Five unexpected uses for Copy and Paste

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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.

Custom icons
It’s simple to give a file or folder a new icon. At the top here you see the Get Info window before (background) and after (foreground) pasting in the new icon. At the bottom, you see the Dock before and after an icon change.
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.

There’s no need to open a file in Preview, use Lion’s new-wave Duplicate command (and wait if it’s a large file), and then the Save command, to make the copy. Instead, select the file while you’re in the Finder and copy it. Switch to Preview and use Command-N to activate the New From Clipboard command. Preview creates a new untitled document from the contents of the Clipboard—even if it’s a 200-page PDF file.

4. Paste a copy of a file wherever you need it

You can Option-drag a file or folder in the Finder to make a copy in a new location, but to do that you need both locations accessible at the same time. Instead, select the file in the Finder and copy it. Then open the perhaps deeply nested target folder and paste a copy of the file there. You can copy files in the Finder and paste them elsewhere, too: paste something in a Mail message window, for instance, to attach the file to your message.

5. Move a file with the hidden “Cut and Paste”

There’s no Cut command in the Finder’s Edit menu. This protects users from cutting a file and then being interrupted (or distracted) before pasting it somewhere, resulting in the loss of the file. There is, however, a cut-and-paste capability in Lion’s Finder that lets you move an item without dragging it to its new location.

Select the file or folder, and copy it. Open the window for the new location, and hold Option while you open the Edit menu. Presto! The Paste command now appears as Move To Here (Command-Option-V). Use it, and the copied item disappears from its initial location when it’s pasted in the new one.

Check out Mac Author Sharon Zardetto’s current ebooks, including Take Control of Safari 5.

[Editor’s note: This story was updated in 11/2011 for Lion compatibility.]

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