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

Jackson Chung 30-12-2009

How To Change The Default Screenshot Image Format & Other Properties [Mac] grabLet’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 type jpg

And then this one to implement the change:


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 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 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.


How To Change The Default Screenshot Image Format & Other Properties [Mac] selective 1

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

defaults write disable-shadow -bool true

Then to implement the change, enter:

killall SystemUIServer

To revert the modification and restore shadows, enter:


defaults write disable-shadow -bool false

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

How To Change The Default Screenshot Image Format & Other Properties [Mac] shadow1

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.

How To Change The Default Screenshot Image Format & Other Properties [Mac] shadow2

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 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.

Related topics: Image Editor, Screen Capture.

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  1. Rich Ale
    March 7, 2016 at 10:41 pm

    After having “launched Terminal” from “Utilities”, I get a new screen showing just this:

    new —— - bash —— 80x24
    Last login: Mon Mar 7 14:27:08 on ttys000
    New-User:~ new$

    It appears SO techno-cryptic that I hesitate to just type in the codes you’ve suggested,
    Does this “new - bash’' window I’ve opened appear to be the right thing,
    and will “Terminal” know I am choosing this Edit Option for my TextEdit app???

    Maybe I'm the least IT knowledgable reader you have, but I'm not the ONLY one who may benefit from more descriptive instructions. I don't want to have to research UNDOs.

    Thanks for addressing this png conversion issue though. I just need a bit more help.

  2. Liesl
    May 18, 2015 at 2:14 pm

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

  3. CDK
    March 9, 2010 at 5:04 pm

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

  4. Dom
    March 6, 2010 at 8:14 am

    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..

    • Jackson Chung
      March 6, 2010 at 8:23 am

      Thanks, I appreciate it

  5. Alody
    February 28, 2010 at 8:05 am

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

  6. Johnna
    February 4, 2010 at 1:47 pm

    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
      February 4, 2010 at 5:34 pm

      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 type jpg

      killall SystemUIServer

  7. Jim Reid
    January 4, 2010 at 10:03 am

    Thank you very much!!!! this really makes storing and using screen shots MUCH easier! I cant believe how I have wasted so much time over the years going through unknown screen shots sitting on my desktop. Thank you!