Even though Apple provides the familiar Stickies notes in OS X, they, like the proverbial yellow paper sticky notes, can become a wall of desktop clutter, and they are not always assessable when needed.  So  instead of sticky notes, I use Keyboard Maestro’s Display Text actions.

Display Text actions may not be as fancy of a name, or as colorful as Stickies, but KM’s solution is more useful and versatile than Stickies. With Display Text actions, you have more control over how text gets displayed, and they can be automated to appear without you using several clicks and mouse movements. Let’s dig and see what they can do.

Text Display

Before explaining how to set up Display Text actions in Keyboard Maestro, let’s check out a few use cases.

For example: I use the screen capture application, ScreenFlow, for bigger and more complex screen recordings. However, because I don’t use the application on a regular basis, I need to review a few reminders for making effective recordings. This is where a Display Text action comes in.

When I launch ScreenFlow, Keyboard Maestro automatically executes and displays a text window with a set of instructions for me to review.

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By using this action, I don’t have to manually open these reminders like I would with Stickies. The display of the window only displays when I most need it.

Brief Display

Another situation for using Display Text actions are those infrequent occasions when I launch 1Password to input and manage login items. When doing so, I prefer to use BetterTouchTool finger gestures to trigger the Edit and Save menu items. But because I don’t open the application that much, I  don’t remember those gestures, and that’s why I set up a Keyboard Maestro to briefly display the following notification each time the 1Password activates:

Keyboard Maestro Notification

Another example is of when I need to know the title of a URL. I use a Display Text action that presents  that information also in a notification. More about this action in the next section of this article.

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In another use case, when I was learning Dragon Dictate voice commands, I had Keyboard Maestro trigger text displays like this one:

mac_automation_nfc9g5I have other text displays that include letting me know if my Time Machine drive gets ejected; a display of a phone number and code for a weekly phone conference, and a notifications of song title and artist of a currently playing track in iTunes.

Display Text Features

To create a Display Text macro, you create a KM macro, and then insert the Display Text action in the macro editor. In the action, type text you want displayed.

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Display Text actions can displayed in a window, briefly displayed in a notification, or displayed as large text across the screen.

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As with other Keyboard Maestro actions, you can trigger Display Text macros using a keyboard shortcut, an application trigger, a Time trigger, via a Macro Palette, or from the Status Menu in the menu bar.
Keyboard Maestro triggers

You basically use the trigger that is most convenient and easiest to remember. If you want to automate more, you can map a Display Text macro to another application like BetterTouchTool or Dragon Dictate. Some of the text displays I use are simply triggered using assigned voice commands.

Pro Tip: You can also insert what are called Tokens into a text display, and Keyboard Maestro will grab that content and display it.

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For example, you can use the iTunes tokens to quickly get and display the name of currently playing iTunes track and artist.

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Sure, iTunes displays a notification of this information when a track is first played, but the above action can be triggered at any time and from within any application. You can even trigger it with a string trigger while you’re typing.

Display Images

Until I wrote this article, I honestly didn’t know that  Display Text actions can also display dropped in images, when the “Display text in window” feature is used. This opens the door for several other practical uses.

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This is a Display Text window, not Preview.

Type and Insert Text

Display Text actions can also type or insert text, similar to how TextExpander and other text expansion programs work. See my article comparing TextExpander and Keyboard Maestro for more about this.

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An example of KM inserting the title of the frontmost Safari page.

The above Display Text action is triggered using a KM string trigger, which means I can execute it while typing. It inserts the title of the frontmost URL page.

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Try It Out

The Display Text actions are another good reason to start using Keyboard Maestro. The actions are easy to set up, and if you find yourself creating several displays, you can add and manage them in  folder in KM.

If you already use Display Text actions let me know how you’re using  them.  Also let me and my readers know what features are missing in Display Text actions that you would like to see added.

Bakari Chavanu

Bakari Chavanu is a freelance writer and long-time Mac users. He's written hundreds articles about Mac applications and Mac automation for general users. He's also the author of "The Awesome Guide to Mac Automation" (MakeUseOf.com).
  • I love the way you are using Text Display to help you remember shortcuts and gestures. I’m going to do that to.
    Interesting article (as usual).