Take Screenshots on macOS like a Pro

Take Screenshots on macOS like a Pro

Being able to take a quick snapshot of your screen and have it saved to your clipboard or file system is a powerful time-saver. With macOS, you get a set of strong tools and shortcuts to capture awesome screenshots.

I’ll guide you through those, show you where screenshots are saved, and provide you with solutions if any shortcut is not working as expected. Then I go much deeper with specific power user tips, annotation techniques, and third-party tools regarding taking screenshots on your Mac. As a bonus you can download a beautiful infographic wallpaper at the end to never forget any shortcut again.

Never forget any screenshot shortcut again
Never forget any screenshot shortcut again
The information below applies to all common Mac OS X versions up to macOS 11 Big Sur. Except the built-in floating screenshot app which was introduced with macOS 10.14 Mojave.
  1. Mac Screenshot Shortcuts
  2. Where do Mac Screenshots go?
  3. Visual Screenshot and Recording Tool
  4. How to fix Issues with taking Screenshots on Mac?
  5. Annotate Screenshots
  6. Additional Tricks for Screenshot Power Users
  7. Great third-party Tools
  8. Download Infographic Wallpaper

Mac Screenshot Shortcuts

Using shortcuts in favor of an extra app or menubar-item for taking screenshots has a clear advantage: Neither you have to leave your app context (which you want to snapshot) nor do you lose focus. But then you have to know which shortcut to use in which situation:

Entire Screen

  • Save as a file: Cmd+Shift+3 (⌘+⇧+3)
  • Copy to clipboard: Cmd+Shift+Ctrl+3 (⌘+⇧+⌃+3)

Selected Screen Portion

  • Save as a file: Cmd+Shift+4 (⌘+⇧+4)
  • Copy to clipboard: Cmd+Shift+Ctrl+4 (⌘+⇧+⌃+4)

After invoking the shortcut you select the relevant area of the screen with a crosshair (mouse cursor).

App Window

  • Save as a file: Cmd+Shift+4 (⌘+⇧+4) → Space → Click
  • Copy to clipboard: Cmd+Shift+Ctrl+4 (⌘+⇧+⌃+4) → Space → Click

After invoking the initial shortcut you press the space bar and select the app window of your choice with a simple click. With this technique, you can’t take screenshots of app windows only. It works for menus, dialogs, modals, and popup windows. Pro-tip: In the power user section below is shown how you can disable the box-shadow around app screenshots if you don’t like them.

Touch Bar

  • Save as a file: Cmd+Shift+6 (⌘+⇧+6)
  • Copy to clipboard: Cmd+Shift+Ctrl+6 (⌘+⇧+⌃+6)
But who cares about a screenshot of the Touch Bar?
But who cares about a screenshot of the Touch Bar?

Where do Mac Screenshots go?

By default, if you use one of the “save as a file” shortcuts above, they all get stored on your desktop (~/Desktop). You can change the location by using the built-in screenshot app. Press Cmd+Shift+5 (⌘+⇧+5) to open it, then select Options and Save to.

If you quickly want to paste the screenshot in a Pages document or an e-mail then additionally hold Control () as a modifier key. Alternatively use the basic shortcut which shows a floating thumbnail in the lower right. This thumb can be drag and dropped onto the application of your choice before it disappears. Caveat: Be aware that when copying the screenshot to the clipboard you are not able to paste it into a directory within Finder (this might be a bug).

Visual Screenshot and Recording Tool

With macOS 10.14 Apple has introduced a powerful visual tool that helps with capturing and recording your screen (officially it’s called the “Screenshot” app). You can trigger it by pressing Cmd+Shift+5 (⌘+⇧+5) and select your tool of choice from a floating app menu. The available tools are similar to the ones above (entire screen, screen portion, app window) with the special option to start a screen recording.

In the same panel under Options you can configure the behavior of screenshots on your Mac in general:

  • Save to (~/Desktop by default) lets you set the disk location where screenshots are stored.
  • Show Floating Thumbnail (checked by default) defines whether after taking a screenshot a small overlay with an image thumbnail is displayed in the lower right of your screen. You can use that to drag and drop the image in another application or click on it to quickly annotate the image.
  • Show Mouse Pointer defines whether the mouse pointer (cursor) is displayed within the screenshot or hidden.
The Screenshot app
The Screenshot app

How to fix Issues with taking Screenshots on Mac?

Is any of the shortcuts above not working on your Mac? I’m here to help. Try the following things in that order:

  1. Open the Settings app and navigate to Keyboard > Shortcuts > Screenshots. Check if everything is set up correctly or configure it the way you like.
  2. Confirm the default save location for screenshots with the built-in screenshot app or with the Terminal app.
  3. Check your Dropbox settings (if installed) as it might sync and delete your saved screenshots from their original destination.
  4. Finally, try to fix it by restarting your Mac.

Annotate Screenshots

If you want to highlight any area or element in your screenshot I can recommend the following tools:

  • Use the inbuilt macOS annotation tool by clicking on the floating screenshot thumbnail which appears in the lower right of your screen. There you can do all the common annotations (draw shapes and arrows, write text, highlight areas, resize the image, …).
  • One surprisingly unknown but powerful feature is the ability to perform the annotations on your iOS device without the hassle of copying a file back and forth. To use it open the macOS annotation tool and click Annotate on iOS Device in the upper right, choose your device, and grab your iPhone or iPad with the Apple Pencil.
  • Skitch can be used if you want to blur/obscure a part of an image (like your name or e-mail).
  • Snagit by TechSmith is a paid app and might be an overkill for simple use cases. But it has a solid set of features if you need something specific.
The built-in annotation tool of macOS is quite powerful and can live-transfer screenshots to iOS
The built-in annotation tool of macOS is quite powerful and can live-transfer screenshots to iOS

Additional Tricks for Screenshot Power Users

You learned the basics. Now let's elevate your screenshot skills with those little tricks:

  • Hide all other apps except the active one by pressing Cmd+Option+H (⌘+⌥+H). This comes in handy if you have a dozen apps open and want to have a screenshot of your whole desktop including your beautiful wallpaper. Otherwise, use the app window capturing technique from above.
  • Hide all desktop icons and files to have a clean desktop for screenshots or recordings. Open the Terminal app, type the following, and press Enter: defaults write com.apple.finder CreateDesktop false; killall Finder. Revert the setting by replacing false with true and execute again.
  • Change screenshot shortcuts from above and make them your own: Open the Settings app and navigate to Keyboard > Shortcuts > Screenshots.
  • Change the base filename of saved screenshots (“Screen Shot {DATE} at {TIME}.png” is the default). Open the Terminal app, type the following, and press Enter: defaults write com.apple.screencapture name "Screen Shot"; killall SystemUIServer.
  • Change the filetype of saved screenshots (png is the default), all available options are png, jpg, tiff, pdf, and gif. Open the Terminal app, type the following, and press Enter: defaults write com.apple.screencapture type jpg; killall SystemUIServer.
  • Disable the box-shadow around screenshots of app windows (they are enabled by default). Open the Terminal app, type the following, and press Enter: defaults write com.apple.screencapture disable-shadow -bool true; killall SystemUIServer.
  • Change the location of saved screenshots with the Terminal app. Type the following and press Enter: defaults write com.apple.screencapture location ~/Desktop/; killall SystemUIServer
An app screenshot of the Terminal app without shadows enabled
An app screenshot of the Terminal app without shadows enabled

Great third-party Tools

When talking about screenshots I must mention at least a shortlist of my favorite little Mac helper apps regarding images:

  • Optimage helps you shrink the file size of any image (or even pdf files). Simply drag them onto the app.
  • Paste is a powerful macOS clipboard manager and comes in handy when you copy screenshots to the clipboard and don’t want to lose them.
  • Unsplash Wallpapers lets you chose and activate epic desktop wallpapers from the huge Unsplash database.

If you can recommend one to me, please reach out via Twitter. I’m always hyped about new tools.

Download Infographic Wallpaper

Click here to download the screenshot shortcut infographic wallpaper in full resolution (3072×1920 pixel).

Sources