Taking Screenshots in Mac OS X

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There are several keyboard combinations that can be used to take screenshots in OS X. The SystemUIServer process handles these commands.

Contents

Shortcuts

  • Command-Shift-3: Take a screenshot of the screen, and save it as a file on the desktop
  • Command-Shift-4, then select an area: Take a screenshot of an area and save it as a file on the desktop
  • Command-Shift-4, then space, then click a window: Take a screenshot of a window and save it as a file on the desktop
  • Command-Control-Shift-3: Take a screenshot of the screen, and save it to the clipboard
  • Command-Control-Shift-4, then select an area: Take a screenshot of an area and save it to the clipboard
  • Command-Control-Shift-4, then space, then click a window: Take a screenshot of a window and save it to the clipboard

In Leopard and later, the following keys can be held down while selecting an area (via Command-Shift-4 or Command-Control-Shift-4):

  • Space, to lock the size of the selected region and instead move it when the mouse moves
  • Shift, to resize only one edge of the selected region
  • Option, to resize the selected region with its center as the anchor point

Formats

Different versions of OS X have different formats for screenshots.

  • Mac OS X 10.2 (Jaguar): jpg
  • Mac OS X 10.3 (Panther): pdf
  • Mac OS X 10.4 (Tiger) and later: png

In Mac OS X 10.4 and later, the default screenshot format can be changed, by opening Terminal (located at /Applications/Utilities/Terminal) and typing in:

defaults write com.apple.screencapture type image_format
killall SystemUIServer

Where image_format is one of jpg, tiff, pdf, png, bmp or pict (among others). If you omit the second line, you will need to log out and in again for the change to take effect.

Changing Screenshot Options

Various other screenshot settings can also be changed via the Terminal, listed below. These commands must be followed by the following command for them to take effect:

killall SystemUIServer
Setting Key Parameters Example
Screenshot format type image format
(eg jpg, tiff, pdf, png, bmp or pict)
defaults write com.apple.screencapture type png
Location to save screenshots location path

~/Desktop/ (default)

defaults write com.apple.screencapture location ~/Pictures/Screenshots/
Whether screenshots of windows should show shadows disable-shadow -bool true to disable shadows

-bool false to enable shadows (default)

defaults write com.apple.screencapture disable-shadow -bool true
Filename prefix for screenshots name Filename

"Screen Shot" (default)

defaults write com.apple.screencapture name "Screen Capture"

Results in filenames such as "Screen Capture 2013-07-12 at 2.24PM"

Grab and Preview

Instead of using the keyboard shortcuts above, screenshots can be taken by using the Grab application included with OS X. It is located at /Applications/Utilities/Grab.

Preview can also be used to take screenshots, by using the "Take Screen Shot" submenu in the File menu.

From the Terminal

The screencapture command in the Terminal can also be used to capture screenshots, and is useful for scripts. Here is an example.

screencapture -iW ~/Desktop/screen.jpg

From Other Applications

In Snow Leopard and later, screenshots can be embedded automatically in text editing areas of most applications, such as Mail and TextEdit. Right-click (or control-click) in the text area, choose "Capture Selection from Screen", and select an area of the screen. Alternatively, this command can be selected from the Services menu in the application menu. The screenshot will be inserted at the current cursor location.

Although only "Capture Selection from Screen" is provided by default, other commands can be added for inserting screenshots of the whole screen, or of the whole screen using a timer. To add these (as of Mountain Lion), go to System Preferences > Keyboard > Keyboard Shortcuts > Services, and check the corresponding commands in the Pictures section. Keyboard shortcuts can also be added. Note that these changes may not take effect immediately in all applications.

Third Party Applications

There are a huge number of third party applications that can be used to take screenshots. Several popular ones are listed below:

  • Jing Great for screen shots, video recording and has an extremely useful online sharing feature.
  • Snapz Pro X is very popular and can even record movies. It has a large range of features, and is shareware.
  • SnapNDrag is also popular and offers several features in addition to those offered by the default screen capture tools. With SnapNDrag, users take a screenshot, then drag it to their destination. SnapNDrag is freeware, but also has a pro version.
  • Screen Mimic is shareware that can be used to record animations of your desktop to .swf files for tutorials, software demonstrations, etc.