Set Terminal color via drag and drop

It’s Friday again, so we’re going to get a bit geeky. Today, though, instead of talking about something interesting, useful, or fun you can do in Terminal, we’ll be talking about something you can do to Terminal: colorize its windows and fonts. Sure, you probably know you can do that already—just select the Terminal -> Window Settings menu item, then choose Color from the pop-up menu in the Terminal Inspector window that appears. You can then choose from a number of pre-defined color schemes, or set up your own custom colors for things like Cursor, Normal Text, Bold Text, and Selection.

But, as with many things in OS X, there’s more than one way to accomplish this task. In this case, the alternative answer is a long-standing Mac OS feature: drag and drop. That’s right; you can colorize your Terminal window by dragging and dropping color swatches onto things within Terminal’s window. Why might you want to do this, instead of just using the built-in Colors panel in the Terminal Inspector? I’m not sure I can answer that; I find that I personally use each method about half the time, perhaps depending on my mood or the phase of the moon. The point of this hint is to merely show you how, not argue persuasively as to which method is best!

So how do you get the OS X color picker on the screen? Just find any program that can display it, such as, well, Terminal. After selecting the Color pop-up menu in the Terminal Inspector window, click on any of the color boxes next to Cursor, Normal Text, Bold Text, or Selection, and the standard OS X Colors window will appear. Don’t actually click a color yet, or you’ll change the appearance of whatever it was you clicked. Instead, close the Terminal Inspector window, leaving the Colors window floating freely onscreen.

There are four objects whose colors you can set via drag-and-drop: window background, cursor, bold text, and regular text. The best way to experiment with the look of these four items is to get them in one Terminal window, and the easiest way I know to do that is to open a man page for some Unix command—try man bash, for instance, and you’ll see something like this (depending on your font and window settings, of course):


In this image, you can see bold text (yellow), normal text (off white), the cursor (orange square at the bottom), and the background color (black). To change any of these objects’ colors, drag and drop a color swatch from the Colors window directly onto the object whose color you wish to change. If I want to change the cursor’s color, for instance, I would drag and drop a color swatch onto the orange square at the bottom of the screen. Similarly, to change the background, I would drop the color swatch onto any area of the window not occupied by text. Here’s a brief clip of how it looks in action:

Repeat as necessary with varying colors until you have a scheme you like, and you’re either done (if you only wish to use this theme temporarily) or almost done (if you want to make it permanent). To make your color selections permanent, call up the Terminal Inspector again and click the Use Settings as Defaults button at the bottom of any of the Terminal Inspector’s panels.

Not everyone will think this method is any easier than the click-the-squares method, but at least now you know that it’s possible.

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