How to take a screenshot on a Mac

How to take a screenshot on a Mac. Here’s how to take screenshots on your Mac – also known as screengrabs or captures or, if you’re used to PCs, print screen.

It’s easy to take a screenshot on a Mac. Print screen, screengrab or screen capture – whatever you want to call it, in this article we show how to capture an image of whatever’s on your Mac’s display and save it as an editable file.

Taking a screenshot is far easier on Mac than on PC (no surprises there) with more options available, too; we explain the best methods in this article.

How to take a screenshot on a Mac

The methods here work in High Sierra, but should also be fine in older versions of macOS, since the methods have remained the same for a while. But that’s about to change, and we also discuss the new screenshot features in macOS Mojave.

How to screenshot the whole screen

  1. Hold down Command (also known as the ‘Apple key’) and Shift, then press 3.
  2. You will hear a sound like the shutter on a camera…
  3. The screenshot will appear on your desktop as a .png file. (We explain how to change where the screenshot is saved later in this article.)

The basics of taking a Mac screenshot are very simple – hold down Command and Shift, then press 3. It’s as simple as that.

The .png image’s filename will begin with ‘Screen shot’ and have the date and time in this format: ‘Screen Shot [year]-[month]-[day] at [time]’.

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If you’d prefer your screenshot as a JPG or other file format, you can drag the .png file into Photoshop, Preview or similar image viewing program, and then Save As with a different file type extension.

If you’re using two screens with your Mac, by the way, two images will appear – one for each display.

You probably don’t want to screenshot the whole screen, however – look how huge that screenshot is, and how difficult it is to make out details. Most likely you just want to show someone a single interesting thing that one of your applications is up to, which leads to our next option.

How to screenshot part of the screen

If you want, you can choose to take a screenshot of a selected area within the screen, rather than the whole thing. This is our default method.

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  1. Hold down Command + Shift, then press 4.
  2. Drag crosshairs across the area of screen you want to screenshot. Click the mouse button, or the trackpad and drag diagonally from the top left to the bottom right (or vice versa).
  3. The screenshot will appear on your desktop as a .png file, labelled as ‘Screen Shot’ [year]-[month]-[day] at [time]’.
    It’s hard to illustrate this process in action – it’s tough to take a screenshot of a screenshot being taken – so we’ve had to resort to the old technique of ‘taking a photo of the screen with my iPhone’:

Apologies for the low picture quality. (The screenshot you take will be far better quality, hopefully.)

Protip: Once the crosshairs appear, you can let go of the keyboard keys. Once you’ve clicked the mouse button and started dragging the cursor, press Space, and you’ll be able to move the selected area around. Hold Shift and you’ll be able to move it horizontally only.

Protip 2: Press Escape at any time to abort the screengrab. No image will be generated or captured.

How to make screenshots of a particular size

You can just about see, in the image above, that there are two numbers by the crosshairs that I’ve dragged over the desired screen space (near the bottom right). These are pixel numbers.

After you’ve pressed Shift, Cmd and 4 but before you’ve clicked the mouse – while you’re moving the crosshairs around and deciding where to screenshot, in other words – the numbers shown will be co-ordinates indicating the crosshairs’ location on the screen – the horizontal pixel number followed by the vertical pixel number.

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Once you click and start dragging the selection window across your desired section of screen, the numbers will start showing the size of the selected space, which can be helpful if you want a screenshot that’s 800 pixels by 450, for example.

Here’s a closer look at what you’ll see while taking a Mac screenshot. If we released the mouse button at this point we would capture a (rather boring) screenshot measuring 119 pixels by 70.

How to screenshot a window

What if you want to screengrab or screenshot a single window on your desktop?

  1. Hold down Cmd + Shift, then press 4.
  2. When crosshairs appear, press Space.
  3. Position cursor over window (it will be highlighted in blue) and left-click.
  4. Screenshot of window (complete with shadow) appears on your desktop as .png.

Instead of attempting the fiddly task of trying to line up the crosshairs exactly with the corners of the window, press Cmd, Shift, 4 as before, but when the crosshairs appear press space. The crosshairs will change into a camera icon, and the window your cursor is currently over will turn blue. (You can still move the crosshairs – whichever window is beneath the crosshairs will turn blue.)

Click to take a screenshot of this window only – and the resulting image will have a nice shadow effect, too.

How to screenshot a window without shadow

  1. Hold down Cmd + Shift, then press 4.
  2. When crosshairs appear, hold down Alt, then press Space.
  3. Position cursor over window (it will be highlighted in blue) and left-click.
  4. Screenshot of window (without shadow) appears on your desktop as .png.

If you don’t want that shadow effect, adding the Option (or Alt) key will give you a final result without shadows. You’ll feel like your fingers are playing Twister, but it works.

How to screenshot a dropdown menu (or other screen furniture)

  1. Hold down Cmd + Shift, then press 4.
  2. When crosshairs appear, press Space.
  3. Position cursor over dropdown menu and left-click.
  4. Screenshot of dropdown menu appears on your desktop as .png.

The same technique can be used to screenshot menus. Open the menu you want to screenshot, then press Cmd, Shift, 4, then press Space, and move the camera icon over the open menu dropdown.

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Click the mouse and you’ll get a screenshot of the menu (although it won’t include the title at the top of the dropdown – to screenshot that you’ll need to use the standard Cmd, Shift, 4 and judge the selection by eye).

And it doesn’t stop there. You can use the same technique to capture neat screenshots of other screen furniture that you might not think of as windows. Here’s a screenshot of our Dock, which we grabbed in the same way – Cmd, Shift, 4 and then Space:

But you can also capture the top bar, certain elements of the top bar on the righthand side, or all the icons on your desktop with the top bar, Dock and wallpaper image removed.

How to take timed screenshots

The options above cover most screengrab eventualities. If you need to do something more advanced, try the Grab application. Grab is a utility included with macOS: find it by pressing Cmd + Space and starting to type Grab. Or search in Utilities in the Applications folder.

You can use Grab to take a timed screenshot – perhaps if you want to capture something that doesn’t happen if you are dragging your mouse around the screen.

  1. Open Grab.
  2. Click on Capture > Timed Screen.
  3. Click on Start Timer.
  4. A red dial will start filling in beside the camera icon to show you how much time is left before the screen will be grabbed.
  5. This will only allow you to screengrab a whole screen – but you can later edit the grab to focus on a particular element if you like.

Launch Grab and click Capture in the top menu; you’ll see options for the usual screen captures (a small Selection, a Window, or the entire Screen, each one with a shortcut that you can use to access it in future) but also includes the handy option of timed screenshots (select Timed Screen), for when you want to set up a capture and then activate whatever it is you want to grab. The timer is 10 seconds.

How to screenshot as JPEG or TIFF

The Grab application mentioned above is also a good option if you’d like your screenshots to be JPEG rather than PNG files. It is also possible to choose to save your shots as PNG or TIFF if you use this app.

  1. Open Grab.
  2. Click on Capture, choose from Selection, Window, Screen or Timed Screen (more on that option next).
  3. If you want to take a screen shot of a Window, click on that Window.
  4. You will hear a camera shutter sound and the screengrab will appear so you can name it and choose where to save it.

How to print screen on Mac

If you want to print out the Mac screenshot captured using one of the methods listed above, you simply need to find the image (most of the techniques above will save it to the desktop, unless otherwise specified) and double-click to open it in Preview. Now hit Cmd-P to print directly from Preview.

If you want to be more artful about the way you print the image – arranging it neatly within white space, including other images on the same printout and so on – you can drag the image on to Photoshop or open it in an Adobe InDesign document.

Where are screenshots saved on Mac?

By default, Mac screenshots are saved to the desktop.

However, if you were to use an app such as Grab to take your screen shots your screenshots might end up elsewhere.

Grab is likely to save the screenshot to your Documents folder, if you don’t change the name of the image it will save as Untitled.

How to change where Mac screenshots are saved

As we said above, by default, Mac screenshots are saved to the desktop. But you can change this reasonably easily – to a folder labelled Screengrabs, for example. In the following example we’ll assume we’ve created a desktop folder called exactly that, but you can change this process for different locations provided you know the file path.

  1. Open the Terminal app. It’s listed under Utilities in the Applications folder.
  2. Type “defaults write location ~/Desktop/Screengrabs” and then press Enter. (Don’t include the quotation marks. Change the command depending on the location you wish to use.)
  3. Next, type “killall SystemUIServer” (again, no quotation marks) and press Enter again.

Take a couple of screenshots to check it’s working.

How to save Mac screenshots to pasteboard

The Print Screen function on a Windows PC works a bit differently to the Mac screenshots.

Instead of saving a screenshot direct to the desktop, it saves it to the pasteboard. You then need to open Photoshop, Paint or whatever Windows-compatible image-editing app you prefer, create a new document, and paste the screenshot on to it.

If you want to replicate this function on a Mac, hold Ctrl when you drag the cursor and the resultant screengrab will be copied to the pasteboard – in other words, you’ll be able to paste it into a Photoshop document or similar – instead of the desktop. Many power users will find this neater.

  1. Hold down Cmd + Shift, then press 4.
  2. Hold Ctrl, then drag crosshairs across area of screen you want to screenshot.
  3. Screenshot is saved to pasteboard.

Screenshots in macOS Mojave

The upcoming macOS Mojave update – likely to be released in autumn 2018, but available as a beta version now – includes some new screenshot features that are worth discussing here.

The first change is an echo of something already seen in iOS: when you take a screenshot it appears at the bottom right of the screen. This thumbnail can be immediately dragged into a document, or opened and edited using markup tools.

The other is that triggering the screenshot shortcut – which we assume is the same, but we’re not sure – brings up a palette of tools. There are five: Capture Screen, Capture Window, Capture Selection, Record Screen and Record Selection. The latter two are new, allowing you to record video footage from your screen. (Read about the changes to the way you will record the screen of your Mac in Mojave here).

Screenshot troubleshooting

Mac screenshots are nice and simple, but occasionally you will find that things go wrong.

Screenshots come out blank

This is not an uncommon occurrence, unfortunately.

If you’ve carefully followed the instructions above and you’re sure the selection, window or screen that you targeted for screenshot contained graphical elements but these now aren’t showing up in the image captured, the chances are that the software you were using has chosen specifically to block screenshotting functions. This is the case with Apple’s DVD player software, for reasons of copyright.

You should be able to get round the problem by using either a different piece of software that does the same thing – a third-party DVD player instead of Apple’s own, for instance, may avoid the issue – or a third-party piece of screenshot software. There’s a list of possibilities on MacHouse, although this selection was last updated in 2011 so we’d advise caution.

Screenshot on Mac not working / Mac won’t screenshot

If you are taking screenshots and they aren’t appearing on your desktop it might be that you were accidentally pressing ctrl at the same time – which would copy the shot to your pasteboard.

If it’s not as simple as that, go to System Preferences > Keyboard > Shortcuts and check that the shortcuts are activated under Screen Shots.

Another possibility is that the usual shortcuts have been assigned to something else, so double-check that here in System Preferences too.


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