Add Text Labels to Mac App Toolbars

Finder Month continues with something you can learn in the Finder, and apply in many other apps.

Many apps have toolbars, loaded with buttons to make using the app faster and easier. The problem is, it’s not always obvious what the toolbar buttons do, so a lot of us never click them. We’re probably missing out but we don’t even know it.

The right thing to do: put text labels under the buttons, so we know what the buttons do. It’s a one-click maneuver and it works on many apps. Just Control-click in empty space in an app’s toolbar, then choose “Icon and Text” from the contextual menu that appears under your cursor. See below.

Since this doesn’t work in EVERY app, let’s start in an app where we know it will work– the Finder. Open up a Finder window…

A Finder window showing icons in the toolbar
A Finder window showing icons in the toolbar

… then hold the Control key and click in a blank area in the toolbar across the top of the window. You’ll get this little “contextual menu”…

Contextual menu obtained by clicking a Finder window's toolbar while holding down the Control key
Contextual menu obtained by clicking a Finder window’s toolbar while holding down the Control key

Choose “Icon and Text” and you’re all set. At least for the Finder. Here’s how the same window looks after choosing “Icon and Text.”

Finder window showing icons and text labels
Finder window showing icons and text labels

Isn’t that better? I think it is. Bonus: the labels are clickable, which means the target is a little bit bigger with “Icon and Text” than with just icons.

Curious about what “Text Only” would look like? Go ahead and try. It will look like this:

Finder window, toolbar showing text only
Finder window, toolbar showing text only

Here are five other Mac apps (all from Apple) that offer the “Icon and Text” option for toolbars: Preview, Mail, Pages, Numbers, and Keynote. Toolbars with icons only, and the same toolbars with icons and text, are presented below.

Preview

Preview window, icons only
Preview window, icons only
Preview window, icons and text
Preview window, icons and text

Mail

Mail window, icons only
Mail window, icons only
Mail window, icons and text
Mail window, icons and text

Pages

Pages window, icons only
Pages window, icons only
Pages window, icons and text
Pages window, icons and text

Numbers

Numbers window, icons only
Numbers window, icons only
Numbers window, icons and text
Numbers window, icons and text

Keynote

Keynote toolbar, icons only
Keynote toolbar, icons only
Keynote toolbar, icons and text
Keynote toolbar, icons and text

In every case, the button labels help us to know what’s behind the buttons. I’d change every toolbar to “Icons and Text” if I were you. It makes things so much easier.

Want to learn more about toolbars? Want to put more buttons into them? You’re in luck, I’ve written a longer toolbar article on christianboyce.com. Check it out (and if you like it, share it).


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