Customize the Touch Bar with BetterTouchTool

customize touch bar hero

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Once you get past the gee-whiz factor of your new MacBook Pro’s contextually-aware Touch Bar, you might start to wonder if it can do anything useful. Fortunately, it’s capable of more than meets the eye. You can customize it using some built-in tools, or get serious about tweaking with BetterTouchTool.

Customize the Touch Bar with Built-In Tools

macOS does offer some built-in options for customizing the Touch Bar. They’re limited, but worth investigating anyway.

1. In certain system apps, you can select “Customize Touch Bar…” from the view menu.

customize the touch bar view menu

2. Then you can drag a set of preset options to and from the Touch Bar. It’s a lot like customizing the toolbar in an application.

customize the touch bar finder menu

The available palette of Touch Bar buttons will be different for each application.

Regardless of the app, you’re limited to the options made available to you by the app’s developer. You can’t create custom buttons or bind keyboard shortcuts to Touch Bar commands. That’s where customization tool BetterTouchTool comes in.

Using BetterTouchTool to Customize the Touch Bar

customize the touch bar bettertouchtool

BetterTouchTool has been a staple of macOS customization for years. It started out as a tool for customizing trackpad gestures, dramatically expanding the number of gestures available and the actions those gestures could trigger. Today, it encompasses nearly every input method available on the Mac, from the keyboard to the AppleTV’s Siri Remote.

You can create a Touch Bar button to trigger a specific keystroke, or bind it to one of the many pre-defined actions available through BetterTouchTool. There’s a long list of those actions available, so do some exploring to find out what’s possible.

Create Global Commands

Global commands are visible regardless of the focused application. Since global shortcuts will always be visible, choose wisely. You don’t want to clutter up precious Touch Bar space with rarely-used actions.

1. Make sure “Global” is select in the left-hand pane. Then click “+TouchBar Button.” This will generate a new, always-visible button on the Touch Bar.

customize the touch bar global command

2. Name the Touch Bar button. If you want to add an icon, click “Add Icon” and drag an option from the included set onto the icon box. You can also drag custom icons to the “Add Icon” box.

customize the touch bar global shortcut

3. If you want to trigger a keyboard shortcut with the button, click inside of the “Custom Keyboard Shortcut” box and enter the keyboard shortcut.

customize the touch bar global command

4. If you want to use a predefined action, select that option from the “Predefined Action” drop down menu next to the keyboard shortcut box. You can set either a keyboard shortcut or a predefined action for a button, but not both.

customize the touch bar global command

5. There’s no specific “Save” command in BTT, so the button will be available as soon as you set all the parameters.

Duplicating System Actions

You might notice pretty quickly that BTT’s Touch Bar buttons are visible right next to the Escape key. Since they’re always visible, you might duplicate Touch Bar buttons that already exist in the system menu. This way, you can have customizable buttons available for instant access.

1. Create a Global Touch Bar button.

2. Choose the always-visible action from “OS X Functionality” that you want to execute. For example, you might choose “Show Desktop.”

customize the touch bar duplicate macos actions

Create App-Launching Shortcuts

You can also create a secondary Touch Bar-based Dock using BetterTouchTool.

1. Create a new Global command.

2. Choose “Open Applications” under the “Predefined Action” dropdown menu. You’ll find it under “Controlling Other Applications.”

3. Select the application you want to launch from the pop-up menu.

customize the touch bar dock icons

4. Set an icon for the application. You can find simplified versions of many app icons by searching on DeviantArt. You can also use the app’s actual icon, found inside the Resources folder inside the application’s package contents.

5. Click “Advanced Configuration” to set an appropriate background color. Click “Save” to confirm when done.

Creating App-Specific Commands

As you might guess, I spend a lot of time using WordPress. It has a couple of key commands that I use constantly and yet often forget. For example, the command to set text as a second-level header is Opt+Ctrl+2. I can save myself the trouble of triggering the wrong command by assigning that keyboard shortcut to a Touch Bar button. Better still, I can create an app-specific command so that button is only visible when relevant.

1. To add a specific app to BetterTouchTool, click the “+” button on the left-hand size and select the app from the pop-up window.

2. Make sure you have the app selected in the left-hand pane.

3. Click “+TouchBar Button” to add a new button. This button will only appear when the application is open and you have the BetterTouchTool menu visible on the Touch Bar.

4. Set commands as normal.

Creating Button Groups

You can combine buttons into nested groups that only reveal their contents when tapped. This would be great for tucking away the secondary dock we created previously, or cramming a long list of closely-related or rarely-used buttons into a small space.

1. Click “+ Button Group” to create a new button group

customize the touch bar group

2. Name the button group and set an optional icon. This is the name and icon you’ll tap to expand the button group, so it should indicate the group’s theme or contents.

3. To add buttons to the group, click “+TouchBar Button” and choose “Add to Selected Group.”

customize the touch bar group 2


There’s more than one way to customize the Touch Bar. If you just want to move pre-existing buttons around, the built-in tools will be sufficient. But if you want to wield supreme power over your Touch Bar, BetterTouchTool is the program for you.

You might also like:

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Kossi Adzo

Kossi Adzo is a technology enthusiast and digital strategist with a fervent passion for Apple products and the innovative technologies that orbit them. With a background in computer science and a decade of experience in app development and digital marketing, Kossi brings a wealth of knowledge and a unique perspective to the Apple Gazette team.

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