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BLOG: Five unexpected uses for Copy and Paste

Sharon Zardetto | Dec. 8, 2011
Did you know you can copy and paste a whole lot more than just text and graphics in Macs?

Sure, you copy (Command-C) and paste (Command-V) all the time. But did you know you can copy and paste a whole lot more than just text and graphics? When you start in the Finder, you can use the Copy command to lift all sorts of information from a selected Finder item: the item's name; its icon; its content; and, in effect, the entire file. What you get out of the operation depends on where you choose to paste. Here are some of my favorite tricks.

1. Quickly copy a file or folder's name

You have a file named Docket#OCN-L-3854-09 and want to create a folder for it and related files. How do you do that without introducing a typo? Just select the file and press Command-C--you don't even need to specifically select the name. Now create a new folder (Command-Shift-N), and while its name ("Untitled Folder") is selected, use the Paste command.

If you need that docket number referenced in a document, select the file in the Finder, copy, and then go to your word processor and paste: there's the name.

Bonus tip: Would you like a list of all the items in a folder? Open the folder, use Command-A to select everything in it, and then Command-C to copy them. Now switch to your word processor and paste to get a list of all the selected files.

2. Copy an icon from one file to another

I don't like that by default both my email and Web downloads go into the Downloads folder; I prefer them segregated. But after setting up a separate download folder through the General pane of Mail's preferences, I'm stuck with its generic blue folder icon. Or, not.

It's simple to copy and paste a file's icon to customize a folder. In this example, click on the Mail application in the Applications folder and choose Edit -> Copy. Then select the new, plain email downloads folder and use Command-I to open its Info window. Click on the icon in the Info window and then press Command-V. The Finder pastes the Mail icon over the default folder icon. (To revert to the original icon, select it in the Info window and press Delete.) Unfortunately, Lion's new approach to the Finder-window sidebar keeps user-modified icons from showing up there as anything but the original images; it's still handy, however, to have your new folder displayed in windows and in the Dock.

3. Turn a file's contents into a Preview document

Apple's unsung workhorse, the Preview program, can open PDF files and a wide variety of graphics formats for viewing, annotation, or file-format changes. That means you can use it to put bookmarks in a PDF file, adjust the color or file format of almost any graphic file or photo, annotate a Photoshop file, or even mark up individual frames of an animated GIF. But you'll probably want to work on a copy of your original file--particularly if, for example, you're worried about mistakenly saving over the original document with markups.


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