Apple Mail Attachment View

How To… Change The Way PDFs Are Shown In Apple Mail

by John Carroll on November 25, 2013

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In Apple Mail, attachments display their contents. If you attach a PDF or JPEG image, you actually see the document or picture.

This has zero impact on compatibility of your attachments. It’s just a display choice.

Apple Mail - Viewing Attachments

Still… if you come from a PC background this can be a tad disconcerting.

PC Mail clients like Microsoft Entourage or Outlook, display attachments as small icons.

The good news… is that the Mac can do this too.

Changing An Email Attachment From View In Place To View As Icon

  • Open Apple Mail.
  • Create a New Message.
  • Click in the body of the message.
  • Click the Attachment icon in the Toolbar. It’s on the right-hand side and shaped like a paperclip.
  • Navigate to the PDF or image you want to attach.
  • Select your file and click Choose File.
  • You can now see the PDF or image in the email. This what is know as “View In Place.”

Apple Mail - Viewing Attachments - View In Place

  • Right-click or Control-click on the file and a drop-down menu appears. Choose View As Icon.

Apple Mail - Viewing Attachments - Options Menu

  • The attachments turn into icons.

Apple Mail - Viewing Attachments - View As Icon

If you’d like to change them back, just right-click or Control-click and select View in Place from the menu.

This works on an email by email basis.

If you’d like to change how attachments are displayed in all emails, things get a little more complex.

Only use this option if you’re comfortable using Terminal. Even if you are… be careful. Mistakes here can really mess-up your Mac.

How To Change All Email Attachments To View As Icon

  • Open Terminal
  • Run the following: defaults write DisableInlineAttachmentViewing -bool yes
  • Press Return.
  • Quit Mail then Relaunch it.

To reverse the process, follow the same procedure, but run the command: defaults write DisableInlineAttachmentViewing -bool no

No Problem Mac is not responsible for your data. Please remember to backup your data before running Terminal commands. Use at your own risk.

If you’d like more information related to this area, check out the following posts:

How To… Save A Document On Your Mac As A PDF File

How To… Mark-Up A PDF Using Preview

Core Mac Concepts – Changing The Default App That Opens A File

Have a fantastic, yet thrifty weekend.

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{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

1 R Thomas Berner April 13, 2017 at 3:26 pm

A client complained about receiving embedded photographs, but the real issue wasn’t the embedding (which I have changed per your instructions) but the compression. The client wanted a big file but my 114 mb file leaving here arrived as 6mb. How can I stop the compression?


John Carroll 2 John Carroll April 14, 2017 at 12:09 am
3 Jay April 8, 2017 at 9:41 pm

I did as you suggested, changing each attachment to “view as icon,” which seemed to work fine.

However, when I sent the email, then looked at the sent email (I was just moving it to a client mailbox) I noticed that the attachments displayed “in place” after all! So I assume they were sent that way instead of as icons.


John Carroll 4 John Carroll April 12, 2017 at 3:19 am

Hi Jay – You’d have to check with the recipient. I wouldn’t be surprised if they arrived fine. It’s the Mac’s default to “Show In Place”> That’s why yjhe Sent email looks as it does.


5 Cherry Bond February 20, 2017 at 6:20 pm

Why are my attachments always going to the bottom of my email (aol on a Mac) I used to be able to click on the text and insert the attachment there. I can’t even drag the attachment to a place where it is more visible than at the bottom of multiple email conversation


John Carroll 6 John Carroll February 21, 2017 at 1:16 am

In the Apple Mail application, go to Edit in the toolbar choose Attachments and uncheck “Insert Attachments at End of Message.”


7 Amanda August 14, 2016 at 10:24 pm

Hi John,

I have trouble with Mac email. When I email a scanned copy of the document (Whether I choose Windows Friendly or not, it is the same), it appears very small and unreadable on the receiver’s side. I tried it by emailing scanned copies to my own email address using MacBook, it happens as well. Please help. Thanks.



John Carroll 8 John Carroll August 16, 2016 at 10:51 am

Hi Amanda – The only way i can really get you an answer is if you email the pdf to me –


9 Mary May 23, 2016 at 3:40 am

Thanks, that worked. I cannot right-click, not having set my mouse to do so, but using Control and clicking on the attachment I was able to use the dropdown menu to change it into an icon.


John Carroll 10 John Carroll May 24, 2016 at 8:15 am

Awesome. Glad you found it useful.


11 Olivia October 1, 2015 at 3:26 am

Hi – I tried the command (to actually enable inline attachments) and the command says ‘not found’ – any ideas? I’m using yoesmite


John Carroll 12 John Carroll October 2, 2015 at 8:39 am

Hi Olivia – Can you describe what you mean? The “command” is to right-click the attachment in the email and select “View as Attachment” or “View as Icon.” If you are not getting this, you may be clicking on a file that has no extension or doing this in a program other than Apple Mail. Let me know. – Thanks – John


13 Mandy March 2, 2015 at 5:26 am

Disabling the preview to an icon is all well and good for viewing, but can this be the case for printing? When I print the email the attachments don’t remain as icons, they print in place. Would love it if they remained as icons.


John Carroll 14 John Carroll March 3, 2015 at 1:16 am

Hi Mandy – Sadly, it won’t even print as a saved PDF. The only option left is to take a screenshot and print that. Hardly a great option. If you figure anything else out, let me know. – John


15 Amanda Batson September 19, 2014 at 9:50 pm

Thank you! I’ve been searching for this solution for a while and voila you provide it!


16 Gordon September 8, 2014 at 3:19 pm


You say that embedding pdfs in the body of the email has no impact, it’s just a display choice.

That’s not quite true. I send invoices to a large newspaper for freelance work I do. The invoices go to an automated reader. Pdf invoices must be sent as attachments – not embedded – or the system can’t/won’t read them (I think it’s an executable file thing).

It’s been driving me mad trying to work out why sometimes my pdfs attached as icons and sometimes are embedded. (Plus I was sick of not getting paid …) No matter what attachment settings I had in Apple’s email program most pdfs became embedded.

Then I found this, which explains what was happening (pdfs comprising a page or less are embedded, more than a page are attached as an icon):

And then found the Terminal solution you suggest ( which fixed the problem.




John Carroll 17 John Carroll September 14, 2014 at 12:10 am

Thanks Gordon. I had no idea about the 1 page rule. Sorry it took so long to approve your comment, but it’s been a busy week. have a great weekend – John


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