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Tip: Copy, Cut, Paste Icons in Jelly Bean and Ice Cream Sandwich [Beginners’ Guide]

With the introduction of Ice Cream Sandwich (followed by Jelly Bean), Google implemented new icons through their Holo theme and Action Bar to represent the cut, copy, select all, and paste features inside an email, text message/box, or basically anywhere that you would need to perform one of these actions.

With proper research into the issue, a user could find out what these new icons mean, but if you’re new to the Android OS, it could be confusing and intimidating at first. It also doesn’t help that you may see them in an Action Bar at the top of one app and then the bottom of the next app. In some places you will even see the OS spell out “SELECT ALL” or ‘”PASTE,” yet use icons for each in another. Either way, this is what they stand for. 

Copy: The icon on the far left is “Copy.”
Cut: Second to far left is “Cut.”
Paste: In the middle is “Paste.”
Select all: The dotted box with four filled in boxes inside second to right is “Select all.”
Share: On far right we have the “Share” button.

Pro tip:  Long pressing on any action bar icon will help to identify them by popping up a text bar describing the action.

Hopefully this will spare you some confusion in the future when you’re trying to edit some documents.

*Android Beginners Guide is a way for people new to Android to get to learn how Android works. We will be posting many tips and tricks on how to optimize your usage of the Android operating system.

  • Nophie

    I newbie on using android. There’s no paste choice when i browsing on net/ don’t know why. any suggest what application what must i use?

  • JDGfromMTL

    Been using Android since G1, and I have to admit, these icons are confusing to me. Good to know long press activates tool-tip text!

  • bill

    bye bye bionic. hello samsung. been promised update since december. lies lies. must be run by politicians.might need to get rid of verizon too…

  • John Wildman

    Very similar to my quick office app, but often confusing on there as well.
    Although many of us who frequent this site may have been using android for awhile now, it’s nice to see you haven’t forgot about the growing numbers of new users.

  • Nazzi_Muhammad

    Copy/paste is still a PITA on these phones. Especially if you have non-girlie man hands.

  • One of the biggest fails of the ICS/JB redesign. The action bar is very inconsistent. Sometimes on the top, sometimes on the bottom. And sometimes the cut/copy/paste action bar is on the top, sometimes it’s on the bottom. Sometimes it’s blue, sometimes it’s white, sometimes it doesn’t show up at all.

  • nsnsmj

    All you have to do is long press the icon, and a toast will pop up telling you what they do. No offense, but some of you over-complain like children, and just sound kind of slow (see: dumb). The only one that wasn’t obvious to me was the ‘select all’ button. People are too lazy these days. If you are not sure what something does, then all you have to do is try. After seeing what something as simple as an icon does once, you shouldn’t have a problem.

  • Alex

    Woot! my idea was used! http://www.webpagescreenshot.info/img/851346-8142012125524AM

    My next (brilliant) idea -> how to uninstall an application or how to save battery life [screen, look at battery usage, not to use task managers (which everyone seems to use)].

  • Q

    Hahah.. I needed this. I been using Android for a long time. I can root, flash rooms, change every setting on a phone, etc, etc.. For the life of me, I can NEVER remember which icons are which when it comes to cutting and pasting in ICS/JB… They really need to make the icons better.. like “Cut” should be a picture of scissors or something..

  • jonny6pak

    It is interesting to me that these are problematic. These icons are fairly similar to the cut/copy/paste/select all icons used in MS Word and OpenOffice (the paste icon could use some work IMO). It would seem these symbols are not as universal as Google might have hoped. I tend to think word-based icons for these features would be helpful since I was, like many, confused by these icons at first. I don’t have an issue anymore, but I could see it remaining a foreign element to anyone no already on ICS.

  • cell phones come with multiple pamphlets and user manuals, why is this necessary. If they can’t figure out their phone they probably can’t figure out the internet either. Just my 2 cents.

  • Can we please stop this… I come to droid-life for Android news about the latest phones and mods, not to be told how to turn on my phone. If you’re making the noob posts to gain site views can you make a separate section?

    • Liderc

      I think you need to buy the new Nexus QQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQQ.

  • nightscout13

    ** Thumbs up ** What i hate though, is when that paste button gets in the way of underlying buttons, or doesn’t show up when it’s needed…..

  • Thanks for this.

  • Stinker

    The cut and paste icons are part of the new form-before-function aesthetic of Ice Cream Sandwich. There have been a ton of studies and guidelines about UI qualities that improve usability and ICS pretty much reads exactly like what they all say NOT to do.

    The cut icon is the only one that’s obvious and copy is the only other one that makes any sense at all.

    • pookietookie

      Totally agree.

    • jeesung

      i like the new “paper airplane” = Send icon

      • Holy crap, that IS a paper airplane. That makes so much sense now.

    • S_T_R

      Cut is pretty clear, as is select all. The outlier is the paste button. It’s a clipboard, one would expect it to take you to the copy/paste clipboard.

    • PuzzleShot

      Most applications I have used on computers have scissors as cut, two sheets of paper as copy, and a clipboard as paste.

      • Agreed, I don’t have any trouble with these icons at all. The first time I saw them, I knew what they all did.

  • Larizard

    Kellex, do you think it’ll be better to mention how to bring up the Copy/Paste/Select UI in the first place? I think you should add it to the article. Like double tapping a word or long-pressing a word, i don’t even remember….

    • jeesung


      they need to infringe some Apple patents and make that easier 😉

    • j__h

      long press the word.

  • WB

    Does anyone else have your internet browsers lock up and force close when you try to copy? This has driven me nuts ever since I got my S3.

  • Knlegend1

    Can’t lie didn’t understand the icons at first. Thanks

  • Steve Wojciechowski

    Thanks Tim. I’ll admit, when I first got my GNex on launch, I was a bit confused on this. I always wanted to select the “Select All” icon for copy.

  • Bill Stebbins

    You can also long press on them and a label will pop up on the one you long pressed.

    • RedPandaAlex

      That’s probably a better tip. Any icon in the Action Bar, you should be able to long press to see what it does.

      • Larizard

        I agree. Long pressing is most often scoffed at as an unintuitive UI gesture, but for something like a description or label, it should be fine.

  • I’ve had ICS for a month and still had trouble figuring this out. Probably because I don’t copy paste much on my phone, but still.

    • I was definitely confused by these for the first few weeks with ICS. Still to this day, I pause each time before selecting one.

      • pookietookie

        Me too. They just aren’t intuitive.

      • j__h

        It is a bad UI decision. They need some text always present.

    • j__h

      I am not liking the trend… for some apps and some Google UI stuff I find myself wondering what things do and long pressing is slow to find out the one you need if it even is there. I really wish they just put some text there in addition to the icons…