How to Capture And Manage Screenshots on macOS

How to Capture And Manage Screenshots on macOS

The screen capture feature, called a screenshot, is very handy when you need to capture the screen of your Mac to show the content on it to others. By making a screenshot, you get a good quality digital image of your Mac's display. Depending on the key combination, you can make a whole display screenshot or choose a region of your screen to capture. Nowadays, all smart devices like computers and smartphones have a built-in screen capture function, so you don't need to worry about installing a third-party screen capture app.

The first screenshots were created around the 1660s with the first interactive computers. Tough the screenshots were not the same as they are now. Back then, computers did not universally have built-in functionality for capturing screenshots, and the screen capture function would only capture the content of the screen but not the appearance.

The possibility to make screenshots of an active application window began with the Mac OS X Panther. The cursor would turn into a small camera icon by pressing Command + Shift + 4 + Spacebar, and the window under the cursor would be highlighted. Then the click on the mouse or trackpad would capture the screenshot of the highlighted element.

How to Capture And Manage Screenshots on macOS

An application called Grab (a program in macOS with the purpose of taking screenshots of a selected area of the screen, a whole window, an entire screen, and make timed screenshots) would make a screenshot and pop it up in a window for you to copy to the clipboard or save it as a TIFF (Tag Image File Format). An alternative app that is integrated into Mac's operating system as well as Grab called Preview has the same capture options, but it opens the screenshot immediately in a new window.

With the 10.14 Mojave operating system, users got a revamped screenshot utility called the Screenshot app (previously known as Grab). This utility toolbar shows up when you press Command + Shift + 5 keys on your keyboard, and it allows you to choose options to take screenshots and capture modes. With this application, you can change where the taken screenshot is saved. You can also record your Mac's screen in full-size of the chosen region.

As briefly mentioned above, macOS users can take a screenshot or a chosen area. By pressing Command + Shift + 3 keys on your keyboard, you will make a screenshot of an entire screen. By pressing Command + Shift + 4 on your keyboard, you will make a screenshot of your chosen area on the screen. These screenshots are by default saved on the user's desktop, but if you hold down the Control key on your keyboard while making either of the screenshots mentioned above, the screenshot will be copied to the clipboard.

You can also capture screenshots and save them to files using a shell utility called "screencapture" in the Terminal app or shell scripts. You cannot take screenshots while the DVD Player is running.

When you take a screenshot, your Mac, by default, will save it in PNG (Portable Network Graphics) format as it can retain the quality of the created image. The downside is that the PNG format images tend to be large. Sometimes it might be more convenient to use a format that takes less storage space, for example, like a JPEG (Joint Photographic Experts Group) format.

Below you will find detailed steps on how to change screenshot format, change the default location, disable screenshot thumbnail preview, and more.

Table of Contents:

Four Ways You Can Take Screenshots

There are four ways you take screenshots. You can take a screenshot of the entire screen, a selected area, an open window and by using screenshot tools.

Screenshot fullscreen

To capture the entire screen of your Mac, simultaneously press Command + Shift + 3 keys on your keyboard.

Screenshot a Selected Area of The Screen

1. To capture a chosen area of the screen, simultaneously press Command + Shift + 4 keys on your keyboard.
2. When you see your mouse cursor change to a crosshair, release the keys and select an area on your screen that you want to capture.

Capture selected area

If you select the wrong area, you don't have to press the Esc key and start selecting again. If you press and hold the Space key, you can move your selection. To change the selected area only in one direction, press and hold the Shift key. To increase or decrease the sides of the chosen area in proportion, press the Option key.

Screenshot an Open Window

1. You can screenshot an open window by simultaneously pressing Command + Shift + 4 keys on your keyboard.
2. Let go of the keys when you see your mouse cursor change to the crosshair and then press the Space bar once.
3. When you see a camera icon, hover over a screen that you want to capture and click on it.

Capture any open window

Using this screen capture method, you can screenshot even the Dock or the upper menu bar.

Capture Using Screenshot Tools

If you don't want to remember all the above options and you think it's a hassle, you can always use the screenshot tools. You can do all of the above-mentioned options with it. To open screenshot tools, simultaneously press Command + Shift + 5 on your keyboard. Choose what you want to screenshot and click on "Capture".

Capture using screenshot tools

You can also use screenshot tools with the Screenshot app:

1. Open Finder.
2. Go to "Applications".
3. Scroll down until you see the Utilities folder. Click on it.
4. Find and click on "Screenshot".

Open the Screenshot app

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How to Change Screenshot Format Using Terminal

As mentioned above, when you take a screenshot, it is automatically saved as a PNG image. To change the screenshots' default format, choose a format you want to change to and follow the steps.

Change the format to JPEG:

1. Open Terminal from Launchpad, Finder, or Spotlight.
2. In the Terminal window, enter the command line: defaults write com.apple.screencapture type jpg

Change format to JPEG

3. Restart your Mac.

Change the format to TIFF:

1. Open Terminal from Launchpad, Finder, or Spotlight.
2. In the Terminal window, enter the command line: defaults write com.apple.screencapture type tiff

Change format to TIFF

3. Restart your Mac.

Change the format to PDF:

1. Open Terminal from Launchpad, Finder, or Spotlight.
2. In the Terminal window, enter the command line: defaults write com.apple.screencapture type pdf

Change format to PDF

3. Restart your Mac.

Change the format to GIF (Graphics Interchange Format):

1. Open Terminal from Launchpad, Finder, or Spotlight.
2. In the Terminal window, enter the command line: defaults write com.apple.screencapture type gif

Change format to GIF

3. Restart your Mac.

Change the format back to PNG:

1. Open Terminal from Launchpad, Finder, or Spotlight.
2. In the Terminal window, enter the command line: defaults write com.apple.screencapture type png

Change format to PNG

3. Restart your Mac.

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How to Change The Default Location of a Screenshot

The default location of a screenshot is your Mac's desktop, but you can always change that by following the steps below:

1. On your keyboard, simultaneously press Command + Shift + 5 key.
2. In the menu bar, click on "Options".
3. Choose a location you want your screenshots to be saved.
4. If you don't see the location you want to choose, click on "Other Locations" and navigate to your desired location.

Click on Other Location

5. Then click on "Choose".

Click on Choose to choose location

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How to Save Screenshots to Clipboard

If you do not want your screenshots to be saved on the desktop or in other locations and just want to be able to paste it where ever you need, you can save them to the clipboard. There are two ways you can save screenshots to the clipboard.

Always save screenshots to the clipboard:

1. On your keyboard, simultaneously press Command + Shift + 5 key.
2. In the menu bar, click on "Options".
3. Choose "Clipboard".

Save to clipboard

Your screenshots will be saved to the clipboard until you change the location.

Momentarily save screenshots to the clipboard:

When you are taking screenshots of the entire screen or a chosen area, press the "Contol" key to send your screenshot to the clipboard. For example, if you are taking a full-screen screenshot, simultaneously press Command + Shift + 4 + Control keys on your keyboard. Your screenshot will then be sent to the clipboard, and keep in mind that it will not be saved anywhere.

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How to Disable Screenshot Thumbnail Preview

If you have a newer Mac, a thumbnail of the screenshot appears whenever you take a screenshot at the bottom right corner.  If you click on it, you can start to edit the screenshot or send it via AirDrop or other ways. But to some, that can sometimes be annoying. Follow the steps below to disable it.

1. Simultaneously press Command + Shift + 5 on your keyboard.
2. In the bottom menu bar, click on "Options".
3. Under "Options", find and click on "Show Floating Thumbnail".

Click on Show Floating Thumbnail

Now you will not see the thumbnail appear every time you take a screenshot.

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How to Change Screenshot Keyboard Shortcut

If the default keyboard shortcuts for taking a screenshot are inconvenient for you, you can always change the keys in the Mac settings.

1. Click on the Apple logo in the upper menu bar.
2. Go to "System Preferences".
3. Find and go to "Keyboard".

Go to Keyboard settings

4. Go to the "Shortcuts" tab.
5. Click on "Screenshots".

Go to Shortcuts tab and click on Screenshots

6. Select a shortcut and double click on it.

Double-click on a shortcut you want to change

7. Then simultaneously press the key combination on your keyboard that you want to change to.

To restore default shortcut combinations click on "Restore Defaults". You can find more information on keyboard shortcuts here.

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We hope you found this information useful. Let us know in the comments if you have any questions!

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Tomas Meskauskas

I am passionate about computer security and technology. I have an experience of 10 years working in various companies related to computer technical issue solving and Internet security. I have been working as an editor for pcrisk.com since 2010. Follow me on Twitter to stay informed about the latest tech news or online security threats. Contact Tomas Meskauskas.

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