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How to take a screenshot on a Mac

This article was originally published on July 26, 2013. It was last updated on November 23 to reflect the most recent changes. Digital Trends writers Drew Prindle and Tyler Lacoma contributed to this article.

Wondering how to take a screenshot with your Mac? Not to worry – it’s incredibly simple in Mac OS X. Using various keyboard shortcuts you can capture a screenshot of your entire display and everything on it, or you can simply drag a box around the designated area you want to capture. There’s a variety of other screenshot methods — including those for capturing a specific window or growing your selection from the center — all of which produce images you can then use for showing off your latest high score with a friend or further clarifying a problem with tech support.

Here’s a guide on how to take a screenshot on a Mac, whether you prefer capturing images using keyboard shortcuts or Preview. Additionally, check out our guides for taking a screenshot on a PC and capturing images in iOS 7, along with our selection of the best image-editing tools.

Skip ahead for instructions on how to take a screenshot using Preview.

How to take a screenshot using keyboard commands

To capture the full screen and save it to the clipboard, hit Command+Shift+Control+3 Screenshot keyboard shortcut 3
To select the screenshot area and save it to the clipboard, Command+Shift+Control+4 Screenshot keyboard shortcut 4

The Command+Shift+4 will give you a crosshair which you can use to select a section of your choosing with the mouse. However, you can also switch between several screenshot modes based on what exactly your goal is. After you hit the initial shortcut, try pressing one the following button combinations below to perform the action.

Hit the Spacebar to change your pointer into a camera and grab a full window Screenshot keyboard shortcut 5
 Hold Option to grow your selection from the center Screenshot keyboard shortcut 6
Hold Shift to lock in the vertical or horizontal position Screenshot keyboard shortcut 7
Hold Space to move the selection while locking the aspect ratio Screenshot keyboard shortcut 8
Hold Shift+Space to lock in horizontal or vertical while moving the locked selection Screenshot keyboard shortcut 9
Hit Escape to cancel your screenshot Screenshot keyboard shortcut 10

Mac Preview and Apple screenshots

27-inch iMac with Retina 5K Display

Preview is a Mac tool that sits quietly on your dashboard until you open an image file – in which case in jumps into action and helps you quick-view that image, edit it through various basic tools, and share files across other applications.

We bring Preview up because some people like to use the drop-down feature in the tool bar to take screenshots. If you have an image open in Preview, this is a simple process: Click on File, then go down the list until you see Take Screenshot. Hover over this, and you will see three screenshot options. You can take a screenshot of a selected area on the image, of the entire image, or of your entire screen.

If you have a choice between using the Preview drop-down or your keyboard commands, we humbly suggest sticking with the keyboard. Why? Because the current version of Preview has a couple limitations – particularly, you can only take screenshots on Preview if you have an image file open (TIFF, PNG, JPEG, GIF, MBP, or PDF). Since screenshots are often about capturing site or software data, Preview won’t do you much good for the typical screenshot attempt. Additionally, you can only customize the screenshot if it’s inside the open image. There’s no customizing for boxes across the entire screen.

Taking and saving Mac screenshots

What happens once a screenshot is taken? That depends, but usually your Mac will automatically time stamp the screenshot with the day and time it was taken, then save it as a PNG to your desktop. That’s handy for immediate reference, but if you are taking many screenshots in a row then your desktop will soon become cluttered by files with weird-looking names.

The solution is to just move screenshots to the Trash whenever you are finished with them. But if you work with numerous screenshots, this may get a little tiring. The good news is that there are modifications you can make via Terminal commands or third-party software.

Take, for example, the Tiny for Mac app. Download the beta for this bit of software, and it will change the name of the screenshot automatically from the timestamp to the name of the fore-most application window – including the URL if applicable. This can help greatly with organization if you are juggling several shots at the same time.