Use tags in Finder on the Mac to organise files and search for them

Make use of tags in Finder on the Apple Mac to make it easier to find, sort and organise files.

Finder has a clever feature that enables you to attach tags to files, but do you use them? Do you know how to search for them and sort files by tags? Get to know this under-used macOS feature.

Some people rarely use Finder tags and some never use them. Is it because they are hard to use? Is it because of the extra work involved in tagging files?

It does require a bit of extra effort and organisation to assign tags to files, but there are some shortcuts that can reduce the effort. Multiple files can be tagged in one go and when it comes to searching for files, tagging them makes them very easy to find.

Tags have been around for a long time, but if you are not making full use of them, here is a reminder of why you should.

Show tags and sort by tags

Select the list view for Finder and files are displayed in columns with Name, Date Modified, Size and perhaps other columns. Click the column name at the top and the files are sorted by that attribute. Click the column name again to reverse the sort order.

Ctrl+click a column header and a menu appears and selecting Tags adds a new column to show the tags that have been assigned to files.

Show the tags file attribute column in Finder windows on the Apple Mac

Clicking the Tags column header sorts files according to the Tag name - the default names are the colours used.

Add tags to files

Before we can sort files by tags, we need to assign them to files. Select one or more files that are all related. For example, they may be files belonging to a project, such as text documents, images, audio files and so on.

Tags are very useful for organising files of different types and names. I often name all files in a project similarly so I can see them in Finder windows, but tags is another way to organise them.

Ctrl+click one or a group of files and click one of the coloured blobs in the Tags... section. This does not change the files in any way, but you can now see the tags in the Tags column in Finder.

Ctrl+click files in Finder windows on the Mac to assign tags to them

Click the tags column header to sort them and click again to reverse the sort. You can easily see related files when they are assigned the same tag colour.

Sort files by tag names in Finder on the Apple Mac

Find tagged files

One of the best features of tags is the way that it makes files easy to find. Type tag:orange into the search box in the top right corner of a Finder window and then click Orange on the menu under Tags. This lists all files on the disk with that tag.

Search for files with a particular tag in Finder on the Apple Mac

Spotlight searches work in the same way and you can type tag:blue into the Spotlight search box to see files that are tagged with the Blue tag. You might want to add other words to the search to narrow down the results, such as tag:blue MyProject.

The tag acts like a filter and it is a fast way to list all files of a particular type, such as work or personal files, or files in a project and so on. The way you use tags is up to you.

There is another way to find files with a particular tag and in the sidebar of the Finder window is a Tags section. If you do not see any tags below, move the mouse over it and click Show, which appears on the right.

Click a tag and only the files with that tag are listed.

Find files with a specific tag by selecting it in the Finder sidebar on the Mac

Remove unwanted tags

Software can define new tags and if you ever remove that software then you might want to remove the tag because it will no longer be needed. Go to the Finder menu, select Preferences and then click the Tags tab.

If there is a tag you want to remove, Ctrl+click it and select Delete Tag on the menu. Alternatively, select a tag and then click the minus button at the bottom.

Delete tags in Finder on the Apple mac

Here you can see that Parallels Desktop has added a tag and Ctrl+clicking it lets me delete it or rename it.

Change the tag colour

Tag colours can be changed by clicking them. Why would you want to? One possibility is a tag that has no colour or has a colour you don’t like, such as those added by apps. The Parallels Desktop tag has no colour, but one is easily assigned.

Change the colour of a tag in Finder on the Apple Mac

Rename or create tags

The tag colour and the name are two separate attributes and they do not need to be the same. If you use a blue tag for all your work projects, you could rename Blue to Work or Projects. Click once on a tag to select it and then click the name again to edit it.

Alternatively, click the plus below the tags list to create a new tag and type in the name. The selection boxes on the right are used to show or hide tags in the Finder sidebar.

Rename tags in Finder on the Apple Mac

Are tags something you use in Finder? I have to admit I don’t, but then I am very organised and create folders and subfolders for files, and use similar names for files in the same project. The text and all the images for this post are all named the same for example.

Tags work best for small numbers of files and they make them very easy to find. If all work files were given the same tag, you could end up with thousands after a year or two. Then the tag would not help much when trying to find a file.

Assign tags sparingly and only to important files you do not want to lose or that you want to find quickly.



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