Specifically, I'd like to change the transparency of an already open Terminal.app window. I know I can change the settings and then open a new window, but I can't figure out how to make an already existing window transparent.

And no, I'm not interested in switching to another terminal program, thanks.

EDIT: OS X 10.6.4 (Snow Leopard)

5 Answers 5


Which version of Mac OS X?

In Terminal.app, if you change the settings of any of the presets it will affect all open windows that use that setting. (I can confirm this for 10.4+)

So, if you click on the preset you used for the open Terminal window (most likely the one with Default in grey text below it) and go to the Window tab you can click on the Color picker under the Background header and change the Opacity.


There is an app enhancer Afloat, which can change transparency of any cocoa window. Also it can convert any window to overlay, force it to float above others, pin it to desktop and some other stuff.


Chealion's answer works, and I'll be marking it as the accepted answer, but I figured out another way to do this also, cause I'm too impatient to wait for answers:

  1. Create a new set of settings with the desired level of opacity in Terminal -> Preferences
  2. Make the desired terminal window active and Show Inspector for it: Shell -> Show Inspector or Command+I
  3. Choose the Settings tab in the Inspector and select the new set of settings. Viola! That one window is now transparent, without affecting the others that were started with the same set of settings.

The reason I wanted to do this was so I could put this window on top of another window that had similar (but not identical) output and visually inspect to see the difference. Consider the following:

alt text


alt text

It is much easier to quickly glance at the screen and spot the difference between the two.

  • 1
    That is an interesting use of transparency. Cool. I do wonder, though -- if these texts are things you have on disk, or if you can pipe them or save them to disk, you could use a variety of diff tools for the same thing. There's "diff" at the unix command line; there's FileMerge which installs with the Apple XCode tools; there's the cross-platform DiffMerge program; and many others. Maybe this would be a more general solution, especially when your data doesn't fit on one screen?
    – Michael H.
    Jul 13, 2010 at 23:47
  • No, they are on different remote systems, and transferring the files would be quite a pain (the output I'm comparing is a package list that is generated in a restricted shell). Getting the output onto a system so that I could diff it would require me to unlock support mode so I can login to an unrestricted shell, then collect the output of pkg_info to a file, transfer it to my system, then repeat for the other box. If I had hundreds of pages to diff, then it would be worth it, but with only 5-10 pages to compare, making transparency work is far more convenient. Jul 14, 2010 at 0:27
  • Neat use of transparency for sure.
    – Chealion
    Jul 14, 2010 at 1:40

As of Mac OS X Lion 10.7, Terminal allows separate opacity settings for active and inactive windows. So, you can customize a single settings profile to have the frontmost window be more transparent and background windows more opaque.

Terminal > Preferences > Settings > [profile] > Window > Background > Color

Opacity and blur settings are in the color palette that appears when you click on the color control. There is a checkbox to enable different settings for inactive/background windows.


The question is about setting the opacity for Terminal, but if someone is interested in how to globally set transparency off, go to System Preferences -> Accessibility -> Display. Then make sure that "Reduce transparency" is selected. I found this here: https://www.tekrevue.com/tip/reduce-transparency-effects-os-x-yosemite/ for Yosemite, but it works in El Capitan.

  • Since this is tangential to the question, it might be better as a comment than an answer. The question is specifically about changing it after the window is already open.
    – fixer1234
    Jan 19, 2019 at 21:48
  • Maybe you're right @fixer1234. Perhaps it's not exactly tangential though; it provides a solution to the original problem, even though it will affect other applications as well. I actually found this question because I was looking for the answer I gave (I found it after I found this question), so maybe having my answer as an answer--which makes it easier to notice and read--is useful to someone. I don't have strong feelings about this. I wouldn't want a downvote, but I don't care whether this gets upvoted. Whatever is most useful. If you still think it should be a comment, I'll move it.
    – Mars
    Jan 19, 2019 at 22:24

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