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Labels for Apple’s Mail Application

Labels in Mail have been something I’ve been missing ever since changing over to Apple’s However, I’ve found out how to create a script that allows me to set the color of (or label) a message.

Apple Mail Labels

I’ve tested my scripts in Mac 10.3 Panther and 10.4 Tiger and it works great. I prefer how Apple has scripts set up in 10.3 a little better, however it works.

To install the scripts, first download my labels scripts then use Spotlight (or the find feature in 10.3) to find the Mail Scripts folder. Add the Labels folder that you downloaded into that folder and they’ll be installed. You can also just add them in the main Scripts folder like I did in the screen shot. For me, it provides quicker access in 10.4.

You also have to turn on the scripting menu item. Here is how Apple tells us to do it.

The Script menu gives you easy access to a number of sample scripts provided by Apple to demonstrate the AppleScript capabilities of several Mac OS X applications, including Mail. The Script menu looks like a small scroll, near the right side of the menu bar. To include the Script menu in your menu bar if it’s not already there, open AppleScript Utility and select the “Show Script Menu in menu bar” checkbox.

Once you have done those two things, open the Mail application and you should see a Labels option in the Scripts menu. If you put them in the Mail Scripts folder in 10.4, then you’ll need to make sure to look in there.

The scripts that I provide here are named by color; Red, Green, Blue, etc. If you’d rather have labels that say Urgent, To Do, Later and things like that, just find the script files that you copied to the scripts folder and rename them. Whatever the file name is is what will appear in the Labels folder of the Scripts menu.

To uninstall, make sure to first set your messages back to white, then go back to the scripts folder and remove the scripts.

If you label a message in a thread, then try to un-label it, the thread will stay in color until you close the mailbox window and re-open it. Not a big deal, however kind of annoying.

In the screen shot, I re-named my folder from Labels to Mail Labels and put it in the main Scripts folder of 10.4. I had it in the Mail Scripts folder, however it was to many folders to go though to label a message.

Feel free to ask any questions and let me know what you think of the Label scripts or Apple’s Mail application.

62 Responses

  1. lawrence goodman says:

    thanks for this awesome script. But here’s the problem, and it’s Apple’s fault, not yours. I would want to create a Smart Mailbox where I could call up all mail labelled with a certain tag. There just seems no way to do that.

  2. Thomas says:

    Ohh that’s a good idea. I’ll have to see if I can’t figure out how to do that. I know that this is a work around, so there may not be a way. I’ll keep it in mind and let you know if I come up with anything.

  3. hiro says:


  4. Charlie says:

    Maybe to add comments/tags for Spotlight in this applescript and make smartfolders in Spotlight??

  5. Savanna says:

    this is *exactly* what i wanted when i switched from entourage a few days ago! =) thank you for writing this!! =) i wrote about my switch on my blog (ya an adult blog but i’m a mac fan too =) ). i can’t wait to try this.

    i have to say though, switching from entourage was a bit weird at first but i really *love* apple mail. it also displays messages so much faster. i dunno why, but on my ibook g4 it works just great and it’s a bit more friendly, if not simple. i just really missed my colors too.

    so thank you again. =)


  6. Tim Gaden says:

    Excellent! Thanks, Thomas.

  7. Carlos Alberto Santos says:

    Thank you very much for the script. Works smoothly in my Panther Apple Mail and that was a feature I missed a lot from the days I used Thunderbird and Netscape Mail at Linux.

  8. Chad Long says:

    Thanks for this great little set of scripts. I really appreciate it!


  9. tl says:

    These scripts are great! Now, what I’m looking for is a way to have a smart folder/identify emails that I haven’t responded to… I know Mail keeps track of that (with the little arrow it shows in that ambiguous column containing status, but I don’t know how to access it. I would LOVE a smart folder that I can refer to when I really need to catch up on emailing back people…



  10. Mark says:

    I just switched from Eudora to Mail and was mourning the loss of labels. Found your script on the Apple Discussion Board (at the suggestion of Apple Care). Seems to work great. Thanks!!!

  11. Joseph Kolin says:

    hi, do you know how to search labeled messages ?

  12. Thomas says:

    Joseph, I haven't figured out to incorporate search yet.

  13. Michael Walker says:

    W O W !

    You have made me a very happy man.
    I have been looking for a way to lable my email for too long. I don’t know how I missed your GREAT script!

    Thank You!

  14. Krissy says:

    This is great. I’ve been trying to work out how to label my messages for ages and this seems to do the job. Cheers!

  15. Thomas says:

    It’s good to know it’s still working. 🙂

  16. gopher says:

    Any chance at any more colors? Or are these the only ones that Mail supports?

  17. vorg says:

    Work perfectly with Quicksilver. Type “red” , hit Enter, done! No more clicking this tiny apple script icon!

  18. Josef says:

    Brilliant! Many thanks. I downloaded and it started working flawlessly. One question: In your screen shot above Mail Labels is at the top of the list. How do you do that?

  19. gopher says:

    Josef, note the space in the beginning of the folder name? Much as the Apple Menu Items did in Mac OS 9, Apple sorts space prefixed folders ahead of the alphabet in the list of folders in the Script Menu.

  20. Josef says:

    Thanks gopher. I did notice that little space but thought it was my imagination! I’m new to Mac (thank goodness) and didn’t know the space worked for sorting. It does now! Great! Thanks again.

  21. Thomas says:

    Thanks for answering that one gopher. 🙂

  22. kitalooclef says:

    Is there any way to create shortcuts to this? I really needed labels after switching over from Thunderbird, but it’s kind of cumbersome to go through all the menus in the scripts menu to get to the labels. Anyway to make it shorter?


  23. Thomas says:

    Not that I’ve found. But that’s why I switched to Thunderbird. 🙂

  24. monomail says:

    How do you get Quicksilver to understand that this script exists? I type “blue” and get “bluetooth” or “red” and get “red herring”. What’s the trick?

  25. Thomas says:

    Hopefully someone answers you back monomail as I have no idea. It would be handy though. 🙂

  26. everyman says:

    For QuickSilver integration, go to the preferences in QS, then click on catalog at the top of the window. Go to Scripts and make sure either the User or All Users is checked, depending on if you place the scripts in the /Library/Scripts/Mail Scripts folder, or ~/Library/Scripts/Mail Scripts. Hit the refresh symbol at the bottom of the window (twisted arrow thing).

    Now you can highlight a message, activate QS and type “red”, and run the script when it shows up. It might not be the first item listed in the search result, so arrow down until you find it.

  27. Thomas says:

    Thanks everyman!!

  28. Jonathan says:

    HI, Very nice! Is there a way to label the emails you send to have color when they show up in someone else’s mailbox? Apple does this for all their email ads!


  29. Thomas says:

    Jonathan – Apple doesn’t send out labels with a message. Rather every Mail app has a rule pre-installed to change the color of the background of messages from Apple.

  30. Jonathan says:

    So, I gather there is no way for the common man to perform such shenanigans? Rats!

  31. Gluefreak says:

    You can color individual messages by using the colors palette. Select message, select color, you’re done. It’s very easy. See here:

    You can also write rules that apply colors.

  32. Jonathan says:

    Thanks, Gluefreak!

  33. I’m using your Mail script in Tiger and loving it. What will happen to the script and to mail that’s already color-labelled when I upgrade to Leopard?

  34. Thomas says:

    I did an archive and install with Leopard and the labels stuck around. 🙂

  35. Just did a standard Leopard install and all my labels are also intact.

  36. Adam says:

    You can also select the email and hit Apple + Shift + C to bring up the colour picker window and allocate a colour to label the email.

  37. Jim says:

    Have you noticed that Mail in Leopard has a sort by color option? See the View->Sort by menu.

    I don’t remember if this was in the earlier versions…

  38. Ed says:

    Does anyone know how to change the color of the background of emails (i.e. the “paper”) like you can in Eudora or Thunderbird?


  39. Thomas says:

    Jim – That’s a great find. I do believe it’s new.

  40. Pete M says:

    Can I create a column in Mail and sort by your labels?

    Sounds great, but, that’s my big priority (moving from Eudora).

    I am also recently returned to Apple so am a bit gun shy.

    Many thanks.

  41. Thomas says:

    Hi Pete. You may want to check out the MailTags plugin to get added functionality. Also, Thunderbird is a great email client that probably is a closer match to Eudora.

  42. Katy says:

    Thanks for the script it was just what I was looking for. Thanks also to Adam for the Shift+Apple+C Trick – great!

  43. Arne says:

    just wanna thank you. I’m so happy now! 😀
    best wishes from Germany, have a nice Christmas.

  44. Toddy says:

    Just switched from Thunderbird to Apple Mail.
    To cannot label messages was really a great dissapointment.
    I thought about going back to TB because I used this function a lot.

    But now I can in Mail, so

    thank you
    thank you
    thank you

    veeery much for these scripts!
    You saved my life! 😉

    All the best for you,


  45. Cristina says:

    I just switched from entourage to mac mail and I miss being able to color code my folders (mail isn’t so important). is there a script for color coding folders?

  46. JImmy says:

    just switched from Entourage to Mail. Using OS 10.6 and i can’t get the script to work. Any suggestions?

  47. Have been waiting before switching to Snow Leopard to make sure some of my favorite 3rd-party add-ons (like this one) work on 10.6. Definitely want to hear more about this from other users and from the scripts authors.

  48. JImmy says:

    OK, got it working. i had it in the wrong folder. your wonderful script DOES work in 10.6.
    QUESTION: any suggestions for how to assign quick keys/macros/buttons on the tool bar to activate the labeling? I love the feature, but it is cumbersome to follow through three sub menus.

  49. Peter says:

    Does this still work for 10.6.7?
    THanks PB

  50. Tomas says:

    its 2011 and I still vonder why developers can’t build paid app or plugin just to make this work. Developers there is a need for coloring your mail as you can se 🙂

  51. Raul Martin says:

    Congratulations for these scrips.
    They are greats!. Now, next step could be an App to label the emails in the iPhone or iPad. Do you think that this could be possible?
    Thank you


  52. Svebor says:

    Hi, does this still work in 2015 on Yosemite? 🙂

  1. 6/18/2005

    Labels for

    okies, some geeky mac stuff again!

    i wrote the other day that i really missed the colors from Entourage when i switched to Apple Mail.

    have no fear, some guy wrote a script that gives the colors back!

    and i think that Apple Mail with colors looks pr…

  2. 10/7/2005

    […] to each one for extra ease of use. They seem to be free and Thomas welcomes feedback on his blog, where you can also download the scripts. Nice one!

  3. 9/21/2006

    […] de este post    A     A menéame     Postanterior […]

  4. 8/31/2007

    […] Después de haber encontrado este truco, he buscado quién más podría haberlo documentado, y el mejor resultado es de Macworld online, en su artículo titulado Colorize Mail messages. Sin embargo, hay otro truco interesante, y es el uso de AppleScript, más el menú de Scripts, para colorear mensajes particulares, tal y como describen en TwisterMC, en su entrada Labels for Apple’s Mail Application. […]

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