Sure, the new iMac is great, but how is taking a screenshot on a Mac still such a mess?

iMac (24-inch, 2021)
(Image credit: Future)

Do you know how to take a screenshot on a Mac? If you do, then you may be in the minority. It’s actually one of the most popular search terms in the world, suggesting that there’s a whole load of people who struggle to remember how to take a screenshot on a Mac or MacBook.

Even I had to remind myself earlier this week when I reviewed the new iMac (24-inch, 2021). I personally think Apple has been on a fantastic roll lately with its computing stuff. A few years ago, you got the impression that Apple had lost interest in its Macs and MacBooks, and just pushed out small updates every year or so, instead lavishing all its passion and attention on the iPhone.

However, with the new MacBook Air (M1, 2020), MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1, 2020), and Mac mini (M1, 2020), which were released last year and run on Apple’s own M1 chip, rather than Intel hardware, Apple began making some really exciting computing devices again. The new iMac, which also runs on the M1 hardware, and comes with a significant redesign, continues that trend.

I still primarily use Windows 10 devices – I’m a PC gamer after all – but macOS does some great things. Screenshots aren't one of those things.

The Windows advantage

Taking a screenshot in Windows 10 is extremely easy – you just press the PrntSc (Print Screen) key on the keyboard, then paste it into whatever image editing software you use – even the iconic Paint tool that has been bundled with Windows for over a quarter of a century.

But how do you take a screenshot on a Mac? There’s no dedicated print screen key on the keyboard. Instead, you need to use a convoluted series of key presses. You can bring up the Screenshot tool by pressing 'Shift' + 'Command' + '5' keys.

While this gives you extra options for your screenshot, it lacks the simplicity of Windows 10’s way of doing things.

If you want to just to take a screenshot of the whole screen, like pressing the Print Screen key does, then it’s ‘Shift’ + ‘Command’ + ‘3’. OK, this instantly saves the screenshot, unlike with Windows, but it still feels too cumbersome. Add in the fact that there’s all sorts of combinations with Shift, Command and numbers on the keyboard, which do different things, and it can start to feel like Apple has overcomplicated a rather simple process.

This can be particularly frustrating when people who are used to Windows 10 move to a Mac, and I’d wager that’s most of the people searching for tutorials on how to print screen on a Mac. With Apple making such great devices these days (the MacBook Air is currently our choice for the best laptop in the world right now), a growing number of people will be using a Mac for the first time – and they could get lost when trying to take a screenshot.

Will Apple one day include a dedicated print screen key? No matter how much I’d like that, it’s unlikely, and the best we’re likely to get is a quick button on the Touch Bar on certain MacBooks. You could also use a third party screenshotting tool on the Mac, or set up your own more memorable shortcut.

Still, that’s all a bit of a faff. Give me the good old Print Screen key any day.

Matt Hanson
Managing Editor, Core Tech

Matt is TechRadar's Managing Editor for Core Tech, looking after computing and mobile technology. Having written for a number of publications such as PC Plus, PC Format, T3 and Linux Format, there's no aspect of technology that Matt isn't passionate about, especially computing and PC gaming. Ever since he got an Amiga A500+ for Christmas in 1991, he's loved using (and playing on) computers, and will talk endlessly about how The Secret of Monkey Island is the best game ever made.