OS X: Taking better screenshots on a Mac

Most of us are familiar with Apple's Grab app within the default app stack of OS X, but some may not realize that many of its screenshot capture tools are baked inside the OS. In this short guide you'll learn how to use these tools.

OS X: Taking better screenshots on a Mac

[ABOVE: it's a lion. A statue of a lion to be precise. In Rumania. I like its face. And yes, it was a screenshot.]

The shortcuts

These are the shortcuts to learn in order to get better screenshots on a Mac -- don't forget you can cancel the shot by pressing Escape before you click:

  • ⌘+⇧+3: Capture entire screen and save as a file.
  • ⌘+Ctrl+⇧+3: Capture entire screen and copy to the clipboard.
  • ⌘+⇧+4: Capture dragged area and save as a file.
  • ⌘+ctrl+⇧+4: Capture dragged area and copy to the clipboard.
  • ⌘+⇧+4 then Space: Capture a window, menu, desktop icon, or the menu bar and save as a file.
  • ⌘+Ctrl+⇧+4 then Space: Capture a window, menu, desktop icon, or the menu bar and copy to the clipboard.

When you press ⌘+⇧+4 to grab an image you can toggle between an image you select using a crosshair or a full-window snap by keeping those keys depressed and pressing the Spacebar. The cursor will swap between the crosshair and a camera icon when you do. In camera mode you can just click on the window you want an image of to highlight and capture it.


Catch the cursor

You might want to include your cursor within the screenshot. To achieve this, launch the Grab app (hidden in Utilities) and select Grab Preferences.

This offers a range of pointer icons (as shown to the left).

Select one of these and the pointer will appear where it is located when the picture is taken. That is why you can see the pointer in that shot.


There's no easy way to change image formats when taking a screenshot. Grab saves them as TIFF by default, while shortcuts capture PNG images.

Open the images (saved to the desktop) in Preview and export them in another format, or remember to use the Space shortcuts listed above to save them to Clipboard in the first place. You can then open them from the Clipboard in Preview to save them in your preferred format.

You can also use Preview to capture screenshots -- tools for this are hidden in the apps File menu (Take Screenshot). It is remarkable that Preview does not use the same on-screen system prompts as used by Grab or OS X.

OS X: Taking better screenshots on a Mac

Automate image format changes

It is easy to create your own image format changing widget using Automator.

  • Launch Automator and open a New project
  • Select Application as the type for your document and press Choose
  • Select Library>Files & Folders from column one and then New Folder from column two. Drag New Folder into the workflow on the right
  • Change the Name to something like Image Conversion
  • Next, under Library>Files & Folders choose Get Folder Contents and drag it to your workflow under New Folder.
  • Next, under Library>Photos choose Change Type of Images and drag it to the bottom of your workflow
  • A prompt will ask if you wish to add a Copy function so the original image won't be altered, select 'Don't Add' as this workflow doesn’t require it
  • Undr the Change Type of Images action change the "To Type" to your preferred image format
  • Then Save your Workflow (File>Save), name it.
  • Finally locate the Workflow in Finder and drop it to your Dock.
  • In future you'll be able to convert screenshots into your chosen format.

Apps for that

There's an old but still good rundown of apps you can use to improve your screengrabs or as an alternative to Apple's provided tools here.

Mavericks Tips and Tricks

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