How to Make and Use Smart Folders on a Mac

macOS Smart Folder

Do you find yourself spending too much time looking for files on your Mac, over and over?

For example:

You want to browse through all of the images on your Mac, regardless of where they’re stored. Or you’re looking for a document you were working on recently, but the name escapes you.

Wouldn’t it be nice to somehow have all of your images listed in one all-inclusive list, no matter where they are on your Mac, so you could scan through them without opening up a bunch of folders? And wouldn’t it be nice to have a “magic folder” where all of your recent documents could be found– even if they are filed all over the place?

Of course it would be nice! And, turns out it’s easily done, using macOS’s Smart Folders. Smart Folders can be thought of as “saved searches.” In contrast to the Mac’s regular folders, Smart Folders don’t contain the files they list. Instead, Smart Folders remember what you looked for when you set them up, and every time you click one, the search is run again. Meanwhile, the files remain wherever you’ve stored them. Smart Folders don’t care where the files really are– they show what you want, no matter where things are stored.

BONUS: the Smart Folder idea can be used in iTunes, for “Smart Playlists,” and in Photos, for “Smart Albums.” What you learn here carries over to those apps as well.

An example will help! Let’s make a Smart Folder that will find all of the images on your Mac. We’ll eventually refine the Smart Folder to show only those images bigger than 200 pixels in height and width, but for now let’s keep it simple and find them all.

Note: if you’re thinking “I could just do a search for what I want, when I want, so I don’t need Smart Folders” you are right. But, if you think you might do that same search again sometime, a Smart Folder is the way to go, because you’ll be performing the search with a single click instead of typing in the search criteria again.

1. In the Finder, go to File/New Smart Folder

Making a new Smart Folder
Making a new Smart Folder

2. You’ll see something like this.

Smart Folders: click the plus
Smart Folders: click the plus

3. Click the plus at top right, then use the menus to make it look like this:

Smart Folders: setting search criteria
Smart Folders: setting search criteria

As you can see, we’ve found a lot of images– over 23,000. Some of them are tiny icons and we don’t care about those. So, to filter things down, let’s restrict the search to images larger than 200 x 200 pixels. We add criteria by clicking the plus button, almost the same as before, but this time it’s not next to the “Save” button. It’s lower, in line with the criterion we created asking for “kind is image.”

4. When you add this second criterion you will notice there is nothing in the menu for “dimensions greater than 200 x 200 pixels.” You will also notice there is an “Other…” choice. Choose that.

Smart Folders: choosing other criteria
Smart Folders: choosing other criteria

Now you get a ton of options. Find the ones for Pixel Width and Pixel Height. If you check the boxes next to them these options will be available in the menu for us all the time, not just by going to “Other…” So, let’s check the boxes.

Smart Folders: adding criteria options to the menu
Smart Folders: adding criteria options to the menu

5. Use the menu to set one criterion to be “Pixel width is greater than 200,” then click the plus to the right of it and add another criterion. Set this one to “Pixel height is greater than 200.” You will see the number of found images go down. In our case, we went from over 23,000 images to just over 10,000. Those little images probably belong to the system anyway– icons, arrows, buttons, etc. Not what we want.

6. Finally, we want to save this. Click the Save button at upper right and give your Smart Folder a name. You DO want to add this to the sidebar, and saving into the Saved Searches folder is a good idea, so leave that part alone. It will look something like this:

Smart Folders: save it and name it
Smart Folders: save it and name it
Smart Folders: easy access via the sidebar
Smart Folders: easy access via the sidebar

Your Smart Folder is there to stay! A week from now, a month from now, a year from now: you want to see all of your images, all in one place, as long as they are larger than 200 x 200 pixels? Just click the Smart Folder in the sidebar and voila!

(Not sure how this works? Just think of it as a saved search. Every time you click the icon in the sidebar, the search is performed again. Notice too that the images are not moved into the Smart Folder. They’re just found. See below, where I’ve clicked on an image in the Smart Folder (“2.jpg”). You can see the path to the folder at the bottom of the Smart Folder window.

The Path
The Path

Note: You can edit a Smart Folder by holding the Control key down and clicking on it in the sidebar. You can change its name, you can look at (and then change) its search criteria, and more. Here’s what it looks like:

Smart Folders: control-click
Smart Folders: control-click
Well that’s pretty neat. No matter where we’ve stored our images, no matter in how many folders, we can get an up-to-the-minute list of them by clicking our Smart Folder in the sidebar.

Let’s do another one– a Smart Folder that finds all of our recent documents. (Yes, Apple gives you a “Recents” folder already, but that one finds too much. We just want stuff we worked on within the last week.)

1. In the Finder, go to File/New Smart Folder.

Making a new Smart Folder
Making a new Smart Folder

2. Set the criteria so they look like this (you’ll have to click the “+” at top right to show the criteria menu):

Smart Folder showing recent items
Smart Folder showing recent items

3. Click the Save button (top right again), choose a good name (“Current Work,” maybe) and check the box to add the Smart Folder to the Sidebar. That’s it! From now on, a click in the sidebar shows you everything you’ve worked on in the last week. And remember, the items in the Smart Folder remain filed away wherever you put them, but the Smart Folder gives you access to all of them, all in one place. Verrrrrry handy.

BONUS: maybe you want your “Current Work” Smart Folder to include documents, images, and PDFs (and not folders and applications). In order to set up criteria like that, you need to specify that the item was modified within the last 7 days, and is either a document, or an image, or a PDF. You need to set up an “any” search. The way you do that is you hold the Option key when you click the plus to add criteria. That gives you an “Any” option, like this:

Smart Folders with "Any"
Smart Folders with “Any”

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