nice little “poof” and a puff of smoke when you take something out of the Toolbar.

Feel free to rearrange the order of the buttons in the Toolbar. Maybe you’d like your Delete button on the left, like so:

Finder window toolbar with Delete button moved to the left
Finder window Toolbar with Delete button moved to the left

If you really mess up and you just want things back the way they were, look to the bottom of the window, where you can grab the default set of buttons and drag it into the Toolbar, as if you’d never made any changes.

When you’re done, click the Done button. From now on, every Finder window will have your new, customized Toolbar.

But that’s not all.

Maybe you’d like one-click access to a favorite app, right in the Toolbar. Of course you could put the app in the Dock, but sometimes the pointer is pretty far away from the Dock, and we’re trying to save time here, remember? Plus, the Dock gets cluttered when you put too many things in it, and that makes it harder to find things, which uses up more time. There are other benefits too (see below). So let’s add an app to the Finder’s Toolbar.

Customizing the Finder’s Toolbar by adding an app to the Toolbar

First, go to the Applications folder. Get there by choosing “Applications” from the Go menu, or by typing Command-Shift-A, or by clicking “Applications” in the sidebar on the left.

Applications folder
Applications folder

I want to put Pixelmator into the Toolbar because I use it a lot and I want super-quick access to it. (I also sometimes want to open a PNG or JPEG with Pixelmator rather than the default Preview app, and having Pixelmator in the Toolbar means I can open an image in Pixelmator by dragging the image to the Pixelmator icon right there in the Toolbar! It’s very handy.)

You’d think that you’d just drag an app’s icon to the Toolbar, same as with the buttons, but it doesn’t work that way. (Go ahead and try! The app just bounces back to where it came from). The trick: hold the Command key while you drag. (First you click once on the app, then you let go, then you hold the Command key, then you drag to the Toolbar.)

I also want Mail in the Toolbar. This lets me send files via Mail simply by dragging them to the Mail icon. (The Share button could do the job also but I like having the Mail icon there. It’s a bigger target than the Share button, which makes it a little bit faster to use.) When you drag a file or folder to the Mail icon in the Toolbar a new email message is created, with what you dragged as an attachment.

Note: you can’t drag two apps at a time to the Toolbar. One at time, please.

I also like an app called Squash which makes images smaller for use on the web. Having it in the Toolbar reminds me to use it. Command-drag and voilá, there it is.

Finally, there’s an app called Affinity Publisher which I keep meaning to explore. (It’s a competitor to Adobe’s InDesign and a whole lot less expensive.) Putting it the Toolbar reminds me that the app exists and that I should have a look at it. Hopefully, “not out of sight, not out of mind” will work!

Here’s my Toolbar after Command-dragging apps into it.

My customized Finder toolbar
My customized Finder Toolbar

You can also drag key folders into the Toolbar. Yes, there’s already a place for folders, under Favorites in the Sidebar to the left, but what the heck, let’s put a couple of folders into the Toolbar too. You put folders into the Toolbar the same way you put apps in: click once on the folder, let go, hold the Command key, then drag to position. Here’s one of my Finder windows with a couple of folders in the Toolbar. The folders hold some of the work I’m focused on right now, and having them in the Toolbar gives me quick access. When I’m done with those projects I’ll remove the folders.

With my customized Finder Toolbar I have one-click access to my key folders, plus the apps Affinity Publisher, Squash, Pixelmator, and Mail. I can drag things on top of the app icons to make them open with the desired app. Of course the apps could also be in the Dock, and in my case Mail is one app that’s in both places. (Dragging an app to the Toolbar doesn’t duplicate it– it just gives you a shortcut– so don’t worry about ending up with multiple copies.)

Want to take an app (or a folder) out of the Toolbar? Reach for the Command key again. With the Command key down, click and drag an app (or folder) out of the Toolbar. Easy as anything. As with apps (and folders) in the Dock, you’re not throwing away the app (or folder), you’re just getting rid of the shortcut.

Remember: any customizing you do affects all Finder windows, and that means customizing the Toolbar once makes things nice no matter which Finder window you happen to have open! That means the Documents folder, the Downloads folder, the Pictures folder, or of course any folder you’ve created yourself. Putting in a little time to customize the Finder’s Toolbar pays off over and over, every single day, so do it now while you’re thinking about it.

Copyright 2008-2023 Christian Boyce. All rights reserved.

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