How to make a zip file on a Mac

October 14, 2011 in Mac OS X

You may have received emails with attached zip files, or maybe you’ve downloaded some. Depending on your settings, your Mac may automatically “unzip” them (extracting all the files contained within) or require at most a double-click on the file name.

But what if you have some files or folders and want to create a zip file that contains them all? That’s just what newsletter subscriber Jane asked. This video answers her question and shows just how easy it is.

Video too small? Watch full screen by clicking the YouTube Full Screen button button here

Creating a zip file can do two things:

  1. Compress the file(s) so they use less disk space;
  2. Store many files and folders into one Archive file.

That’s why the function is called “Compress” and, when performed on more than one file or folder, the file it creates is called “”.

To create a zip file, simply select the files and folders you want to include in the zip file. You can select files and folder on your Desktop or any other files and folder using the Finder. Once selected, use the “Compress” function that you will find in the File menu, or in the contextual menu you can display using a right-click or Control-click. (Watch “How to right-click on a Mac” to learn how.)

Compressing multiple files and folders

As I showed in the video, when you’ve selected more than one file or folder, the Compress function will be called “Compress # Items” (where # is the number of items you’ve selected). The resulting file will be called I suggest immediately renaming it to something more descriptive. Even if you’re just going to attach it to an email and then delete it from your computer, your friends will likely be more interested in checking out than a boring sounding

UNZIPPING: Unzipping a zip file created this way will:

  1. Create a new folder with the same name as the zip file and then
  2. Put all the extracted files into it.

So in the example, even though I just selected three image files that were sitting on my Desktop, when extracted those image files will now be inside a Butterflies folder.

Compressing one file or folder

When you want to create a zip file from just one file or folder, things works a little differently. Let’s say I’ve selected a folder named “old-stuff”. The compress function will not be called “Compress 1 Item”. It will be called (in this case) “Compress ‘old-stuff'”. Similarly, the file it creates will be called (not This is handy because if the file or folder you are compressing is well-named, you won’t need to rename the zip file after creating it.

Just to be clear, when I say compressing one folder, that means one top-level folder. In all cases, the compress function will include all files and folders within a folder, and files and folders within those folders, and so on. When later unzipped, the original hierarchy of folders and subfolders will be recreated just as they were originally organized.

How much compression?

The amount of space saved by the compress function can vary greatly depending on the type of files you are compressing. Documents can often be compressed pretty well. Reducing to one-third the original size is common.

On the other hand, most images, videos and music these days already use good compression methods, so you won’t see much, if any, shrinkage when compressing them. You may still see a little bit of savings if you compress a bunch of them into one zip file.

Using Zip files for archiving

Creating the zip file does NOT remove the original files. If you created the zip file so that those files wouldn’t clutter your hard drive as much, you’ll then need to delete the original files.

Gentle Reminder: Just in case, it wouldn’t hurt to make sure your newly created zip file has been backed up (you do back up your Mac, right?) before deleting the files that were stored in it.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

jac mills October 15, 2011 at 11:14 am

Simple, neat and tres useful, mate. jm


JOE HAGEDORN October 15, 2011 at 8:01 pm

Very good.


EJI April 14, 2012 at 8:29 am

You saved my business today 🙂

Super grateful!!


Steve April 14, 2012 at 8:47 am

Wow, glad to hear it! Thanks.


sharon July 5, 2012 at 2:42 pm

You just answered a question I’ve had for a while about zipping photos. I’ve created zip files with a bunch of photos in them, and have wondered why they only shrunk by .25MB. Now I know! I guess I was expecting some compression magic that doesn’t exist–like shrinking 25MB of photos into 5MB. Silly me.


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