There are many ways to take screenshots with OS X, using both built-in and third-party tools — each with its advantages and disadvantages. Here’s everything you need to know about taking screenshots on your Mac, from keyboard shortcuts to great apps.
Screenshot Keyboard Shortcuts in OS X
There are three different OS X keyboard shortcuts that you can use to take screenshots, each that covers a different area.
Command + Shift + 3
This keyboard shortcut will take a screenshot of your entire screen and save it the desktop as a .PNG image.
Command + Shift + 4
This combination allows you to select the part of your screen that you’d like to include in the screenshot. After pressing these keys, your mouse will turn into a crosshair that you can click and drag across the screen; once you’ve selected the area that you want, let go of the mouse button, and the screenshot will be saved to your desktop (if you want to cancel the screenshot, just push escape).
Command + Shift +4 + Spacebar
If you want to capture a specific application window — and nothing else — use this shortcut and then press the spacebar; you’ll see your cursor turn into a camera and the current window will be highlighted. To change the focus to a different window, move the cursor over that window. To switch back to the crosshair, just press the spacebar again.
If you add the control key to any of the combinations above (for example, command+control+shift+4), the image will be copied to the clipboard instead of being saved in the default location (desktop). Pressing shift will lock your adjustments to either the X or Y axis only (depending on how you’re moving the mouse when you press it).
Pressing the option key will scale the selected area from the center, instead of from where you first clicked. And if you hold the spacebar after selecting an area of the screen, you can move the area that will be captured.
Using Grab, OS X’s Built-In Screenshot App
In addition to the keyboard shortcuts listed above, OS X includes an app called Grab that will let you take screenshots. To find Grab, go to Applications > Utilities or use the Spotlight search feature to search for it. When you open it, you won’t seen any windows, but a number of menu options are available.
In the Capture menu, you’ll see Screen, Selection, and Window, which correspond to the options above. The fourth option, Timed Screen, allows you to take a screenshot 10 seconds after pushing the Start Timer button. This is useful for capturing events that need your mouse to be in a certain place (like a tooltip or a menu).
You can also use the Preferences menu to choose a specific cursor to be displayed in your screenshots. Unfortunately, this means that you don’t always get the correct cursor—but that can be solved by using any of the methods below.
Once you’ve captured your shot, you can simply copy it to the clipboard using the Edit menu and paste it into an image editor like Photoshop or Pixelmator for saving as you see fit.
Taking a Screenshot with Preview
One disadvantage of Grab is that there’s no way to change the file type; your screen capture will be saved as a TIFF file, and there’s no way to change that. If you use Preview instead, however, you can save as any file type.
To take a screenshot with Preview, go to File > Take Screen Shot and select the type of shot you’d like to take (unfortunately, there’s no timed screen option). Once you’ve done this, select the location and file type before you save.
Taking Screenshots with Other Apple Programs
Other Apple programs, including Mail and TextEdit, allow you to take screenshots and embed them directly into your document without first saving and finding your image file. Just right-click in the text area and select Capture Selection from Screen (you’ll need to be in rich-text mode for this to work).
While Capture Selection from Screen is the only option available by default, you can add others from the Services preferences. To do this, go to System Preference > Keyboard > Shortcuts and select Services from the menu on the left. Check the boxes for the types of screenshots that you’d like to include in the pop-up menu in these apps.
Customizing Screenshots with the Terminal
You can use the terminal to change some of the behaviors of screenshots (and do lots of other cool things); most of these are very useful and will help you be more efficient in your screenshot-taking. We’ll go through a list here. To get started, open up the Terminal app (in Applications > Utilities).
You can copy and paste the commands below, which have been appended with
killall SystemUIServer — a command which restarts the part of your OS responsible for actioning these changes.
Change the Screenshot File Type
Screenshots are saved by default as PNG files, but you can save them as JPG, BMP, PDF, TIF, and a few other more obscure formats. To change the default screenshot file type, use this command:
defaults write com.apple.screencapture type [type] && killall SystemUIServer
Just replace [type] with the three-letter code for the format you’d like to use.
Change the Screenshot Save Location
By default, your screenshots will be saved to your desktop. If you’d like them to go somewhere, else, you can use the following command:
defaults write com.apple.screencapture location [path] && killall SystemUIServer
You can either type the file location (like
/Users/dann/Documents/Screenshots) or drag-and-drop the folder into the terminal to populate it with the proper path.
Disable OS X’s Window Shadow in Screenshots
To make your screenshot “pop” a bit more, OS X includes a small shadow around the border of the window when you take a screenshot of a single application. If you’d rather not have this, you can turn it off with this command:
defaults write com.apple.screencapture disable-shadow -bool true && killall SystemUIServer
To turn it back on, just use this:
defaults write com.apple.screencapture disable-shadow -bool false && killall SystemUIServer
Change the Default Filename for Screenshots
When you take screenshots with the keyboard shortcuts, the images are saved with pretty unexciting names, like “Screen Shot 2015-06-09 at 10.08.23.” To change that, you just need to put this into Terminal:
defaults write com.apple.screencapture name [file name] && killall SystemUIServer
If you enter “Spreadsheets” as the [name] variable (you’ll need to use double quotes), your screenshots will now have filenames like “Spreadsheets 2015-06-09 at 10.08.23.” It’s not a big difference, but it might help you organize your files if you take a lot of screenshots.
The Best Screenshot Apps for Mac OS X
If you want more features than OS X provides for taking screenshots, there are a number of apps that you can use. Here are four of the best.
It’s free, it takes both screenshots and videos, it uploads your files to the cloud where you can easily share them, and it has a relatively easy interface. For all of these reasons, Jing is a fantastic option if you’re looking for a more robust screenshot solution than the tools that come with OS X.
We’ve talked about why Skitch is a good option for simple image editing, but it also has built-in screenshot and timed screenshot capabilities. You can annotate your images directly from the app, too, saving you from having to open your file in another program to edit it.
Another well-regarded free app, Monosnap allows you to take screenshots and edit them from the same app; you can add text and arrows, just like in Skitch, making it easy to draw attention to a specific part of the screen. You can store your files in the cloud and share them, as well.
This app makes it super easy to move your screenshots after you take them; just use it to create the image, then drag it to Mail, Finder, Preview, TextEdit, or wherever you want it to go. Couldn’t be easier.
If you’ve made it this far, you’re officially an OS X screenshot master. You know the keyboard shortcuts, the hidden options, the other apps that can natively take screenshots, and some of the best third-party options. Now that you have all of these skills, you shouldn’t need to run a search for screenshot info again!
What’s your favorite screenshot tip? Is there anything you haven’t been able to figure out how to do? Share your thoughts and questions below!