How does Apple get some really simple things so wrong? It astounds me. I would have thought highlighting text in ANY text based application—such as Apple Mail—would be a no-brainer in OS X. Mail is at version 6.1 or 6.2, and there’s still no easy way to highlight text with a colour. Because most pure Mac applications share the basic Cocoa framework provided by OS X this issue of highlighting is something you’ll likely come across in many places.

For instance, I am composing this post in MarsEdit. It also has no way to highlight text because it shares the same text editing engine as Mail, TextEdit, etc.

Without further delay, here is the solution.

CORRECTION: Okay, I have just noticed the current version of TextEdit (v 1.8 (301)) on my OS X does support highlighting. Previous versions did not. I am not sure when that was added in, and I am also not sure why it hasn’t been added into the rest of the text apps such as Mail. Hopefully it will eventually. This will, at least, make it easier for us to define a custom style ourselves. It cuts out one step, which was to copy and paste highlighted text from another source (such as Microsoft Word or highlighted text from this article) in order to define a style with it.

How to add highlights to Mail

1. Open TextEdit. If you have version 1.8 (301) it should look like this:

Textedit highlighter 

2. Type something (anything) into TextEditor. Select what you have typed. Using the Highlighter button, add a highlight using the Highlight Color button as shown in the above image.

3. Now go to Format > Font > Styles… (as shown in following image)


4. A Styles drop-down window will appear. Select “Add To Favorites” button, as shown here:

TextEdit styles 1

 5. Give it a name, and do not select the “include font” and “include ruler” options.

TextEdit addingstyle

You now have a new style for yellow highlighting.

Let’s jump over to Apple Mail. 

6. Start a new message. Write some text. Select the text you wish to add a colored highlight to. Bring up the context menu (Control-click, two-finger click). Select Font then Styles…

Right click mail

7. The same drop-down Styles window (as the one you saw in TextEdit) will appear. Select the style menu. It will likely say Default until you change it. Change it to Highlight Yellow (or whatever you called your new style).

Mail styles

That’s it. You now have highlighted text in Apple Mail.

Why we have to go through all these steps to set up Mail the way it should have been designed in the first place, we might never know.

Happy highlighting.


Instructions for older OS X installations

If you get to TextEdit and there is NOT a highlight button or option (as indicated in my instructions above) you need to do Step Two differently.

Copy any one of the following colored text examples, and paste it into TextEdit. Use each color to create the highlights you wish to save as a style.

The rest of the instructions are the same.