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 computers and laptops don’t come with a straightforward Print Screen Key.

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

Using keyboard commands

MacOS keyboard commands are the easiest and quickest way to take a screenshot, whether you’re capturing the entire screen or just a portion. By default, Apple’s methods save your screenshot to the desktop. However, if you simply want to copy the screenshot to the clipboard, we provide a keyboard shortcut for that too.

Capture the entire screen

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

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

In MacOS Catalina, a screenshot preview appears in the corner of your screen, giving you quick access to editing tools. You can also take advantage of the “Stacks” feature, which groups together similar files on your desktop, such as screenshots. To do so, just right-click on your desktop and select Use Stacks on the menu to quickly toss them into a group.

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 capturing. 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 capturing. 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 and the screen turns light blue.

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: Press the Command + Shift + 4 + Control keys simultaneously in Step 1 instead to save the image to your clipboard.

Use the on-screen marquee

If you’re using MacOS Mojave or later, you can load an on-screen marquee you can move or resize as needed. It provides three capture tools, options for saving, whether to show the pointer, and more.

Method 1: Press the Command + Shift + 5 keys simultaneously to choose your target shot  — full screen, a specific window, or a defined portion — and save the resulting image to the desktop or another location.

Method 2: Press the Command + Shift + 5 + Control keys simultaneously to choose your target shot  — full screen, a specific window, or a defined portion — and save the resulting image to the clipboard.

Note that if you have a MacBook Pro with Touch Bar, you have options like Selected Portion, Window, or Entire Screen. You can also use it to save screenshots to a different folder such as Desktop, Documents, or the Clipboard.

Another Touch Bar exclusive is taking a screenshot of the Touch Bar display, which can be done by hitting Shift + Command + 6.

Further reading

Taking screenshots with Grab

Don’t feel like memorizing keyboard shortcuts? Grab is an app on all Macs that 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, 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. What’s new here is the 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 simply 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.

We prefer the keyboard shortcut method to this one because the former 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.

If you’re running MacOS Mojave or Catalina, 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.

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