How To Take Screenshots On Your Mac: Tips & Tools
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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 Everything You Need To Know About Mac OS X Keyboard Shortcuts Everything You Need To Know About Mac OS X Keyboard Shortcuts No matter what operating system or program you're using, keyboard shortcuts are a tool you can use to make things quite a bit easier for yourself. Simply not having to take your hands off the... Read More 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.

Additional Controls

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 Search More Efficiently In Mac OS X With Our Top Spotlight Tips Search More Efficiently In Mac OS X With Our Top Spotlight Tips Spotlight has been a killer Mac feature for years, with Cupertino regularly schooling Redmond in the art of desktop search. Here are a few tips to help you find more on your Mac. Read More 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 These 6 Awesome Terminal Commands Will Boost Your MacBook These 6 Awesome Terminal Commands Will Boost Your MacBook You can only cram so much into graphical user interface before it becomes cluttered, so it should come as no big surprise that you can do some really cool things using the Mac Terminal. Read More ); 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 How To Change The Default Screenshot Image Format & Other Properties [Mac] How To Change The Default Screenshot Image Format & Other Properties [Mac] Read More , use this command:

defaults write 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 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.

How To Take Screenshots On Your Mac: Tips & Tools terminal folder e1433772244522

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 disable-shadow -bool true && killall SystemUIServer

To turn it back on, just use this:

defaults write 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 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 How To Take A Better Screenshot Image With Jing (Mac) How To Take A Better Screenshot Image With Jing (Mac) Read More 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 Monosnap: A Fast, Free, Cloud-based, Cross-Platform Screen Capture Application Monosnap: A Fast, Free, Cloud-based, Cross-Platform Screen Capture Application Read More 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.

Screenshot Mastery

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!

Explore more about: OS X Yosemite, Screen Capture.

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  1. Susan
    February 14, 2017 at 4:20 am

    Extra useful tips and commands, thanks for publishing them. Now if someone just could tell me how I can paste a screen shot or a capture of a screen section into Word, i'd be ecstatic. I have the images on the clipboard, I can paste them into Mail but not into Word (it just pastes the name of the .png file)....

    • Dann Albright
      February 19, 2017 at 2:12 am

      Have you tried saving them and using the Insert menu? That might be your best bet.

      • Susan
        February 19, 2017 at 4:34 am

        Not until now. Insert/picture/from file and select the worked.

        I could never understood why Apple is making everything so hard to figure out when it is supposed to be a very user friendly environment. It is not. Having to press 3 or 4 or 5 keys at the same time to accomplish something is ludicrous. I used to be a Windows user and while that environment is not by any means perfect, it used to so much simpler to use. Drop down menus with clear selection options instead of hidden symbols and very obscure ways of doing things that require one to keep looking for how to do things.

        • Dann Albright
          March 9, 2017 at 1:03 am

          I actually just built up a Windows computer, and I think the Mac screenshot keys are way better than the Snipping Tool. I actually found an app that lets me use the Mac shortcuts on Windows, and it's a lot more efficient!