10 Tips to Improve Productivity on the Mac with TextExpander


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Currently, TextExpander is hands down the best third party text expansion tool available for the Mac. Yes, there’s a built in Text Replacement feature but that’s a bit too basic. Rival apps like aText and Keyboard Maestro just aren’t as good.

TextExpander is feature rich, beginner friendly and reliable. You can use it to expand plain text snippets, or create multi-field templates using macros.

Using TextExpander you’ll be able to expand frequently typed phrases and paragraphs in just a couple of seconds it takes to type out the designated abbreviation (shortcut). TextExpander is filled with features that will help you be more productive. Follow our guide to get started.

Download: TextExpander for Mac

1. Understanding TextExpander Pricing and Features

Yes, TextExpander is now a subscription based service but if you subscribe for a year as an individual, it’s a lot cheaper. Plus, it’s not difficult to find deals from time to time. If you subscribe for a year, you’ll get the Life Hacker plan for individuals at $3.33/month. That’s $40 a year.

TextExpander pricing

That might not make financial sense for everyone. But if you spend 8 hours a day working on your Mac, and you spend most of it typing things out, there’s no doubt in my mind that you’ll benefit from using TextExpander. And the time that you’ll end up saving will far outweigh the $3.33/month asking fee.

But thankfully, you don’t have to decide right away. You can use the app for 30 days before you decide if you want to pay for it. That’s plenty of time.

TextExpander is available for iOS and Windows devices as well. And because it’s a cloud based service, all of your snippets will sync automatically between all of your devices. On iOS, you’ll need to use TextExpander’s own third-party keyboard to expand the snippets.

2. How to Make a Text Expansion Snippet

When you open the Mac app for the first time (after you’ve signed up for an account), you’ll find two empty buckets. Click on the New Snippet button on the top and you’ll see that the right side area will change.

textexpander how to start 1

Here, type the content in the top and the abbreviation in the bottom. There’s no save button. Changes to the snippets will be updated automatically.

textexpander how to start 2

3. First, Let’s Create a Simple Snippet

Start with something simple, like your email address, or mailing address. A complicated URL you need to enter frequently. In this example, I’m going to type in “khamosh@iphonehacks.com” in the Content field (making sure Plain Text is selected). And in Abbreviation, I’ll type “@i”. Next time I type the letters “@i”, they’ll be expanded to my “khamosh@iphonehacks.com.

Textexpander email snippet

There are many instances for which you can create a simple plain text snippet. You can use it to correct a word you usually misspell.

4. Learn about TextExpander Macros

Now that we’re mastered plain text snippets, it’s time to kick things up a notch. Right below the Content type section, you’ll find a bar of icons, this is where the macros live. In TextExpander, a macro is a short code that starts with a percent sign (%).

Textexpander macros

It becomes a placeholder for things you want to insert there. Or rather, things you want the computer to insert there for you. For instance, the current date or the clipboard. If you enter %clipboard anywhere in the content box, when executed, whatever is in the clipboard at that particular time, will be pasted in.

Basically, macros make TextExpander snippets more useful.

You’ll find macros like date, time, math, clipboard, picture, cursor, fill-ins and more.

5. Creating Date/Time Snippets

The first two icons in the macro bar are for date and time. Click on the two icons and you’ll find multiple ways to format both date and time.

textexpander time 1

Choose the format you’re comfortable in and the relevant short code will be inserted in the content area automatically. Click the eye icon in the top row to preview the snippet you’ve made.

textexpander time 3

6. Creating Clipboard Snippets

If you’re creating a template where you paste in something from the clipboard in between a paragraph, just use “%clipboard”.

textexpander clipboard

To enter it from the marcos bar, click on the keyboard icon and select Clipboard.

7. Paste in GIFs

TextExpander isn’t just for text. You can use it to paste in images as well. This works for both static images and animated GIFs. Yes, if you’re the kind of person who frequently sends GIFs as replies on social media or IM apps, you can use TextExpander snippets to make the process much faster.

From the content type section, switch to Formatted Text, Pictures. Then from the formatting bar, click on the image section and select the image or GIF you want to import. Now, type in the abbreviation and you’re done.

textexpander make gif

Next time you type in the abbreviation, it will expand and the GIF or image will be pasted there.

8. Use Key Presses

You can have the snippet simulate key presses for you. In this case, it’s Enter, Escape, Return or Tab. To give you a simple example, I have a snippet for opening iPhone Hacks’ drafts page and site search that both use the Enter key. For the site search, I first type in what I want to search, then the snippet adds the text “site:iphonehacks.com” and presses the enter key for me so I don’t have to.

textexpander key press

You can use the tab key at the end of a snippet to automatically switch to the next field when you’re filling forms on the web.

9. Manipulate Text with Cursor Points

TextExpander lets you choose where to put the cursor point once a snippet expands. By default, it would be at the end of the text. But you can choose to put it smack in the middle.

textexpander cursor input

This is really useful because you can create a template where everything is filled in except the client’s name and when expanded, the cursor point would be right in that blank space so you can type in the name without hunting for the area.

10. Create Templates Using Fill-ins

Fill-ins are probably the most powerful marcos in TextExpander. They let you do some really complex things. Whenever you invoke the fill-in macro, you’ll be shown a popup asking the field name, the default value, and the width. You don’t have to keep the default value.

This feature gives you the ability to fill in the blanks, literally. Say you frequently type the same email to someone where there are a couple of fields that are different. The recipient’s name, the product name, and the product price.

textexpander fill ins 1

You can create the template in TextExpander and in those three places, you can put in a single-line field. When you execute the snippet the next time, you’ll be prompted to enter those three data points and once that’s done, your entire text will be ready, formatted just the way you like it.

Because this entire process is interactive, you don’t have to waste time looking for empty fields or blanks or adjusting the spacing. Something you would have to do if you were simply copy-and-pasting the sea of text and editing it manually every single time.

Download: TextExpander for Mac

TextExpander also offers a free companion iOS app, which you can enable as a third-party keyboard, which will allow you to expand frequently typed phrases and paragraphs in just a couple of seconds. It requires a TextExpander account.

Download: TextExpander for iOS

Alternatively, you can also download TextExpander 3 + Custom Keyboard which is a standalone app, which costs $4.99, but we would recommend the companion app that requires the TextExpander account as it is more powerful, and more importantly, syncs your snippet from your Mac.

How Do You Use TextExpander?

What are some of the snippets that you swear by? Which snippets save you a lot of time at work? Share with us in the comments below.

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