How to Capture Screenshots on Your Mac

There are many hidden gems in both iOS and Mac OS X that cover a wide range of tasks or functions.  Many of these gems are outlined in various Apple documents online or maybe you can stumble across one in a Mac oriented forum or site (maybe that is how you found your way to AlliOSNews!).  But in some cases these features are not outlined in documents and are difficult to find.  One of these is the wide range of ways that you can screen captures in Mac OS X.

As many know, built into Mac OS X Leopard, Snow Leopard and Lion is the application Grab (located in Utilities).  To be sure the Grab application works well but it is not instant nor can you do some of the discrete things that I will be showing you today.  Nor is Grab as fast.  Every tip I will be showing you in this How To is just a set of keystrokes away and give you quick, crisp PNG or PDF screens captures from your Mac.

As I outline each of the ways to do screen captures on your Mac, you will know if your action has been successful as you will hear a camera shutter sound when the capture is made.  If you are familiar with how to capture an image on your iPhone or iPad (Press and hold the Power button then press the Home button), the sound you hear will be identical to that of your iOS devices.

Capture Your Entire Desktop

Likely the most common type of screen capture made on a Mac is one of the entire desktop.  To do this, press the Command+Shift+3 keys.  This will capture a PNG file of your entire desktop and will save that image to your desktop.  The file name is “Screenshot YYYY-MM-DD HH:MM:SS TT.PNG” so if you are taking multiple screenshots during a session you can quickly identify them by the timestamp.

Copy Your Entire Desktop

There are times that you need to copy your desktop so you can easily import that into another file or document.  To do this, press the Command+Control+Shift+3 keys.  This will place a copy of the image into your clipboard which you can then paste into another application.  This is great if you need to capture your desktop for a presentation or for training someone.

Capture a Portion of Your Desktop

Sometimes you only need to capture a part of your desktop like the Safari toolbar or an icon.  To do this, press the Command+Shift+4 keys.  This will bring up crosshair cursor which you can then click-and-drag to outline the area you want captured.  As soon as you release the trackpad the image is captured and placed on your desktop.  The naming convention of the file is the same as when you capture your entire desktop and the image is placed on your desktop.  If you are using Mac OS X 10.3 or earlier the file will be saved as a PDF.  If you add the Control key to your keystroke sequence (it doesn’t matter which key you push first so long as the 4 is last), you can save the portion to your clipboard so you can drop it into another application.

Capture a Specific Application Window

Now this one is super useful, particularly for those of you who have not upgraded to Lion.  If you have multiple applications open on your desktop, you can capture a specific one of them by pressing the Command+Shift+4+Spacebar keys.  When you do this, your cursor will change to a camera icon which you can drag around your desktop.  When you hover over an application, it will be shaded so you know which one you will be capturing.  When you are over the application you want to capture, tap your trackpad and an image of that application is captured.  This will be saved on your desktop as a PNG file.  If you are using Mac OS X 10.3 or earlier the file will be saved as a PDF.  Like capturing a portion of your desktop, if you add the Control key to your keystroke sequence, you can save the application window to your clipboard to import into another application.

These four quick but powerful ways of capturing your desktop and applications are super handy and can be done without having to start a capture application such as Grab.  Best of all they are free!