How do do something with a document in Preview?

I’ve been a mac user for about a year now, but I’m still struggling to understand some aspects of this OS. There are some things that are trivial on Windows that are either impossible or super complicated on Mac. But there are obviously also things that don’t exist on Windows and that are great on Mac and then there are those things that exist in both worlds but you have to think differently to do/find them. Part of the struggle comes from figuring out which of the three types of “things” you are dealing with in a particular moment.

To come to the point:

  1. I’m looking at a new pdf document in preview. By new, I mean that I haven’t filed it on my system yet. Maybe someone sent it to me or it was attached to a calendar invitation).
  2. Now let’s say I want to do something with this document, such as: send it to Zotero or add it to a particular folder on my harddrive.
  3. I’ve learned that the share menu is often the go to place for doing something with what I’m looking at and, indeed, “Add to Devonthink 3” is there, but not Zotero. I assume that the receiving app needs to support the sharing menu, and many apps, including Zotero don’t seem to do that.
  4. I’ve tried to figure out how I can add my own actions to the sharing menu, maybe an apple script, or a shortcut or so, that will be applied to the current file, but I seem to be the only one even asking the question. I can Airdrop the file to my ipad or Macbook, but I cannot “airdrop” it to myself, apparently.
  5. So, despite all the great apple script and share functions, it looks like I need to go back to good old File → Save. But ⌘S does nothing, or rather: it probably saves it in the place where it already sits (Windows would not consider that place (some temporary attachment folder) as a proper location and offer “Save as …” instead).
  6. So I need to go all the way and press ⌥⇧⌘S to be able to save the file to the folder ov my choice.
  7. There is also a “Move to” option, but it has no shortcut and I assume that will remove the file from the calendar event (or email), which I’d rather not.

I’d be grateful for any comments on my “story” above. Anything from: here is a better solution for achieving that, to more general remarks about what I may be misunderstanding or rules of thumb for problem solving on Mac.

The old school for moving files to other locations - click on the file you want to move, press Command + C, then go to the destination Folder you want to add it to and press Option + Command + V to move/paste it there. A bit tedious, but I’ve been used this method for a decade and it’s sort of ingrained in my memory at this point.

I’m sorry if my “tip” doesn’t quite answer what you’re looking for. Have you tried Alfred? It has a set of built in shortcuts that makes moving files to desired locations a snap!

Does this look like the sort of thing you want?

I’m using Keyboard Maestro and Applescript, but it could very well be a Quick Action built using Automator.
If it seems like a possible route, then I (or someone) could help you along.

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As I understand it, when you’re looking at the file in Preview, it is already somewhere on your system. When you open it, the Mac puts it there. It doesn’t really matter where – probably deep in your mail app’s file structure, or maybe in some temp folder.

So if you want it somewhere you can find it again, practically speaking, you have a choice: save it somewhere else, or save a copy somewhere else.

In the case you’re describing (an email attachment), I don’t think it matters much what you do. Saving a copy with Save As… will do what it sounds like. Move To… will move the copy you’re looking at in Preview from that temp folder (or wherever it is) to wherever you put it. The “original” document (a nebulous concept with digital files) remains as an email attachment, and you can always open from there again.

So Save As… or Move To… as you prefer.

What I tend to do is a handy shortcut: I option- or command-click (I forget which it is, sorry) on the name of the file in the bar across the top of the document. There, you get a drop-down menu showing its location and the folders above that one. I navigate to where I want to put it, hit save (or move or whatever the button is titled) and I’m done.

All that said, I would test all this on an attachment you don’t need (send yourself one?) just to make sure, since I’m on mobile and going by memory. I’m also still in Catalina, so it’s possible things changed slightly if you’re on Big Sur or Monterrey.


Another option, although less efficient, is to hold down the Option key and drag the proxy icon (the icon to the left of the name of the file in the bar at the top of the document) to the desired location. That’s only practical if you’re dragging to the desktop, to a folder you keep in the Dock, or to a shelf app like Yoink.

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That’s what I do. You don’t even need a modifier key. Just click or tap.

If the pdf is on my desktop, I just drag it into a folder. Takes literally 2 seconds.

If they are in an email, if you put the “hand” cursor into the address bar, a set of tools appear (Reply arrow, Reply All arrow, Forward Arrow) plus a paperclip icon that allows you to save the attachments. I choose that, then choose Save All, navigate to the appropriate folder and hit Save. Done.

here’s a different solution (involving some clicks):

if you hover on the filename in the Preview toolbar a downward facing caret appears, and if you click on that a menu for renaming the file appears: there you can change the path at your liking (differently from windows you can move an open file in macOS)

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Nice one, good to know! But for me that definitely doesn’t show the folder where the files is located but some other folder. Might be the one where I last saved something and that would obviously be great and facilitate things.

Also an excellent tip that may at times be the easier option. The existence of this feature kind of reinstates my trust that “Apple must have thought of this scenario and developed some solution (which it unfortunately tends to hide from sight because clean looks are more important that anything else)”.

Surely that is always the means of last resort, but generally speaking, “navigating across folders” is a waste of time and mental energy. And thanks to Alfred file actions, I don’t need to do that so often, but File actions only work on files (in Finder), not on files that I’m looking at in some other program.

So, yes, I’m using Alfred all the time (while being far from having exploited its potential fully), so if you have some workflow or so that allows Alfred to grab the file I’m currently looking at in preview, that would be even better than the two solutions above. Or:

Thanks for sharing that script. I think this is ultimately what I was looking for (apart from learning about the built-in macOS features mentioned above). Will have to explore that topic in more detail when I have time. But your post looks like an excellent springboard for me to finally dive into applescript (well, maybe not dive quite yet, but get my feet wet).

Thanks everyone, these were some really useful replies. I think the only thing I’m wondering about at this point: why does the share-menu not allow me to send the file to other applications? Om iOS we’re forced to use that menu all the time because of the way how apps are sandboxed, and most of the time it still annoys me (though it’s recently being addressed with better integration of Files), but I have also come to appreciate the ease of sending files directly from one application to another, so why not have that on MacOS too?