How to take a screenshot on a Mac

Screenshots are a convenient tool. You can use them to help guide someone through a new app, capture essential messages, and take incriminating photos of your best friend while Skyping. Unfortunately, Apple desktops and laptops don’t come with a straightforward Print Screen key.

They do, however, have a few keyboard commands and apps that allow you to get the shot you need. These commands are quick and easy to learn.

Further reading

Using keyboard commands

MacOS keyboard commands are the easiest and quickest ways to take screenshots, whether you’re capturing the entire screen or just a portion. By default, Apple’s methods save your screenshot to the desktop, but if you want to copy the screenshot to the clipboard, there’s a keyboard shortcut you can use instead.

Capture the entire screen

Method 1: Press the Command + Shift + 3 keys simultaneously for an instant capture of your desktop.

Method 2: Press the Command + Shift + 3 + Control keys simultaneously to save the image to your clipboard.

In MacOS Catalina and newer, a screenshot preview appears in the bottom-right corner of your screen, giving you quick access to editing tools.

Capture a selected area

Method 1: Press the Command + Shift + 4 keys simultaneously. With your pointer turned into a crosshair, click and drag to draw a box around the region you want captured. When you let go of the mouse button, the screenshot saves to your desktop.

Method 2: Press the Command + Shift + 4 + Control keys simultaneously. With your pointer turned into a crosshair, click and drag to draw a box around the region you want captured. When you let go of the mouse button, the screenshot saves to the clipboard.

Capture a single window

How to take a screenshot on a Mac

Step 1: Press the Command + Shift + 4 keys simultaneously so that your pointer becomes a crosshair.

Step 2: Press the Spacebar. The pointer changes to a camera icon.

Step 3: Any window you hover over is highlighted with a light blue overlay. Click on the window you want to capture, and the image saves to your desktop.

This method doesn’t just capture windows — you can save the desktop, the menu bar, the dock, or even an open menu by itself.

The image you save consists of the window and its shadow against a transparent background (PNG). If you don’t want the shadow, press and hold the Option key (or Alt) as you click to save the image.

Method 2: In step 1, press the Command + Shift + 4 + Control keys simultaneously to save the image to your clipboard.

Use the Screenshot app

MacOS Screenshots App

MacOS Mojave and newer includes a Screenshot app. It provides three capture tools, plus options for saving, whether to show the pointer, and more. You can access this app by opening the Other folder on the Launchpad, but it’s easier to use keyboard commands.

Method 1: Press the Command + Shift + 5 keys simultaneously to load the Screenshots toolbar, and choose your target shot  — Entire Screen, Selected Window, or Selected Portion. By default, the resulting image saves to the desktop.

Method 2: Press the Command + Shift + 5 + Control keys simultaneously to load the Screenshots toolbar and choose your target shot  — Entire Screen, Selected Window, or Selected Portion. The resulting image saves to the clipboard.

Note that if you have a MacBook Pro with Touch Bar, these options appear on the OLED strip. Another Touch Bar exclusive is taking a screenshot of the Touch Bar display, which can be done by hitting Shift + Command + 6.

Finally, you can use the Screenshot app to change the default save location of your screenshots. Click Options on the toolbar and select Desktop, Documents, Mail, Messages, QuickTime Player, or Other Location. Select that final option to send your grabs to a special location, like a dedicated screenshot folder you can create by clicking New Folder.

Taking screenshots with Grab

Don’t feel like memorizing keyboard shortcuts? Grab lets you create screenshots directly from the menu bar. The app also lets you take time-delayed screenshots, just in case you need to set the stage before capturing an image on your display.

If you’re using MacOS Catalina or newer, Grab is not included. Instead, its features now reside in the Command + Shift + 5 key combination.

grab-options

Step 1: Open Finder and select Applications listed on the left.

Step 2: Double-click on the Utilities folder and select Grab.

Once you launch Grab, you’ll see an icon for the app on the dock — you can also pin this icon for quick access later. Grab rarely features a window when open and instead runs almost entirely from the menu bar.

Step 3: Either use the Capture menu system to take screenshots or use the keyboard shortcuts detailed next to the respective command.

Timed screenshots

With Grab, you can capture a particular section of the screen, an individual window, or the entire screen — the same three options previously outlined above. It also has a Timed Screen option, which gives you a 10-second delay before capturing the screenshot.

This means that if you need to open a menu or place the pointer in the right position, you have time to do so.

grab-mac-preferences

Step 1: Follow the previous instruction to open Grab.

Step 2: Select Timed Screen from the Grab menu, or press its shortcut: Command + Shift + Z.

Keep in mind that your pointer will not show up in the screenshot by default. If you want to ensure it’s captured in the frame, click Preferences from the main Grab menu and select the pointer icon from the resulting pop-up window.

The pointer only shows up when capturing delayed screenshots. Keyboard shortcuts are a better way to capture screenshots, but if you don’t want to memorize anything, Grab is a great alternative.

Using Preview to take a screenshot

Preview is the default tool that allows you to open everything from photos to PDF files (and here’s how to convert them). It has more than a few lesser-known features, such as editing images by clicking the toolbox icon. Preview captures screenshots, too!

preview-take-screenshot

Step 1: Open Finder and select Applications listed on the left.

Step 2: Double-click on Preview to open the app.

Step 3: Once the app opens, click File located on the menu bar.

Step 4: From the drop-down menu, hover your mouse over Take Screenshot and select From Selection, From Window, or From Entire Screen, depending on your preference.

The keyboard shortcut method is far quicker, but Preview does offer one main advantage: You can choose where to save screenshots. The other options on our list automatically save your screenshot to the desktop with a verbose filename. Preview opens the screenshot, lets you make a few edits, and then you can save the file wherever you like. If that matters to you, Preview is a solid choice.

Taking and saving Mac screenshots

What happens once you take a screenshot? Assuming you didn’t just send it to the clipboard, your Mac automatically stamps it with the date and time it was taken before saving it as a PNG file on your desktop. This is handy for immediate reference, but your desktop will quickly become a cluttered mess if you’re taking multiple oddly-named screenshots in a row.

MacOS Use Stacks

If you’re running MacOS Mojave or newer, there are new organizational and quick-editing tools at your disposal. For instance, screenshots saved to the desktop will gather in the corner and spread across the display. You can quickly group them using Stacks — just right-click the desktop and select Use Stacks — to declutter your viewing area. You can even click those images to quickly edit them using markup tools.

If you’re running older versions of MacOS, you can always drag the screenshots to the trash, make some modifications via Terminal commands, or use third-party MacOS apps.

We talk about some of our favorites in our guide to the best MacOS apps. Take, for example, the TinyTake for Mac app, which gives you far greater control over your screenshots and how they’re captured.

Changing screenshot attributes

If you’re handy with the Terminal, there are commands for changing the file format, changing the default name, and removing the timestamp of a screenshot. Remember to press Enter after these commands.

Change the filetype

defaults write com.apple.screencapture type JPG

The default is PNG, while this example uses JPG. Other options include TIFF, GIF, and PDF. Be sure there is a space between “type” and the format you want.

Change the default name

defaults write com.apple.screencapture name “NAME”; killall SystemUIServer

Replace NAME with whatever you want to use.

Remove the timestamp

defaults write com.apple.screencapture “include-date” 0; killall SystemUIServer

To put timestamps back, replace the 0 with a 1.

Remove drop shadows

defaults write com.apple.screencapture disable-shadow -bool true ; killall SystemUIServer

To bring shadows back, change “true” to “false.” However, this command is unnecessary because you can disable drop shadows by pressing and holding the Option key (or Alt) each time you save a screenshot.

Each of these commands may require a reboot to take effect.

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