How To Change The Default Screenshot Image Format & Other Properties [Mac]

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Let’s cut to the chase and begin with the basics. Do you know the common screenshot keyboard shortcuts? If not, this would be a good time to memorise them.

Command+Shift+3 – Takes a screenshot of the entire screen. Command+Shift+4 – Allows you to take selective screenshots. Command+Shift+4 then hit Spacebar – Takes a screenshot of the highlighted window/area.
Command+Control+Shift+3 or Command+Control+Shift+4 – Takes the screenshot and stores it on the clipboard.

By default, the screenshots are formatted as PNG images and saved to the Desktop. Today, we will look into a few tricks to modify how Mac OS X deals with screenshots.

Change The Image Format

PNG is a a fantastic image format with great quality but I have quite a lot of friends who run Windows and they have no idea what to do when they get a PNG in the mail. To change the default image format to JPG, here’s what I did.

Launch Terminal from ~/Applications/Utilities. Then enter this line of code:

defaults write com.apple.screencapture type jpg

And then this one to implement the change:

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killall SystemUIServer

You’ll notice your menubar refresh itself, then you know you’ve done it right. Try it out.

The supported image formats are: JPG, PDF, GIF, TIF, BMP, PNG and a couple of others but these are the most popular.

Change The Destination Folder

Captured screenshots are automatically saved on the Desktop. This is great except when making screenshots is a staple of your job, like mine. In this case, I would much prefer then screenshots to be saved in a folder within a pre-defined location, rather than litter my desktop.

In this example, I’m setting the destination folder to “Screenshots” within my Documents folder. Here’s how the command should be entered in Terminal:

defaults write com.apple.screencapture location ~/Documents/Screenshots/

Some users report that the full path to the folder should be entered although I’ve found that the command above works. If it doesn’t work for you, then enter this instead:

defaults write com.apple.screencapture location /Users/[your username here]/Documents/Screenshots/

Then to implement the change, enter:

killall SystemUIServer

Keep in mind this modification will only work if the destination folder exists i.e. if the “Screenshots” folder was deleted, the screenshot won’t be saved and there will be an error instead.

Remove Shadows From Window Captures

By pressing Command+Shift+4 then hitting Spacebar, you can automatically grab a screenshot of an entire window and its shadow. It looks very pretty but the image won’t save well in JPG because of the shadow’s transparency.

To get rid of the shadow and only capture the window, enter this line of code in Terminal:

defaults write com.apple.screencapture disable-shadow -bool true

Then to implement the change, enter:

killall SystemUIServer

To revert the modification and restore shadows, enter:

defaults write com.apple.screencapture disable-shadow -bool false

How’s how a window capture screenshot looks like with the shadow:

Without the shadow, the image is more clean-cut and it can be saved as a JPG. It also saves you a lot of time from cropping.

Rename The Filename’s Prefix

In Snow Leopard, screenshots are saved as “Screen shot [datestamp] at [timestamp]” by default. Unfortunately, there’s no way to remove the date and timestamp from the filename unless a script is used to rename the output filename. Luckliy, you can change the prefix — the “screen shot” part. To do this, enter the following line of code in Terminal:

defaults write com.apple.screencapture name prefix

Substitute prefix with your desired filename and you’re set. Then enter this to implement the change:

killall SystemUIServer

Did you already know the tips above or was it all a learning experience? What other “hacks” do you use to modify your screenshots? Tell us in the comments.

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Comments (8)
  • Liesl

    First, THANKS.
    Sec, after changing to jpg, can i go back and forth? how?

  • CDK

    I won’t bore you with my job description, but you’ve changed my life and brought me from the brink of suicide.

  • Dom

    Perfect example, of “how-tos” should be: straight down to the essence, summary of the basics, plain and simple explainations for the advanced. I owe you, Jackson! Cutting away the shadows of window captures in “Photo Shop” drove me crazy..

  • Alody

    Thank you very much!!!
    It works!!!

  • Johnna

    Hey I tried your first method to change the image format to jpg and now I can’t even take screen shots at all, none of the shortcuts work anymore! How do I restore the original settings?

    • Jackson Chung

      Of course I’ve tried it. Have you entered the “killall SystemUIServer” command in Terminal?

      To restore to the original settings, enter these 2 commands in Terminal:

      defaults write com.apple.screencapture type jpg

      killall SystemUIServer

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For more details, please read our disclosure.
Affiliate Disclamer

This review may contain affiliate links, which pays us a small compensation if you do decide to make a purchase based on our recommendation. Our judgement is in no way biased, and our recommendations are always based on the merits of the items.

For more details, please read our disclosure.