Blog Post

Beginning Mac: Color Labels

There are many different ways to organize files. From the classic folder structure to the more “experimental” metadata/tagging format. There’s no right or wrong way to do it…just what works best for you.

As a new Mac users it’s easy to get caught up in the “old” way of doing things (ie. how you organized items in Windows). I encourage you to step outside that box for a bit to give something else a try.

Finder Color Labels

The OS X Finder has a “Label” feature where you can color code your files with 7 different colors. Color coding your files and folders does not change anything about them. It’s simply a tool for organization.

Choosing a color label

Color Label Menu Choosing a color label is as simple as a right-click (or Control-Click) on the file or folder of your choice and then selecting one of the colors from the contextual menu.

You can change or remove the colors at any time by using the same method.

One step further

Using the color labeling feature of Finder works fine as is. It helps you visually separate a folder full of files with a simple glance.

But we can take things one step further and use the labels as an actual organizational tool.

By using the OS X Smart Folder feature, we can group files by the color of the label you chose. So for example, say you decided to mark all of your documents that revolved around insurance (car, health, life, etc etc), you can then create a Smart Folder to automatically group all of those documents in one place. It then automatically updates whenever you label a new file with that color.

In our original label example above, I’ve marked financial documents with the green label. Now we’ll create a Smart Folder to group all of files labeled with green into one folder.

  1. Go to the Finder. In the menu bar at the very top of your screen, select File > New Smart Folder. A new Finder window will popup with no files inside.
  2. Next we’ll be creating the “rule” that finds all the green-labeled files. In the upper-right corner of the new Finder window you will see a plus sign. Click on the plus sign to create a new rule.
  3. You’ll see a couple of new drop-down items. Click on the first one that says “Kind” and select “Other…” from the bottom of the menu. You’ll be presented with numerous additional attributes you can use. We want to find the attribute called “File label” and select it. The select Okay.
  4. The rule has now changed to let you pick the color label of your choice. In our example, we’ll select the green label. After selecting your label, your Mac will search all the files on your computer for any labeled with green and will then show you the results.
  5. If you’d like, you can now save this Smart Folder by clicking on the Save button.

If all goes as planned, you should see something similar to this.
Smart Folder


You now know the basics of organizing and labeling your files with color labels. Your homework is to develop a basic system of organization on just your documents. Don’t worry about trying to do this to all your files. Just use this as a way to organize documents spread across different folders.

Be sure to check out the video below that walks through this entire lesson.

9 Responses to “Beginning Mac: Color Labels”

  1. Well I have just a general file where I store a mish mash of files rather than putting them on my desktop. These are files that, odds are, I won’t be keeping permanently but they may remain for awhile. I just thought color coding the different file types would quickly let me scan that folder and maybe keep it cleaned up better than I have been (since the file type icons are kinda small). I just read the article and wanted to play around with the color coding and that was what my first thought was on how I could apply it and experiment a little.

  2. Is it possible to have my labels automatically set their color by file type? For instance, can I set it up where all pdfs would be labeled green? If I can’t do it system wide, can I set up an automator file where, when I place files into it, this action is taken?

    If this is a bad idea, why?

    Thanks in advance!

  3. Relephant

    You can also give label names using the Finder preferences. Give Green the name “Financial” and you can see the label names using the Finder column Label Name. Useful if can’t remember what colour means what.

    For me, I use different colours for application types e.g. Red = Image manipulation apps, Blue = Utility apps etc which is useful for knowing which apps does what and allow smart folders to group apps by type… lots of possibilities there with colours!

  4. And the beauty of using a simple categorization method like labels, is that you can easily build on it as you get more comfortabel
    – Smart Folders
    – Automator Actions
    – Hazel (

    with almost no effort you can start sorting things based on how recently you’ve used them, and having them labeled automatically. a nice building-block technique. Good call Josh.