How to take screenshots on Mac OS X

How to take screenshots on Mac OS X How to take screenshots on Mac OS X

Taking screenshots on your Mac is quite a simple process, and it can be useful in many situations. For example, if you want to take a picture of a funny conversation you might have had with a friend and post it online or if you want to show an error that occurred on your Mac to a technical expert, then capturing your screen and saving it as an image file is always a good solution, since it is much easier than explaining what's going on. Regardless of your needs, Mac OS X provides you with several ways in which you can take you screenshots, and I will describe each method in the guide below.

Take screenshots by using keyboard shortcuts

Mac OS X comes with a built-in feature that allows you to quickly capture your screen simply by using keyboard commands. Depending on the command used to take the screenshot, the images will be saved either on your desktop or they will be copied to the clipboard so that you could paste them wherever you will want. Without further ado, here are the above mentioned commands and their roles:

  • Command + Shift + 3  (full-screen capture to desktop) - By pressing this combination, you will take a screenshot of the entire screen, and the image will be saved on your desktop.
  • Command + Shift + 4  (capture area to desktop) - After pressing this key combination, you will have to click on a location on your screen and then drag to select an area you want to take a screenshot of. The resulting photo will be saved on your desktop. You should know that, while dragging, you could also hold Shift, Option, or the Space bar keys to adjust the area. This method can also be used to take screenshots of drop-down menus (open the menu and press the key combination) or other interactive elements.

    Area SelectionArea Selection

  • Command + Shift +4 and hit Space  (capture window to desktop) - This combination will allow you to take a screenshot of a window and save the image on your desktop. After pressing the keys and hitting the Space bar, you will have to click on the window that you want to capture.

    Capture WindowCapture Window

  • Command + Control + Shift + 3  (full-screen capture to clipboard) -  This combination of keys will let you take a screenshot of your entire screen and save the image to the clipboard, instead than on your desktop.
  • Command + Control + Shift + 4  (capture area to clipboard) -  After pressing this combination, you can start selecting an area on your screen that will be captures as an image. The resulting photo will be saved to the clipboard.
  • Command + Control + Shift + 4 and Space  (capture window to clipboard) - Once you have pressed the keys and hitting the Space bar, you will have to click on a window in order to capture it. The screenshot will be saved to the clipboard.
You might want to know that the screenshots created using this method will be saved in PNG.

Using Preview to take screenshots

Preview appPreview app

You might not know this, but Preview, Mac OS X's default image and PDF document viewer, also comes with a handy screen capture feature. Another good thing about Preview is the fact that it offers some basic editing tools, so that you can quickly edit your screenshots (like, maybe, adding arrows or circling areas to highlight a certain item) and gives you the possibility to export your captured images in various graphics formats.

In order to do that, after launching Preview, go to the "File" menu and click on the "Take a screenshot" option. Once you have done that, you will notice that Preview offers you three (3) ways in which you can capture images: "From Selection" - take a screenshot of an area from your screen, "From Window" - take screenshot of an opened window and "From Entire Screen" - take a full-screen screenshot.

Screen CaptureScreen Capture

After taking your screenshot, the image will appear in Preview, from where you can easily edit it or save it in any desired location and in whichever format you want.

Using the Grab application

Did you know that Mac OS X comes with a built-in screen capture application? Well, if you didn't, then it is time to meet Grab. After launching this utility (by accessing the Utilities folder under Applications), all you have to do is click on the "Capture" menu item and select what type of screenshot you want to take. Just as with the above mentioned methods of taking screenshots, Grab, gives you the possibility to capture areas of your screen, take a screenshot of the entire screen or of a specific window.


Additionally, this app offers you a special method of capturing images of your screen, called "Timed Screen". This option allows you to take a screenshot of your entire desktop after a 10 (ten) seconds delay. It can prove to be quite useful when dealing with interactive items that collapse or disappear when they are not focused.

You don't have to always click on the "Capture" and select which type of screenshot you want to take, because Grab also provides you with hotkeys that you can use to call each screen capture method. You can even change the default hotkeys, among other things (like the default directory where the images are saved), by accessing the settings menu.

Take screenshots using other applications

Beside the methods of taking screenshots presented above, there are also many other third-party applications that you can use to capture your screen (or areas of it). Many of these tools come with various extra features and might come in handy if you are looking for things like advanced image editing options or the possibility to save the images in some specific format. So, if you want to use third-party programs to take screenshots, then apps like Lightshot, Skitch, SnagIt or Jing might prove to be what you need.


As you can see, there are many ways in which you can take capture your Mac's screen. I recommend you try the methods that Mac OS X already provides you with and, if you are not satisfied, then you can opt for other third-party applications to help you with taking your screenshots.

Alternative downloads

  • Lightshot Lightshot free mac Lightshot offers you a fast way to take a customizable screenshots. Download
  • Skitch Skitch free mac Screen capture tool for Mac computers. Download
  • Snagit Snagit $74.15 mac Create images and videos to clearly get your point across. Download