How To Save Email Messages As Document Files

If you need to save an important email as a document rather than simply marking it in the Mail app, you can export a message in four different ways. You can save it as plain text, rich text, or as a raw .eml file. The latter is useful for seeing the message in Mail as it was original displayed. You can also export as a PDF file to insure that the message looks good and remains unchanged even after online images no longer exist.
Video Transcript / Captions
Closed captioning for this video is available on YouTube: How To Save Email Messages As Document Files.

So every once in awhile when you're dealing with email you get a message that's very important or you need to actually save it out as a document somewhere. So you don't want to just put it in a special mailbox or flag it or something like that. You actually want to take it out or mail and have it saved separately. Maybe put it into a project folder for work or something like that. There are several ways to do that. Let's look at each one so you can figure out which one is right for a situation.

Here's the message I've selected. Let's say I'm going to go ahead and save this out as a file. I go to File, Save As and there are actually three different options here. Under Format there's Raw Message Source, Rich Text Format, or Plain Text. I'm going to try each one. I'm going to save to the desktop. Notice you get a title here or a file name that's the subject of the email by default. But you can change it to whatever you want.

Dot .eml is what you get when you select Raw Message Source. So let's save that out. Save As and do it as a Rich Text Format and you get .rtf for rich text format. I'll save that out. Save As for the third one let's do Plain Text and .txt is what we get there.

Now there's a fourth option as well. This isn't in the Save As menu. This is separate. It's Export as PDF. When you select that you get a .pdf. You can hit Show Details and you can actually change things like the size of the page for the pdf to format itself to. But most of the time you're just going to use it as the default in your system. I'm going to save that out and I get my fourth option. So let's take a look those.

I'm going to hide Mail here and here are the four files. Now what happens when, let's start with .txt. When I double click on that and it's going to open up in TextEdit. It's actually going to bring it up and here's what it looks like. It's going to look kind of techie. It's going to give you From, Subject, Date, To. A bunch of header information here. It's going to translate everything to text. This isn't going to be good if there's images or if there's nice formatting in the email. So if you're just trying to save the text of the email, maybe somebody sent you a list of information, this is probably a good option. But it's not for anything that's remotely complicated.

RTF is going to give you some text formatting. You can see how this link here is blue and underlined. There's the bold here that was kept. So a certain amount of formatting is going to be kept in place with rtf. A better option. But it's still not going to be perfect. It's not going to look exactly like it does in the message.

Now, .eml. What happens when I double click that. That actually is going to open up Mail and open up a window showing that email. So you're going to get something that looks exactly like it did in the Mail app before. But it's not showing you a message you have in a mailbox or you're looking at on the server. It's actually going to open this file up and display in a window. Kind of an interesting option.

Now lastly we've got pdf. PDF is going to act as if it printed the document. So you can see it here. It looks just like a printout except that it's doing it as a file. This is a great option if you really want to preserve something and not rely on having the Mail app. Maybe you're sending it to somebody and they don't have a Mac and they're not using the Mail app. Maybe you just don't want to strip all the formatting out. You just really want to have it look like it does as if you were printing the email on a piece of paper except you have it now in digital format.

So those are the different options. As I said formatting is important. Let's take a look at an example here. If I go and I look at say something like this email from iBooks. You can see it's nicely formatted here. If I were to save this out as plain text and then let me save it out as rich text and for good measure let's do it as raw message source and let's do it also as, not using Save As but Export as pdf. I can save it those ways. So this is a highly formatted thing. Let's look at it now.

Plain Text is going to be like this. The rtf is going to be a little bit nicer but it's not going to have the imbedded images and other things. The eml is going to open up in Mail and is going to have everything. That's rather nice! The pdf is going to look as if I've printed it. Multiple pages here so that's great. So in choosing those consider all the factors. It's an easy way to choose. Also, of course, file size is a factor. This is going to be small. rtf is going to be a little bit bigger. Not too bad. eml is going to be the size of the original email. In this case 72k for that. pdf could be very much larger as it's rendering all this stuff out. So if you're doing it for a large number of emails .pdf may not be as great as .eml or even .rtf for you.

Comments: 13 Responses to “How To Save Email Messages As Document Files”

    8 months ago

    Great post! I like having multiple formats. I only ever exported to PDF. Thanks!

    Russ Tolman
    8 months ago

    Hi, when saving as pdf: I commend-p to print and then save as pdf. not sure that it makes much difference. Just easy for me to do.

    8 months ago

    Lots to think about Gary. I’ve not considered any of the options since my method has always been to drag the email to the desktop as an .eml. It seems to work although I’ve never really known whether the file was being saved on the desktop or in email itself. After deleting the email in Mail, the file was still available on the. desktop. Anyway, lots new options now. Thanks for all your help

    8 months ago

    Good one, Gary. But I hope people don’t think that this way of saving an email is better than using separate mailboxes to save and organize messages in Mail. Saving email messages using one of the methods you have demonstrated should be, as you pointed out, for special cases.

    8 months ago

    Is there is a way to get the email into a program such as pages for editing. For example if I wanted to print out an email to use as a handout for a meeting but I wanted to first add my own paragraph of info at the top. I tried just now with a plain txt and it worked fine but with a formatted email like you used in your second example it didn’t work.

    8 months ago

    Keith: Why not just copy and paste? Then you get the formatting too. Drag and drop work as well — select the text in the message, drag that block of text into a Pages document.

    8 months ago

    I have used Save As for many years but also tell my students to save the resulting document to a folder for the subject in their Document file.

    Marsha Avery
    8 months ago

    This looks easy in the video but it doesn’t work in real life on my Mac (high Sierra) or using gmail. If I switch to apple mail, it still doesn’t work as shown and I can’t get the computer to let me save it to desktop! That choice isn’t available. I want to save my old emails in case I stop using gmail. Be nice to figure this out.

    8 months ago

    Marsha: What do you mean by “that choice isn’t available?” Is it not there in the menu? or is it grayed out? Do you have a message selected? Is it Save As that is missing/gray or Export As PDF? Or both? The only thing that I can think of that would make them both gray is if you don’t have any message selected. And what do you mean y “switch to Apple mail?” This will work regardless of where the message came from, but what are you doing to “switch?”

    Ann DeKalb
    8 months ago

    Thanks, Gary. I’d like to be able to save whole email folders to archive projects. I’ve culled the folder so it is just important emails, but still tedious to do one at a time. Is it possible to select one of these options for a group of emails? Thanks for your help.

    8 months ago

    Ann: This video is about saving a single message. But a good option for archiving a group of messages as a file would be to select the message, File, Print, and then Save As PDF. This saves all of the messages you have selected as a single PDF. So you can save a Emails.pdf file along with the rest of your project files.

    Julie Wasmus
    8 months ago

    I am using Outlook Version 16.15 for Mac and do not have the option to “Save As”; however, I can Export a message as an OLM file. Steve’s comment above to drag the e-mail to the desktop worked for me, saved as an RTFD. Is the difference that you are using the Mail app?

    8 months ago

    Julie: Mail and Outlook are two completely different apps made by different companies. So they are going to have different options available.

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