How to Enable the Three Finger Drag Gesture on Mac Trackpads in OS X

Jan 6, 2016 - 22 Comments

Three Finger Drag Gesture on Mac Trackpad

The ability to perform a three-finger drag gesture on Mac and MacBook trackpads allows users to move windows and items on screen with a gesture rather than the usual click and drag, this feature is well liked by many Mac users and has been in OS X for quite some time.

Once residing in the normal Trackpad settings of System Preferences, the latest versions of OS X (El Yosemite and Capitan 10.11 and newer) has moved the dragging gesture settings for Trackpad elsewhere though, and so if you want to enable this feature or just try it out on your own Mac you’ll need to dig a little deeper than usual through the system settings.

Enabling Three Finger Drag on Mac Trackpads in OS X El Capitan

In OS X 10.10.x and OS X 10.11.x and newer you’ll find the option under Accessibility as follows:

  1. Open “System Preferences” from the  Apple menu
  2. Choose the “Accessibility” preference panel
  3. Scroll down the list on the left side and select “Mouse & Trackpad”
  4. Click the “Trackpad Options” button
  5. Check the box next to “Enable dragging” and pull down the menu alongside to select “three finger drag”, then click “OK” to set the preference
  6. Close out of System Preferences as usual and try the feature out

Enable Three Finger Drag Gesture in Mac OS X Trackpad

Three finger drag is quite literal, meaning you hover the cursor over a window title bar and place three fingers on the trackpad surface and drag them around to move the window, no clicking or pressing down on the trackpad surface is required.

While you’re in that settings screen you may also want to adjust the scrolling speed of the trackpad, which is also in the Accessibility portion of Trackpad options.

This feature works with a Magic Trackpad, 3D Touch Trackpad (the same thing as Force Touch), and standard multitouch trackpads built into any MacBook, MacBook Air, and MacBook Pro. Once enabled it should work flawlessly, though every once in a while you may encounter issues with dragging which requires specific troubleshooting methods to resolve.

Thanks to iDownloadblog for the reminder about where this feature relocated to, it’s one of those gestures you either love to use with the Mac trackpad or hate, but regardless it’s welcome to recall exactly where the settings option is located in OS X.

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Posted by: Paul Horowitz in Mac OS X, Tips & Tricks

22 Comments

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  1. Martin says:

    I thought it was gone for good lol that’s one my favorite features and most frequently used until i got my macbook last year

    • Ryan says:

      I know, like, right. I was really digging El Capitan, until I couldn’t find the 3 finger drag. Now, all is right in the world. But, I mean, seriously, 3 finger ain’t under the trackpad system panel?! WTHey… Apple, please don’t move the most important feature of the trackpad ever again.

  2. Steve says:

    To bad it’s not in Mavericks. Still, good tip.

  3. Icebox says:

    I’ve had mine set up “without drag lock” for a long time. I just use my index finger to do quick light double tap and then move my finger on the trackpad to wherever I want my file placed. Love this feature.

  4. Kostas says:

    A few OS X releases back I used to have both gestures enabled. I used to love it because I preferred to use the double tap when lets say I wanted to select text and the three finger gesture when I wanted to quickly move a window around. Whatever I’ve tried so far I can’t find a way to get this back. Does anyone know if its still possible to enable both gestures at the same time? Thanks.

    • sanjay says:

      I’ve got exactly the same problem, and I cannot find the way to have both at the same time in Yosemite. Can someone help ? Thanks !!

  5. Juanfal says:

    Since, after much struggle, I found it, just to help a new Mac user, I have ended thinking how many changes need OS X interface to be, at least, coherent. And how far this seems to be from the current prospects of Apple

  6. Rex says:

    I enabled this on my MacBook Pro, didn’t like it, and now my three finger left-right swipe to move between desktops and full screen applications doesn’t work anymore.

    Any ideas on how to get it back?

    Thanks.

    • Mike says:

      That stuff is in the “trackpad” window accessed from the main System Preferences window. I had the opposite problem — I enabled those gestures via Trackpad” and then couldn’t figure out how to turn the three finger drag back on.

  7. Rex says:

    Never mind. I had to go SOMEWHERE else to get that back. It’s weird that everything to do with trackpad gesture configuration isn’t in the same System Preferences option.

  8. Minzp says:

    I despise ALL the Track pads and stick with a Track ball. Best controller type I have been using for around 30 years. Also I have a One finger gesture for all the interfering moves on the newer iOS versions that keep doing the wrong thing on my iPads/iPod Touch. My hand is too old and not as steady as when I was a KID. Turn them OFF ween I can, now if I could just Kill (forever) Notifications on the iOS devises, Apple Give me a Choice.

  9. DB says:

    I tried this trick, didn’t like it, and switched it off. But now my trackpad is ultra sensitive, something it wasn’t before.

    • Ammon says:

      You probably adjusted the trackpad tracking speed settings. Re-adjust them to your prior settings. Tracking speed is in the Trackpad settings and in the Accessibility thing, Apple puts stuff all over the place with not much thought to it sometimes – design by committee is the norm in modern OS X and iOS, didn’t used to be that way!

  10. erica says:

    hi,

    i don’t have the 3 finger drag option under trackpad options in accesibility. i only have the other two drag options. i AM running 10.11 on a MacBook Pro (15-inch Early 2008) and I have all other gestures that every other new trackpad has. any ideas?

    thanks

  11. Ren says:

    Talking about trackpad, I highly recommend BETTERTOUCHTOOL (https://www.boastr.net).
    I promise you will have much better use of your well loved trackpad. Free app by the way.
    You can assign that 3-fingers swipe!

  12. Caroline says:

    Hello everyone

    I don’t have, as Erica also posts, the 3 finger drag option under trackpad options in accesibility. I only have the other two drag options… Can this option be found anywhere else? I just had my Mac in for repair, and it came back without my previous installations :-/

  13. grateful citizen of the world says:

    I never really post comments for things like these, yet, YOU HAVE NO IDEA how long i’ve searched to have this option again (i’ve had it before but for some reason it stopped working); so thank you, whomever you may be – much love!

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