Before we get started
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You can do much more with your Mac’s trackpad than simply move the cursor around the screen!
By default, macOS’ trackpad supports a number of gestures, such as scrolling and zooming. Some of these gestures are customisable, but you can also add entirely new gestures to your trackpad, using a third party app.
In this article I’m going to show you how to tweak macOS’ built-in trackpad gestures so that they work better for you, before moving onto creating entirely new gestures, using the BetterTouchTool application.
Customising macOS’ default gestures
Your Mac already supports a number of trackpad gestures, but if these gestures don’t quite work for you, then it’s possible to modify many of these default gestures:
- Click the ‘Apple’ logo in your Mac’s menu bar.
- Select ‘System preferences > Trackpad.’
This window contains all of macOS’ default gestures, split across three tabs: ‘Point & Click,’ ‘Scroll & Zoom’ and ‘More Gestures.’ You can define a different gesture for many of the actions that appear across these tabs, for example clicking the little arrow icon that appears next to the ‘Swipe between pages’ gesture will open a dropdown containing some alternative gestures:
Note that the available gestures will vary between actions, and there’s a few actions that you cannot map to different gestures. If an action doesn’t have an accompanying arrow icon, then this means it’s impossible to select a new gesture for this action.
You can also disable gestures by deselecting their accompanying checkbox, which is particularly useful if you keep triggering an action by accident.
BetterTouchTool is a third party app that lets you create custom gestures for your Mac’s trackpad. BetterTouchTool does require a license (personal licenses are available from £4.00) but a free 45 day free trial is available, so you can try before you buy.
- Head over to the BetterTouchTool website and download the latest version.
- Once the file has downloaded, unzip it, and then launch the BetterTouchTool application.
- BetterTouchTool requires access to the Accessibility API, so when prompted give the ‘Open System Preferences…’ button a click. This takes you to the appropriate section of the ‘System Preferences’ menu.
- If you see a little padlock icon in the window’s bottom-left corner, then click this padlock and enter your admin password.
- Make sure ‘Accessibility’ is selected in the left-hand menu.
- Select ‘BetterTouchTool’s’ checkbox.
- Exit the ‘System preferences’ menu.
- The BetterTouchTool window should now have updated; click the new ‘Start using BTT’ button.
- Click ‘Continue trial,’ which takes you to the main BetterTouchTool interface.
You can use BetterTouchTool to create custom gestures that trigger a wide range of actions across the macOS system and even within specific applications. For the purposes of this tutorial I’ll be showing you how to create a gesture that lets you lock your Mac’s screen by tapping on the trackpad, but once you know how to create one gesture, you can use the same process to create a wide range of different gestures.
- Select the ‘Trackpads’ tab along the top of the screen.
- In the left-hand menu, decide whether you’re creating a system-wide or application-specific gesture. Since we want our gesture to work across the entire macOS system, I’m going to select ‘Global.’
- Click ‘Add New Gesture,’ which appears towards the bottom of the window.
- Open the ‘Please Select a Gesture’ dropdown, and choose a gesture from BetterTouchTool’s vast catalogue of supported gestures. I’m going to use ‘Two Finger Gestures > 2 Finger Tap.’
- Open the ‘Predefined Action’ dropdown and choose the action that you want this gesture to trigger. I’m going to select ‘System Actions > Lock screen.’
This gesture will start working immediately, so try tapping two fingers on your background – your Mac should respond by locking automatically and displaying the login screen.
To create a gesture that’s specific to an application:
- Find the little ‘+’ icon below BetterTouchTool’s left-hand menu and give it a click.
- Choose ‘Select app from file system.’
- Select the application where you want to use this gesture, and then click ‘Open.’
- This application will now appear as an option in BetterTouchTool’s left-hand menu; make sure it’s selected in this menu, and then build your gesture as normal.