Color code emails in Mail on the Mac to highlight messages

How do you make sure you don’t miss an important email, whether work related or personal? Color code it! Highlight emails by automatically color coding them in Mail on the Apple Mac.

If you receive a lot of email messages each day, it can be tiresome to have to select each one and read it in order to see whether it is important. One way to make the task easier is to automatically apply color to messages in the inbox as they arrive. This makes it easy to see which emails are important and you can go straight to them.

For example, you might want to make all emails from work or from a certain company person red, and make personal emails from family or friends blue. The colors really stand out in the inbox email list and you can quickly go to the messages that are important to you.

Mac Mail is a great app and it has all the features you need to auto color code messages and all we need to do is to create one or more rules. A rule is created that checks incoming messages for a certain condition, such as a particular sender, and then if there is a match, color is applied to the message. If there is no match, no action is taken.

It is not the email itself that is colored, it is just the list of emails in the Inbox, the preview snippets. Let’s see how to create colorful rules to organise your inbox better.

If you are concerned about getting scams in emails, read my article How to spot a bad email and avoid scams and phishing. If you use an iPhone, read my article How do I create an email alias on an iPhone?

1 Get the email address

Mail app on the Apple Mac showing the email sender

This step is entirely optional, but it helps. You must decide which emails you want to color and you will need to know the email address later. If you know the sender’s address then fine, but if you don’t, select an email in the inbox, click the down arrow next to the sender’s name and select Copy Address on the menu that is displayed.

2 Go to Mail Preferences

View Mac Mail rules on the Apple Mac

Go to the Mail menu and select Preferences. Click Rules and there may be some sample rules provided. Ignore them if there are and click the Add Rule button.

3 Name the new rule

Create a new rule in the Mail app on the Apple Mac

A rule template is provided with one condition and one action. Both are incomplete, but we will fix that in a minute. First, click in the Description box and enter a name for this rule. We will create a rule to colour emails red, so name it Color Red.

4 Set the mail rule condition

Create a rule in the Mail app on the Apple Mac

What will trigger this rule? That is the first thing to set and if you copied an email address in step one, the condition is already set for you. If not, select From in the first menu, contains in the second menu and type an email address into the third box.

5 Color code whole domains

Create a rule in the Mail app on the Apple Mac

You might want to color all emails from a particular domain, such as a company or your employer. Then when anyone from that company emails you, the message will be colored. If you want to do this, delete the first part of the address up to the @ and keep the part following it.

6 Set the rule action

Create a rule in the Mail app on the Apple Mac

When the condition is met, such as a domain or a specific sender, the action below is performed. There are many actions to choose from, but what we want is Set Color of Message. To the right of this, choose whether to set the foreground color (the text) or the background color. In this case the background is set to red, but it is up to you.

7 Use multiple conditions

Create a rule in the Mail app on the Apple Mac

It would be tedious having to create a separate rule for each email sender, so if you want to color more emails, click the plus button on the right of the first condition to add a second, a third, and however many you want. Two are used here and it is important to select any at the top so any condition triggers the action.

8 Apply the rules now

Apply rules to emails in the Mail app on the Apple Mac

Rules are applied automatically to new emails arriving in the inbox. What about all the emails that are already in your inbox? Click the OK button after creating a rule and you are given the opportunity to apply the rules to messages already received. Click Apply if you want this to happen, more often than not, you do. Mail will go through all the messages applying colour to them.

9 Add more color rules

Create a rule in the Mail app on the Apple Mac

We saw how to apply a single colour to emails that matched a certain condition – from a particular sender. More rules can be created to apply different colours and in the example above, the text is made green if emails come from or Create your own rules to color your messages.

10 Color coded inbox

Color coded emails in the inbox in the Mail app on the Apple Mac

Let’s take a look at the result of the rules. The first message matches a rule setting the message to green text, but the next three match a different rule which sets the background to red. Seeing color coded emails makes it very easy to see which ones are important and they focus your attention.