Clipboard on Mac: how to view and manage copy-paste history on macOS

10 min read

Developed back in 1973, the cut, copy, and paste concepts have quickly become essential UI elements for text editors and entire computer operating systems. Larry Tesler, the computer scientist behind this invention, coined the term “clipboard,” since these features need a virtual clipboard to store copied or cut data temporarily.

Today, the clipboard is one of the most daily-utilized tools on any device, and Macs are no exception. The more apps you work on, the more your clipboard will help you transfer information between them. So what are the best ways to enable clipboard on Mac and is there a way to copy text on one device and paste on another? Let’s find out! 

How to view and manage clipboard history on macOS

The clipboard tool is easy to use, but can be tough to manage, so here is a rundown of the top user tips and solutions for the most common issues with this native macOS feature:

How does the macOS clipboard work?

After you’ve copied or cut an image or a piece of text, it gets stored in your Mac’s short-term memory, and it’s important to paste it before it gets wiped or a newly copied item takes its place.

Although a great feature, the clipboard is only designed to hold one item at a time, which can add unnecessary challenges to the work process. Fortunately, there are independent tools and utilities that fill those gaps and expand the available memory on clipboard.

How to find the clipboard on a Mac?

The clipboard runs in the background of your Mac while you’re working and since you don’t actually see it often, it can make you wonder “where is my clipboard?” and whether it exists somewhere at all. Well, it’s there, living inside the Finder app for any time you want to check its current contents.

How to view clipboard history

It’s become so common to hit Command + C followed by Command + V that we don’t even think when we perform the action. But in case you need to be conscious of the content you’re pasting, or you simply forgot what you’ve copied recently, use the show clipboard option to see what will appear if you click paste.

Here’s how to see clipboard history Mac:

  1. Open Finder
  2. Click Edit from the top menu
  3. Choose Show Clipboard

    show clipboard using Finder

A window will appear presenting you with the most recent contents of your clipboard for review.

see clipboard history on Mac

Why does Mac not have clipboard history?

The contents of your clipboard are the results of only the most recent cut or copy operation performed on your Mac. If you go to view clipboard history on Mac and there’s nothing to see, it just means too much time has passed since you last copied something, and the contents have expired from memory.

This feature limitation becomes highly inconvenient when you start using your clipboard more frequently and might want to see everything you’ve copied. Since macOS doesn’t include a built-in feature for tracking anything besides your most recently copied item, your best solution would be to install a third-party clipboard app.

How to recover clipboard history on Mac

As mentioned above, there’s no way to easily view or recover the contents of a Mac clipboard history beyond one last item. To go back to something you’ve pasted multiple steps ago, you can try using Command + Z and undo the actions up to that point.

A much easier solution would be to use a clipboard manager like Paste, that’s a great alternative to Mac’s native clipboard tool.

Paste automatically keeps track of everything you have copied regardless of its format, be it text and pictures, screenshots, links, or anything else. Remove the limit from your Mac’s clipboard capacity with Paste by being able to simultaneously copy and paste multiple items and get back the things you’ve copied before within seconds!

To view clipboard history Mac with Paste simply open the app and press Shift + Command + V to bring up the paste tray. Paste has a convenient search bar to help you navigate through the items you’ve copied, so you save time to spend on other, more important things.


How to unlock a secondary clipboard on Mac

Many Apple users are unaware that there’s a hidden secondary clipboard available, which can be used to copy a second item, while retaining the one stored on the main clipboard. Find the secondary clipboard on Mac using these keyboard shortcuts: Control + K to cut the text and Control + Y to paste it in a new location.

Keep in mind that there’s no copy option here, so you’ll only be able to use this hidden secondary clipboard with text that can be cut.

What is Mac’s Universal Clipboard

Another useful feature introduced in newer Apple devices is the Universal Clipboard. Starting with macOS Sierra and iOS 10, users were given the option to copy an item on one device and paste it on another. Very cool, right?

To use the Universal Clipboard, ensure your Apple devices are signed into the same iCloud account, connected to the same WiFi, and have Bluetooth turned on. Now copy the content on one device and transfer it to the other by pasting it there the usual way.

How to avoid clipboard limitations

Once you find the secondary clipboard on Mac and try the Universal Clipboard, there’s a high chance you’ll still need to perform more tricks to avoid the one-item limitation.

Simple text clippings could be a workaround solution. Select any text and drag it out of its original document to create a snippet of text that looks like a file, but can’t be edited. From here you can drop it onto the desktop or directly into any document or app at a point where you want it pasted.

An easier way to enable clipboard on Mac with longer history possibilities is by using clipboard managers like Paste. This utility combines all aspects of the native Mac clipboard and the Universal Clipboard by letting you store the most important items in one place in a well-structured manner and access it easily across all your devices.

And if you work with text for hours on end, you need to try PopClip, as it enables instant text actions without right-clicking. Every time you select a line of text, the utility will bring up a small menu with suggested actions like copy and paste, as well as translation, spell check, word count, and more useful stuff! Once you give it a go, PopClip will likely become your most-used and most-loved instant text helper.

PopClip Cut Сору Paste

How to keep multiple items on Mac clipboard

As you now know, there’s no way to copy or store multiple items on Mac’s native clipboard and if you’re looking for such functionality, you’ll need a third-party clipboard manager. For example, try Unclutter.

Unclutter works as a full-featured memo assistant giving you unlimited clipboard copy pasting powers as well as a clean place to store all your temporary notes. Unified in one handy window, Unclutter’s tools range from quick full-text search and clipboard history tracking, to drag and drop file management and consolidated temporary storage.

Unclutter Clipboard History

Paste is another clipboard utility that can completely replace your Mac’s native tools, as well as expand your copy-pasting options. Use this robust snippets manager when you need to copy and paste multiple items at once, or take advantage of the intelligent search features within the app to instantly find the copied item you’re looking for.

How do you paste from the clipboard on Mac?

To paste from Mac’s native clipboard, simply press Command + V and your most recently-copied item will appear in front of you.

When you’re using clipboard managers like Paste and Unclutter, for example, you’ll not only have more options on what you want to paste, but also how you’d like to do it. Here are some of the ways to paste from a clipboard manager:

  • Use customized shortcuts to paste most recent as well as old items
  • Drag and drop items from the utility’s interface directly to any Mac app
  • Select and paste multiple items at once
  • Paste items as plain text, no matter the format of the original
  • Access and paste files from other devices through iCloud sync
  • Share and paste snippets over AirDrop

How to copy text from images to clipboard

Starting with iOS 15 Apple introduced a Live Text feature that lets you copy text from an image on iPhone. Macs, however, have been left out of this software upgrade for now, so you need another solution. That’s when TextSniper comes in handy.

TextSniper is a text recognition app for Mac that can extract text from a selected portion of your screen or another image using optical character recognition, or OCR. Easily accessible from your menu bar, TextSniper is ready to capture text when you need it. Enable Additive Clipboard feature in the app to be able to copy multiple bits of information and paste them all at once.

Capture Text

How to paste screenshots from clipboard history in macOS

Apart from copying and pasting plain text, native macOS clipboard lets you do the same with screenshots. The next time you take a snippet of your screen, hold the Option key simultaneously and then press Command + V to show clipboard contents and paste the screenshot.

Clipboard managers and Mac desktop organizers like Paste and Unclutter offer even more functionality when it comes to copying screenshots. Paste has the option to set custom shortcuts to achieve greater productivity, while Unclutter will organize all your random screenshots in one neat place so they’re easily accessible when you need them.

And while we’re on the topic of screenshots, there’s a great tool to try — CleanShot X.

CleanShot X is a screen recording app made specifically for macOS. Use it to instantly capture Mac’s screen without desktop icons, record and trim video, annotate, as well as take and edit screenshots before copying them to clipboard.

Capture Previous Area

The days of searching for how to open clipboard and paste multiple screenshots are gone and the answers are now clicks away!

Can you store multiple items in clipboard history?

The short answer to this question in a native macOS setting is, as you’re already aware, no. It would have been very convenient if there was a way to hold the most recent items in Mac clipboard history, but until Apple creates a way to do so, our best solution is turning to other apps, like Rocket Typist.

Rocket Typist goes around clipboard limitations in a different way: using text snippets. Forget about typing the same phrases and sentences over and over again, as Rocket Typist will provide you a clean database of text bites you use frequently for anything from email greetings to PHP scripts. Choose the phrases to paste into any document using a drop down menu, or set them to appear automatically when you type an abbreviation.

Clipboard Content in Rocket Typist

How to clear clipboard history on Mac

There are several ways to clear Mac clipboard history and the easiest method is to replace it with a new item. Open any text file on your Mac, and copy the space between two words. Now if you go to view clipboard history Mac, it’ll be empty.

There’s also a more nuclear way of wiping clipboard contents on Mac and that’s by using a Terminal command. Here’s how:

  1. Click on the Apple logo ➙ Utilities ➙ Terminal
  2. Type in the following command pbcopy < /dev/null and press Enter

    wiping clipboard contents on Mac using Terminal

Alternatively, you can restart your Mac by going to the Apple menu in the upper left corner and clicking Restart. This will delete clipboard content completely. 

In case you’re using one of the clipboard managers mentioned above, all of them will have the option to delete clipboard history with just a few clicks.

How to fix a non-working Mac clipboard

If you’ve discovered that your Mac’s copy and paste functions aren’t working, keep in mind that there could be a few reasons for this issue, which will dictate what type of a fix is needed.

Determine if it’s your keyboard that’s acting up, an app that’s malfunctioning, or if it’s a deeper software problem with macOS, and then refer to a step-by-step guide on how to fix it.

Clipboard managers providing a simple solution

When you work with your Mac, convenience is essential. So if you’re tired of worrying about expiring clipboard contents, or overriding them with other copied text, try a smart clipboard manager like Paste, PopClip, Unclutter, and Rocket Typist. And for all the times you need to work with images — CleanShot and TextSniper can become your go-to tools.

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