1. Computer Skills

Take Control of Your Mac's Clipboard

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Read Time: 8 min

The clipboard is one of the most basic and essential pieces of every operating system. You no doubt understand the basics: cut, copy and paste, but have you ever explored further? Do you know about kill and yank? Can you access multiple items in the clipboard history or paste with special formatting? If not, read on!

Beyond Copy and Paste

Command-C to copy, Command-X to cut, Command-V to paste; you know this stuff right? No big deal. But is that really it or is there more to explore?

There are actually a lot of features and possible improvements surrounding the Mac OS X clipboard, you just have to know where to look. Let's dive into some simple but extremely useful tricks to increase your productivity.

Paste and Match Style

You've been here before, you copy a string of rich text and paste it into the document with a completely different visual style, thereby wrecking everything.

So how do you strip out the formatting of the copied text and make it match the destination? The answer is as easy as a quick shortcut that you've probably seen in the "Edit" menu: Option-Shift-Command-V. This executes a "Paste and Match Style" command.

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Past and Match Style

Paste and Match Style is available in most default Apple applications, but some third party applications neglect to include it. Always check the edit menu to be sure.

Always Paste and Match Style

Still unimpressed? Paste and Match Style is a fairly standard feature to be sure. So let's take it further. Let's say that you hate pasting with formatting in tact. Maybe you never want to keep the original formatting and always want OS X to assume that you want to match the destination. Option-Shift-Command-V is quite the finger twister, can't we just change the behavior of the standard Command-V to do what we want?

You're in luck, we can pull this off pretty easily. To begin, launch System Preferences and click on the Keyboard pane. From here, select "Application Shortcuts" from the menu on the left.

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Click on Application Shortcuts in the Keyboard Preference Pane

Now select the "All Applications" header and hit the little plus button near the bottom, this will pop up a window that allows you to enter a custom keyboard shortcut.

In the first box, you have to type the menu item that you'd like to execute. Type "Paste and Match Style" exactly as it appears in your Edit menu.

Finally, select the second field and hit the standard paste shortcut: Command-V. Voila! That's all there is to it. Now, wherever Paste and Match Style is available, a standard Command-V will execute it.

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Click on Application Shortcuts in the Keyboard Preference Pane

Copy and Paste Style Only

While we're on the subject of text styles, did you know that you can quickly grab the formatting of one piece of text and apply it to another? In this scenario, you're not grabbing the text itself, only the visual style applied to it.

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Copy and paste the style only, not the text.

To try this out, open up a TextEdit document and set up a few different text styles. Next, select the text containing the style that you'd like to copy and hit Command-Option-C, then select the text containing the formatting that you'd like to replace and hit Command-Option-V.

Kill and Yank

Let's say you want to grab two separate pieces of text from one application and paste them into another. To pull this off in one sweep, you would need some sort of secondary clipboard. Is this even possible to do this without installing a third party application?

It turns out that it is, thanks to some Emacs features that are present in OS X, namely kill and yank. Basically, kill and yank work exactly like cut and paste, only you're placing text into the "Kill Ring" instead of into the clipboard, this leaves your cliboard open for another piece of information.

Killing Text

Only live text can be killed, so jump to an application like TextEdit and type out some test text. Now select the text and hit Control-K to kill it (the text should disappear).

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If you kill text with no selection, it jumps to the end of the paragraph.

There's a cool secondary feature here that you won't find in the standard cut functionality. Try inserting your cursor half way through a paragraph and hitting Control-K. This should kill all of the text from that point to the end of the paragraph.

Yanking Text

Now that you've got some text in the kill ring, it's time to yank it back out! To do this, just hit Control-Y. This will work exactly like a paste command, it's just pulling from a different source.

Once you've done this, try hitting Command-V to insert your second piece of text from the clipboard without returning to the source document.

Text Clippings

There's another built-in way to get around the single item limit of the clipboard, it's called a "text clipping." Text clippings are a special file type that work a little differently than what you might be used to with other files.

To create a text clipping, select a piece of text in any application, then click on it and darg it to your desktop or Finder.

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A text clipping file.

At first, this will seem like a pretty normal file, you can move it around, store it anywhere you like, use Quick Look to preview it and TextEdit to open it.

You can insert the text in the clipping into any text field simply by dragging the file in.

The really useful part is that you can insert the text in the clipping into any text field simply by dragging the file in. This means that if you're ever in a position of needing to copy several text items, you could create a folder full of clippings that could then be dragged into your destination without swapping between apps again and again.

Managing Your Clipboard History

Text clippings are handy in some situations, but wouldn't it be far more useful to have access to your full clipboard history? To do this, we're going to have to turn to some third party utilities.

There are a ton of clipboard utilities for Mac, all of which vary widely in both capability and price. Let's look at a few that I've found useful.


Clipmenu is the utility that I personally use for clipboard management. It's free, completely packed with features and blends into the operating system so that you almost forget that it's even a third party application.

ClipMenu keeps a thorough history of the text and images that you've recently copied to the clipboard. To retrieve an item, simply hit your designated shortuct (I use Control-K) and a little menu will pop up wherever your cursor happens to be.

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As you can see, the menu is organized into two sections. First, you have your clipboard history. To insert anything from your history into your current document, simply find it and click on it.

The second section holds custom text snippets that can be set up in the ClipMenu preferences. These are awesome for developers and other users who continually type the same chunk of text.

There's also a pretty robust action system built in that allows you to manipulate the copied content in various ways. You can use the pre-built actions or create your own.

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ClipMenu Actions

If you're looking for a clipboard manager with great features without the flashy UI, Clipmenu is the way to go.


There's a good chance that you already have Alfred installed on your machine (if you don't, you should). The trick here though is that the clipboard history features are not available in the free version of Alfred but are instead a part of the Alfred Powerpack, which is a £15 purchase.

With the Powerpack installed, initiating the clipboard history with Alfred is very similar to the process we saw with ClipMenu. Just hit your custom shortcut and up pops a menu full of your recent items. You can even search through them to quickly find something specific.

Alfred's Clipboard History

Alfred's clipboard functionality can be set up and tweaked in preferences under the "Features" tab. As with ClipMenu, there's a ton of great functionality here, including custom snippets and merging capabilities.

Setting Up Alfred's Clipboard History

Tip: Quicksilver is another popular app launcher with clipboard history features.


If you really want to go all out with clipboard functionality, you could pick up a premium app such as iClipboard, which will set you back $29.99.

With five different ways to paste clippings, iClipboard is a powerhouse of clipboard history functionality. You can organize clippings by project, quickly launch the shelf from the side of the screen, view a large preview of any clipping, paste multiple clippings at once, and a lot more.


iClipboard earns its high price tag by going way beyond what you'll find in most competing apps. Most users simply don't need this much functionality, but if you find yourself heavily depending on your clipboard daily, check out the free iClipboard demo.

How Do You Manage Your Clipboard?

After reading this tutorial, you should be a clipboard pro. Not only will you be able to access your complete clipboard history, you'll be able to show off your awesome Mac skills with secret features like pasting style and killing/yanking text.

Leave a comment below and let us know if you use a third party application for managing your clipboard history. Do you use Alfred, ClipMenu, iClipboard, Quicksilver or something else? We want to know!

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