Mac OS X features a variety of different keyboard shortcut combinations for users to grab images of their current Desktop and open Application windows. In this article we will guide you through taking screenshots using each of these keyboard shortcuts, with the resulting images accompanying them as examples.

Changing the Default Screenshot Format

First, a note about screenshot image formats. Earlier versions of Mac OS X saved screenshots first in .jpg format and then in .pdf, but since Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger, screenshots are created in .png format. You can however change your default format to your preferred option by using a Terminal window. Go to Applications, then Utilities and click on Terminal. At the prompt, type (or Copy and Paste from here) the following command and press Return:

defaults write type [insert preferred image format here]

To activate this, we need to restart the SystemUIServer in OS X. To do this enter this command at the Terminal prompt and press Return:

killall SystemUIServer

The default screenshot format in OS X will now be changed to the image type you entered before.

Using Keyboard Shortcuts to Take Screenshots in OS X

The quickest and simplest method for taking screenshots is to use the operating system’s pre-assigned keyboard shortcuts. OS X provides the ability to save a variety of different screenshots to either the Desktop or the Clipboard with just the press of a few keys.

1.) To take a screenshot of the entire screen and save it to the Desktop, hold Cmd-Shift-3 (⌘-⇧-3). If you wish to save to the Clipboard, add Ctrl to the combination (⌘-Ctrl-⇧-3). Here is our entire screen:

Taking a Screenshot of the entire screen in OS X.png

2.) To take a screenshot of a particular area of the screen, hold Cmd-Shift-4 (⌘-⇧-4). You can then select the area you wish to save by clicking the Left Mouse Button and dragging a bounding box. Letting go of the Mouse Button will save the selected area as a screenshot. Again, to save to the Clipboard add Ctrl to the keyboard shortcut (⌘-Ctrl-⇧-4). Here is the the upper left portion of our screen:

Taking a Screenshot of a Selected=

3.) If you want to take a screenshot of one particular open window, hold down Cmd-Shift-4-Spacebar (⌘-⇧-4-Space), then click with the Left Mouse Button on the window you require. As before, adding Ctrl to the mix saves the result to the Clipboard (⌘-Ctrl-⇧-4-Space). In this example, we’ve only taken a screenshot of the open Safari window:

Taking a Screenshot of a Single Window in OS X.png

4.) OS X 10.5 Leopard and 10.6 Snow Leopard also add some further keyboard modifiers to allow you really fine control over your screenshots. After using the Cmd-Shift-4 (⌘-⇧-4) shortcut, press the following keys while drawing your bounding box with the Left Mouse Button:

  • Shift: Holding this key down will only resize the bounding box along the selected edge. You can release Shift, move another edge and hold Shift again to accurately define your desired area.
  • Option: Holding this key down will resize the area selection based on its central point rather than from where you initially clicked the Left Mouse Button.

By learning this set of OS X keyboard shortcuts, you’ll find that taking screenshots of the exact Application or area of your Mac’s screen you desire will become a quick and easy process.