Using Markup to annotate email attachments on your Mac

By , Feb 24, 2016

Markup annotations OS X featured image

Not too long ago, we showed you how you could use Markup in iOS to add some annotations to your email attachments before firing them off to their recipient(s).

This feature is also present in OS X and later, and is just as powerful, if not more so. It’s even compatible with various file types including but not limited to images and PDF files.

In this tutorial, we’ll walk you through how to access Markup in the OS X Mail app.

What does Markup do?

Markup is a feature that is bundled into your OS X operating system that lets you draw on, write on, and annotate attachments that you send out in the Mail app. It’s useful when you’re trying to highlight important details in a file so the audience of the file has a better idea of what you’re talking about; after all, a picture can be worth a thousand words and no one likes long, drawn-out email conversations.

Markup provides you with the following editing tools to help you get your point across:

  • Drawing & writing
  • Typing words
  • Adding zoom focal points
  • Creating shapes
  • Adding signatures

How to access Markup from your Mail app

When sending attachments

When you’re in the middle of composing an email message for someone, you have the option of attaching a file(s) to the email. Any compatible files that you attach, such as the Kylo Ren image we’ll be using throughout this tutorial, will display a white drop down arrow button tat the top right of the file preview:

white drop down arrow for markup in OS X

When you click on this drop down arrow, you’re presented with the following menu:

Markup annotations OS X featured image

The menu includes all of your Action-based extensions, and “Markup” should be one of the options you can choose from. Clicking on the “Markup” menu option launches the Markup interface for the file you’re trying to send – in this case, it’s our Kylo Ren image file:

os x markup image file interface

An in-depth look at the editing options

Draw and type tools

Among two of the more common things you’ll be doing with Markup are drawing and writing. You can draw anything you might need to get your point across, which might include tracing something, drawing lines or arrows, or underlining things. You might also type text over the attachment to compliment something you’re pointing out. For example, you might draw a circle to indicate something and then write something about it.

markup in os x draw and write

The drawing tools are the first two at the top left of the interface. The first tool allows you to draw by clicking and dragging, and anything you draw that can be identified as a simple indicative shape will be transformed for you automatically to neaten things up. The second tool is essentially a free-hand tool and anything you draw with it will not be automatically transformed into a neater shape.

The text tool, which is indicated by the letter “T” in the fourth button to the left, allows you to type anything up over the file. In our case, since we just circled Kylo Ren’s lightsaber, we’ll write a little annotation underneath it for the recipient that indicates it’s a new crossguard-style lightsaber.

In the case of both the text and the drawings we make, we can click on them to select them and blue grab handles will appear. These handles are used to rotate, resize, and reposition the edits any way we please.

Shape tool

The shape tool is the third tool to the left – right in between the drawing tools and the text tool – with the square and circle in the icon. With this tool, you can automatically add pre-defined shapes to your file before sending it. Among some of these are lines, arrows, rectangles, circles, chat bubbles, and stars among others.

os x shape tool markup in mail

For this example, we’ll just use a star. Doesn’t Kylo Ren just look fabulous now?

os x markup files with the shape tool

Just like with the draw and text tools, this adds blue grab handles to the shape, which you can click on and drag to rotate, resize, and reposition the shape how you like it.

Signature tool

If you’re adding a modification to a file, such as signing a document or PDF file, then you might want to add your signature so the recipient knows you acknowledge the terms and conditions. The built-in signature tool in the markup interface lets you draw your signature with your mouse or track pad and then save it. After being saved, you can then apply it to any single file you want to send.

os x markup guide signature

After being added to the file, it can be dragged and placed anywhere.

Stroke and fill options

Next on the list are the stroke and fill menus. These are the fourth, third, and second buttons to the right side of the Markup interface. The first button is the stroke weight menu, which lets you choose a stroke weight so that lines are as thick or as thin as you want them to be. Other options are also available to you, such as dotted lines, arrows, and even drawn lines.

markup in os x stroke weight

The next menu buttons are going to be your stroke and fill color menus. Here, you can pick colors from the color palettes that will be applied to either the stroke or the fill of the shape or object you have selected.

markup in os x color picker

An example of coloring a shape’s stroke and fill via this color palette menu is shown below:

markup os x color stroke and fill of shape

Font options

The last menu in the Markup interface is the font style menu, which allows you to stylize any text you’ve typed on the file you’re currently marking up. Among the things you can stylize are:

  • The type of font you’re using
  • The color of the text
  • The size of the text
  • The style of the text (bold, italic, or underlined)
  • The alignment of the text

markup os x guide font color and style options

Whenever you’re done making edits to a file you want to send, you can click on the “Done” button at the top right of the Markup interface to save your changes and fire off the email along with the edited attachment. If you don’t want to save your changes, you can click on the “Cancel” button instead.

When receiving attachments

If you are the recipient of an attachment, you can still access Markup from the Mail app. Simply right click on the attachment from your Mail app and choose “Open With…” from the first menu then click “Preview” from the second menu.

markup os x open with preview from mail

This launches the attachment in the Preview app and from there, you’ll see a Markup button you can click on:

markup with preview markup button

This opens the Markup interface from the Preview app, which gives you all of the same Markup options discussed earlier:

markup with preview annotations

One more thing…

This is unrelated to emails, but since Markup is built into the Preview app, you can also access Markup from Preview for any supported file you have stored on your Mac whether you’re sending or receiving it in an email or not. Just right click on the file from Finder, and this will let you open it in Preview and begin editing it the exact same way:

markup with preview open file

Why you should take advantage of Markup

Markup is an incredibly useful feature that you can use to spend less time typing to try to explain something and more time drawing to point things out. With the feature being built right into OS X itself, no fancy third-party software is required. I find Markup is very useful for filling out PDF forms or pointing things out in photographs for others.

Without Markup, you would have used to need to make edits to photos with third-party photo-editing software, such as Photoshop or Pixelmator, which wouldn’t be feasible for everyone because many of these software downloads cost money.

Markup comes in handy when you want to get your point across or make edits to something in a pinch. The feature is great for putting all your words into a picture so you don’t have to write a novel to explain something.


With Markup being so easy to access throughout the iOS and OS X experience, there’s no reason to waste time using photo-editing software ever again unless it’s a complicated edit that Markup isn’t capable of. It’s useful for getting your point across in a quick manner and the recipient is going to love the ease of information sharing just as much as you’re going to love using it.

Do you use Markup on your Mac? Share in the comments.

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