Labels, Tags and Files

Labels are a handy way to organise your files in the Finder by colour-coding their icons. Until OS X Mavericks is released later this year, they are a pretty good substitute for having a proper way to tag files in the Finder.

Adding a label to a file or folder is simple. Just right-click the icon and choose one of the coloured squares from the menu. Alternatively, you can select the icon by clicking on it, and choose the label from the File menu in the menubar.

If you want to use labels a bit more like tags, it is possible to choose a custom name for each label colour in the Finder Preferences (under Finder in the menubar). Once you have done this, the only limitation compared to a real tagging system is that you are restricted to only having 7 different tags.

Using labels as tags can work really well in conjunction with Saved Searches (also known as Smart Folders).

Screenshot: Saved search for Finder labels

Most people will have their documents organised into separate folders for each project, and will have separate folders for work and home files. But sometimes, for example, you might want to see all your receipts from all your different projects together, or all the files that you need to print. Instead of duplicating all your receipts into a separate “receipts” folder, you can just use labels along with a Saved Search that displays all the files with that label.

To set up the saved search, start by switching over to the Finder and choosing Find from the File menu (or type Command-F). Choose Other from the left hand drop-down menu, and choose File label from the list. Then just choose the desired label, and click the Save button to add the Saved Search to your sidebar.

Power users can take this idea even further using a tool like Hazel. Firstly, Hazel can automatically add labels to your files based on your own criteria. For example, automatically adding a red label to files that have been in the Downloads folder for more than a week, or adding a purple label to files that were downloaded from your bank website.

Secondly, Hazel can automatically perform actions when you assign a specific label to a file. For example, it could import MP3 files into iTunes if they you label them purple, or resize images to 800x600px and upload them to a server if they are labelled green, or run any AppleScript or shell script you want.

Bonus tip: You can quickly change the label of a file by dragging it into the section for a different label in the folder, as show in the screenshot below. For this to work, you must have your folder in Icon View, and have the folder Arranged by Label.

Screenshot: Drag files to change label in Finder


Tags Tips

To get going with Tags, open a new Finder window and browse to any file or folder on your Mac. With the item selected, click the Tags button that appears at the top of the Finder toolbar.

Tags button

Use the new Tags button to add a Tag to any item

A popup window then appears – to add a new Tag, just start typing the name of the Tag that you want to create. In this example I’ve created a new Tag called “Chriswrites”. Hit Enter to actually assign the Tag to the selected item.

Create a Tag

Enter a name for your new Tag

You’ll notice that nothing much has changed in the Finder window because we haven’t yet assigned a colour to the new tag. However, in the Finder sidebar, the new tag name you’ve just created should now be visible – in this case “Chriswrites” (along with several other tags I’ve already created and applied to items on my Mac and iCloud).

By default, new tags you create are not assigned any particular colour. To change that, with the Finder window still open, choose Preferences from the Finder menu (or just use Cmd-comma) and then the Tags tab.

Finder Tags preferences

Open Finder’s preferences to set the Tag options

Your new tag should be visible in the list (with no colour assigned) as well as a checkbox to indicate whether it will be displayed in the sidebar. The sidebar lists all recent tags automatically, but you can manually choose the ones you want to appear from this preferences panel. You can also move tags into the desired order and assign a colour.

To change a Tag’s colour, right-click the Tag and then choose the desired colour as shown below – in this case I’ve made it yellow. Note that there are only 8 colours to choose from.

Tag colours

Assign a colour (there are 8 to choose from) to your Tag

You can repeat this process to add as many tags as you want, with any colour desired. In this case we’ll create a new folder called “Important Docs” and assign both the Chriswrites and Important tags to the folder. While we’re at it, we may as well assign In Progress to the Images folder as well.

We now have two folders in our Finder window tagged as follows:

1. Images: tagged Chriswrites and In Progress

2. Important Docs: tagged Chriswrites and Important

The Finder window now looks like this:

Multiple Tags

Assign multiple Tags to an item

Every item that has been tagged is displayed with a small coloured circle corresponding to the Tag colour.

There’s also another way to assign Tags in Finder. Use Cmd-I open an Info window for any selected item. At the top you’ll see any Tags assigned to that item – they can also be added / deleted here by clicking on the empty space (where it says “Add Tags…” when none have already been assigned at the top of the window. Just starting typing to add a new Tag or select from the pop-up list.

Info window Tags

Add Tags in the Info window

It’s also possible to right-click on any item in Finder to open the context-menu, and select any Tag from the Tags section.

Context menu Tags

Right-click on any item and choose a Tag from the context menu

In terms of adding Tags, it’s also possible to tag iWork documents saved on your Mac or iCloud. In Pages for example, when saving a new document, a Tag field is shown that lets you assign a new Tag or choose from an existing one.

iWork Tags

Tags can be added to any item saved in iWork apps

Having just two folders tagged isn’t all that useful, so I’m going to tag all the images in my special Chriswrites Images folder with the Chriswrites tag (so I can find them easily later on). Once again, highlight all the items you want to select (e.g. just left-click the mouse in the Finder window and drag to select all the items) and then hit the Tags button. Now  choose any Tag from the list.

Multiple select Tags

Drag-select multiple items then assign a tag to them all at once

Mavericks also allows you to create ‘favourite’ Tags, that appear by default on Finder menus and within applications. Go back to the Finder Preferences under Tags, and you’ll notice an empty section at the bottom and some help about dragging Tags to the favourites list – just drag one of your new tags to that list.

Favourite Tags

Drag tags from the list to your favourites

Finding your tagged files

Now that we’ve got some items tagged, let’s use them to find some of the files on our Mac.

Next, simply click any of the Tags which are visible in the Finder sidebar to view only those items – you’ll instantly see every item with the particular Tag you’ve assigned. And if you’ve assigned more than one Tag to an item, you’ll see all the relevant colours displayed just to the left of the file or folder as a small coloured circle.

Tags in Finder

Select a Tag from the sidebar to see relevant items