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When you want to capture the screen on macOS, you have both native and third-party tools to choose from. Let’s see how to make the best of the screenshot options on your Mac and explore some useful tricks along the way.
How to Take a Screenshot on a Mac With Keyboard Shortcuts
macOS has a few default keyboard shortcuts to help you capture the screen instantly. We’ll go through them one by one, as which one to use depends on what exactly you want to take a screenshot of.
(Having trouble with your Mac’s screenshot shortcuts? Ensure that you haven’t disabled them under System Preferences > Keyboard > Shortcuts > Screenshots.)
Capture the Entire Screen
For this, you need the shortcut Cmd + Shift + 3. It takes a snapshot of the entire screen and saves it to the desktop as a PNG image.
Want to copy the screenshot to the clipboard to paste it elsewhere instead of saving it automatically? Add the Control key to the keyboard shortcut—hit Control + Cmd + Shift + 3. For more on this basic copy-paste procedure, see how to copy and paste on your Mac.
Capture a Part of the Screen
You’ll need to hit Cmd + Shift + 4 if you want to snap a specific portion of the screen. This shortcut turns the cursor into a crosshair; you can then click and drag it across the part of the screen you want to capture.
While making the selection, hold down the Shift key if you want to limit your adjustments to either the X or Y axis. To resize your selection proportionally from the center, hold down the Option key. And if you want to move the selection, hold down Space instead.
(Changed your mind about taking the screenshot? No problem. Hit the Escape key to cancel the action.)
Once you’re satisfied with the selection, release the mouse. The screenshot then ends up on the desktop as a PNG file. As above, if you want to copy the captured image to the clipboard instead of saving it, you’ll need to tweak the shortcut a bit. Modify the shortcut to Control + Cmd + Shift + 4 to copy what you capture.
Capture an Application Window
Want to take a screenshot of the active window? First hit Cmd + Shift + 4. Then hit Space, and you’ll see the crosshair turn into a camera.
The active window appears highlighted, and if you click the camera, you get a screenshot of the window. Before clicking, you can also choose to move the focus of the camera to a different window.
If you want to take a timed screenshot, you’ll need to open your Mac’s built-in screenshot utility. We’ll discuss this in the next section.
How to Take a Screenshot on a Mac With the Screenshot App
Under Applications > Utilities, you’ll find your Mac’s stock screen capture app, aptly named Screenshot. You can also bring up this app with the shortcut Cmd + Shift + 5.
(If your Mac isn’t running Mojave or later, look for the Grab app instead of Screenshot in the Utilities folder.)
With Screenshot, Apple has simplified the whole screen capture process. The app is useful if you prefer a more point-and-click approach over keyboard shortcuts.
Screenshot’s toolbar has three buttons that make screen capture on macOS quick and painless: Capture Entire Screen, Capture Selected Window, and Capture Selected Portion. (The app also has a couple of buttons for screen recording.)
For timed selections, click on the Options button in the toolbar. You’ll find the timer options in the menu that shows up.
After you take a screenshot using any of the options above, you’ll see a tiny thumbnail preview at the bottom-right of the screen. Click on it to reveal a full-fledged preview window with tools to edit, annotate, and delete the screenshot. Here, you can add text, sketches, shapes, and even your signature to a screenshot.
The full-sized preview window also contains an option to open the screenshot with other Mac apps like Notes, Mail, and Reminders.
If you want to turn off the thumbnail feature, uncheck the Show Floating Thumbnail item in the Options menu from the screenshot toolbar.
Configuring Screen Grab Settings on Mac
You might want to, say, change the default screenshot format or change where screenshots save to on your Mac. In such cases, you’ll need to execute a command from the Terminal app. Let’s take a look at three of the most useful commands.
We have appended each command with a second one that’s needed to cement the changes. It reads as follows:
To Change the Default Screenshot Format
You can save screenshots in other formats like JPG, BMP, and PDF. To do so, you’ll need to replace [file type] in the command below with the relevant three-letter format name:
defaults write com.apple.screencapture type [file type] && killall SystemUIServer
To Change Where Screenshots Get Saved
On Mojave and later macOS versions, you can change the default destination folder directly from the Screenshot app. To do this, click on the Options button in the screenshot toolbar and select a folder of your choice under the Save To section of the resulting menu.
On a pre-Mojave Mac, you’ll have to rely on this Terminal command:
defaults write com.apple.screencapture location [path] && killall SystemUIServer
Replace [path] with the new Finder save location that reads something like this:
You can either type the pathname into Terminal, or drag and drop the relevant folder into Terminal to paste its pathname.
Alternatively, you can also copy the pathname and then paste it into Terminal. You’ll find the Copy as Pathname command in the destination folder’s context menu or right-click menu. However, the command appears only when you hold down the Option key while right-clicking.
To Change the Default File Name for Screenshots
If you want to replace the default prefix (Screen Shot) in screenshot names with a different keyword, try this command:
defaults write com.apple.screencapture name [file name] && killall SystemUIServer
Be sure to replace [file name] in the command with the new keyword before execution.
If you’d rather not fiddle with the Terminal, install a utility that lets you tweak macOS settings without Terminal commands.
How to Take a Screenshot on a Mac With Preview
The Preview app on your Mac also allows you to take screenshots. It’s just one of the essential macOS Preview tricks you’ll want to know about.
The advantage of using Preview for screenshots is that you can specify a different file format and save location with each new capture. Of course, you can also instantly edit the screenshot in Preview before saving it.
You’ll find the screenshot tools in Preview under File > Take Screenshot. Unfortunately, a timed screenshot option is missing here.
The Best Screen Capture Apps for Your Mac
Want advanced features that aren’t included in the in-built screen capture tools on your Mac? Try one of the three third-party tools below.
This app sits in your Mac’s menu bar and you can access it with a keyboard shortcut. Monosnap lets you edit screenshots and add arrows, boxes, and text to them. You can also blur elements, highlight specific areas, and upload screenshots to the cloud. Monosnap made it to our list of the top Mac menu bar apps.
Download: Monosnap (Free)
This app lets you capture various onscreen elements and edit/annotate them without having to open another app. Skitch also supports timed screenshots.
Download: Skitch (Free)
Get Snappy if your work involves collaborating on screenshots or “snaps” often. You can not only edit and annotate screenshots as usual, but also share them with ease. The sharing options include a password-protection feature and a self-destruct timer.
Download: Snappy (Free)
Take Screenshots on Other Apple Devices, Too
Now you know how to take a screenshot on your MacBook quickly and efficiently. macOS gives you the tools to capture whatever you need.
Why not master the basics of iPhone screenshots next?