Updated November 1st, 2022.
The Mac Mail app shows all attachments as icons– unless the attachment is a single-page PDF or image. For example, if you attach a Word document to an email, it shows up as an icon.
If you attach a Pages document to an email it’s the same thing: an icon.
If you attach a sound file, or a movie, or an Excel spreadsheet, or a text file, it shows up as an icon.
But… if you attach a single-page image, or a single-page PDF, you will see the attachment “in place” in the body of the Mail message (that is, it won’t be an icon– it will show the actual image). Like this:
The key is “single-page.” All of the standard graphics formats are single-page: JPEG, PNG, TIFF, BMP, PSD– all single-page. Any attachment in one of those formats will display the attachment in line.
PDFs are the one tricky case because a PDF can be multi-page. The rule is, if the PDF is one page, it’s going to show up “in place,” but if it’s multi-page, it’s going to show up as an icon.
Here’s an email with a single-page PDF attached:
Here’s an email with a multi-page PDF attached (it’s a book):
How to make your single-page images and PDFs display as icons
If you want a single-page image attachment or a single-page PDF attachment to appear as an icon rather than “in place” just control-click on the attachment (after you’ve attached them) and choose “View as icon.”
Then your email looks like this:
(This is the Mail message we saw previously, with the deer picture in it. Now the image is an icon.)
If you change your mind just control-click on the icon and select “View in Place.”
Note: none of this matters to the recipient. It’s all for your benefit. When you send an email you can control how it looks to YOU but you can’t control how it looks to the recipient. Some email programs are set up to show attachments as icons no matter what. Some email programs are set to show attachments “in place” if the attachment is a single page image. Some offer a choice. You, the sender, don’t control how things look to the recipient. Something to keep in mind!Copyright 2008-2023 Christian Boyce. All rights reserved.
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Sounds good, but when the email with one page image reaches the recipient the “view as icon” instruction is no longer valid and the image shows “in place”. Very messy.
Correct, assuming the person is using an email program that chooses to do it that way. In the end, what you do at your end with an email doesn’t define what happens at the other end.
so what did they need to do at the other end to make sure it comes as an icon?
It is all up to the program that the person at the other end is using. If they’re using gmail in a browser, they’ll see a totally different thing than if they are using Apple Mail on an iPhone. Outlook on the Mac displays things differently than Mail on the Mac, and so on. Regardless, the mail and the attachment do arrive, and whether the image shows as an icon or inline, the item can be downloaded and saved.
if you receive multiple attachments, some of which are single-page, others multiple-pages, the window is really messy. Apple should allow the customers to set the preference.
You are so right! Yes, when you have some icons and some in-line attachments it looks really bad. I agree with you all the way.
How do you change this so it is permanent – all PDF’s show as icon instead of image? It’s so annoying to have to do it image by image.
Best I can do is Select All in the body of the message and then control-click to View as Icon. Of course that isn’t what you’re asking for but it will help if you have multiple images in one message.
To make Mail.app always use an icon for single page attachments you need to paste the following into Terminal.app:
defaults write com.apple.mail DisableInlineAttachmentViewing -bool yes
So quit Mail.app, open Terminal.app, paste in the above line, and re-open Mail.app. Viola.
Note that you may also need to give Terminal.app Full Disk Access in Security and Privacy in System Preferences. I needed to. This is because the defaults command is writing the change to (I assume) a preferences plist file in your ~/Library folder. You can always revoke the Full Disk Access after you’ve run the command. Without providing Full Disk Access the command will run without error but the change won’t actually occur.
You can undo the change by doing the same thing in Terminal.app but firstly you must change “-bool yes” to “-bool no”
Wow, Scott, that’s nice! I didn’t know this was an option. Very nice. Thank you.
Excellent Scott, many thanks. I had read about the line to be changed in terminal.app, but it hadn’t worked. You’re the first one I’ve found who explains that the full access permissions need to be changed first. Great job!
Thank you Christian and Scott. Very useful. Kind regards from Belgium.
Many thanks Scott. I was tearing my hair out! Six drafts later I found your solution and it worked a charm. I tried the Terminal solution – didn’t work for me unfortunately. I was also able to restore a single page PDF I RECEIVED to icon format so that I could open it in Adobe. What a relief. Thank you so much for your well explained, simple solution. I’m going to stick my hair back in now.
I wonder whether you could have control-clicked on that single-page PDF and chosen “Open With…” and then picked Adobe Reader. Maybe.
So, Scott, works great, except now my company logo on my signature is represented as an icon 🙂 Can’t have my cake and eat it too unfortunately.
Scott: I gave Terminal full disk access in System Preferences, and ran the command in Terminal, and it simply isn’t working. I’m on Catalina, in case that makes any difference.
This has been the most infuriating thing for me, as one who comes from the Windows world where attachments always behaved as attachments. I know it doesn’t affect the other person — whether recipient or sender — but I can’t stand seeing these PDFs or images inline when they aren’t intended to be. Sorry to vent. Thanks!
Same with me! And it’s so infuriating with pictures messing up the message!
Thanks. But do you have info on how to change to an icon in iPad or iPhone?
I don’t. That would be nice though! If you figure it out let me know!
I’m on Monterey now, and the Terminal solution isn’t working. I have allowed permissions in Security and Privacy. Terminal tells me it cannot write the command. I would love to have a solution to this annoying inline attachment problem.Thanks!
I don’t know that this will work but I think you might have success by turning off System Integrity Protection (SIP), and then doing the terminal command, and then turning SIP back on. Here’s an article that explains what SIP is and how to disable it and then re-enable it. Let me know how it goes! https://www.imore.com/how-turn-system-integrity-protection-macos
Thanks for this replyI I disabled SIP, entered the Terminal command again, and I got the same error message: “Could not write domain” etc. “exiting.” I’d appreciate any other suggestions. Thanks! I re-enabled SIP afterwards.
Unfortunately I don’t have another idea for you. Sorry about that.
I’m on the Monterey too and I am pulling my hair. I rarely printout my emails but I need to do it today and have been searching for solutions for the past few hours. Wasting my time!!!!
This was the most helpful article with the simplest method of correcting the single page attachment display in Mail. Better than any Apple discussion thread. “Control click does the trick” ;P Thanks so much!!!
Words to live by: “Control click does the trick.” I’ll remember that!
THANK YOU FOR THIS… IT WORKS – AT LEAST FROM MY END WHEN SENDING MAIL. IF YOU WANT THE ICON IMAGE FOR THE RECIPIENT, CREATE A NEW PDF WITH MULTIPLE PAGES AND ADD YOUR PHOTOS OR PDF FILES TO A SINGLE MULTIPAGE FILE.
my work around is to add a blank page at the end, thereby bypassing the 1 page idiot idea of Mac!! It works 🙂
That’s an interesting way to do it! Of course it works– all you need is an attachment that’s more than one page. But… if your attachment is a JPEG or a PNG or some other graphics format, which are all defined as single-page items, you can’t add a page.
The control-click on the attachment (after you’ve attached them) and choose “View as icon.” or choose in place is not showing anymore, for some reason it make 1 page preview and others in icon, if I control click only shows share instead of “view as icon”, on an existing icon when I click on to change “view in place” is in grey and do not let me change
Which system are you using? I have tested only up to Monterey.
I also find it extremely frustrating that when I upload a file in Gmail from my mac, the finder displays my files as icons when I have specified columns everywhere else on my mac. I cannot find a way to display ALWAYS as columns!
wow..you’re amazing.. Ive gone through tons of suggestions, writing code and such.. none of them worked but yours…been wracking my brain for 2 hours…thanks again Christian