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How to take a screenshot on a Mac

Capture what's on screen

How to take a screenshot on a Mac

Knowing how to take a screenshot on Mac, whether it’s a MacBook or an iMac, comes in handy in so many ways. But, that’s not even the best part. Apple has designed the macOS to be as user-friendly and as seamless as possible, and that has trickled to how you take screenshots on your Mac computer.

Whether you want to take a screenshot of your whole screen, a portion of it or a particular open window, Apple has made the process of taking screenshots easy, convenient and practically flawless. Better yet, with macOS Mojave and macOS Catalina, Apple has also made what you do after taking a screenshot foolproof, efficient and frankly, fun, whether you just want to drag and drop your screenshot in an email or annotate it before sharing.

If you’d like to know how to take a screenshot on Mac, we’ve got everything you need to know here. By the time you’re done ready, you might never want to stop using screenshots for everything.

Screenshot thumbnails

The latest versions of the Mac operating system, starting with macOS 10.14 Mojave, have rolled out revamped screenshot and screen recording shortcuts and tools for Mac users. It’s more effortless, more flexible and more fun than ever to take screenshots, and edit them after.

How to take a screenshot on a Mac

(Image credit: Apple)

When you take a screenshot, a thumbnail appears on the lower right hand corner of the screen for a moment, similar to iOS. This thumbnail comes in extremely useful as it allows you to edit a screen capture before macOS actually saves as a .png file.

You can click the thumbnail to crop, rotate, annotate or share it. You can also drag the thumbnail to your favorite photo editing app, to the email you're writing or to messenger platforms like Slack.

How to take a screenshot on a Mac

(Image credit: Apple)

1. Annotating screenshots
Click on the thumbnail, and the full screenshot will open in Markup in Preview. There, you type text, draw symbols, sign, crop and rotate images (as well as PDF documents).

With this one step process, you can quickly annotate your screenshot before sending it to your colleagues and friends.

How to take a screenshot on a Mac

(Image credit: Apple)

2. Thumbnail menu
Control-click the thumbnail to reveal a small menu. This menu will give you the option to save the screenshot to your desktop, Documents folder or your clipboard, open it in an app, show it in Finder or open it in Markup to annotate.

How to take a screenshot on Mac using keyboard shortcuts (or on older Macs)

Using keyboard shortcuts is the fastest way to take screenshots. If you’re in a hurry or don’t really want to take too much time capturing what’s on your screen, here are the three keyboard shortcuts you must know about.

These also apply to users with an older Mac or MacBook that doesn't have macOS 10.14 Mojave or later installed. Use these shortcuts when taking a screenshot on a Mac running macOS 10.13 High Sierra or earlier.

1. Taking a screenshot of the entire screen
Hold Command (⌘) + Shift then press 3 to take a screenshot on a Mac of the whole screen. This will save a screenshot on your desktop (by default) saved as a .png file.

2. Taking a screenshot of a portion of the screen
If you're only interested in taking a screenshot of part of the screen, hold down Command (⌘) + Shift and press 4. This turns the cursor into a crosshair pointer. 

Move this pointer to where you want to start the screenshot and left-click, before dragging the rectangle over the desired area while holding the mouse button. Let go to turn the selected area into a .png file on the desktop. 

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How to take a screenshot on a Mac

(Image credit: Apple)
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How to take a screenshot on a Mac

(Image credit: Apple)

3. Taking a screenshot of an open Window
To precisely take a screenshot of a specific open window and its contents on a Mac, hold down Command (⌘) + Shift then press 4 and Spacebar. This turns the cursor into a camera pointer. 

Move the camera pointer over the window to highlight it and left-click to save the screenshot as a .png file on the desktop. It doesn’t matter if the window is the active one or sitting behind another window. As long as it’s highlighted by the camera pointer, you should be able to capture it.

You can also hit escape before you click to cancel the screenshot. 

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How to take a screenshot on a Mac

(Image credit: Apple)
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How to take a screenshot on a Mac

(Image credit: Apple)

4. Taking a screenshot of a menu
It's also possible to take a screenshot of a menu without the title using another handy combination. Hold down Command ⌘ + Shift, press 4 and the Spacebar, then left-click on the menu you want to capture to send it to your desktop in the form of a .png file.

How to take a screenshot on Mac using the screenshot toolbar

How to take a screenshot on a Mac

(Image credit: Apple)

If you want to be more particular or precise when taking screenshots, actually record your screen or change some screenshot settings, there’s another important keyboard shortcut to keep in mind.

Holding Shift + Command (⌘) and pressing 5 calls up the screenshot toolbar, which gives you even more features for capturing your screen.

How to take a screenshot on a Mac

(Image credit: Apple)

1. Screenshots using the toolbar
The first three icons on the screenshot toolbar from the left set what’s grabbed in a static screenshot: the entire desktop, a portion of it, or a particular window. Select which particular one you’d like to use to capture your screen.

To capture the whole screen, click on the Capture the Entire Screen icon then click Capture.

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How to take a screenshot on a Mac

(Image credit: Apple)
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How to take a screenshot on a Mac

(Image credit: Apple)
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How to take a screenshot on a Mac

(Image credit: Apple)

To capture a specific open window, click on the Capture Selected Window icon. This will turn the pointer into a camera pointer. Put this over the window you’d like a screenshot of then left-click on your mouse.

How to take a screenshot on a Mac

(Image credit: Apple)

To capture a portion of the screen, click on the Capture Selected Portion icon. This will give you a crop tool area that you can adjust by clicking and dragging at the edges and corners. Once you’ve set the crop area to how you want your screenshot to look, click Capture.

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How to take a screenshot on a Mac

(Image credit: Apple)
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How to take a screenshot on a Mac

(Image credit: Apple)

2. Recording your screen using the toolbar
The next two record video of the whole or a portion of the screen. Both work similar to their screenshot counterparts, except you press Record instead when you’re ready. 

These recordings are soundless by default. With a video mode selected, the Options menu does gain an option to record sound from your Mac’s microphone.

How to take a screenshot on a Mac

(Image credit: Apple)

3. Screenshot options
Note that by default, your Mac will save all your screenshots on your desktop by default. The good news is you no longer need to use a Terminal command to choose where Mac screenshots are saved! The Options menu includes popular locations as presets, or you can pick a specific folder yourself.

4. Remember last selection
For modes that capture just part of the desktop, leave 'Remember Last Selection' in the Options menu turned on to grab the same area each time. Turn it off if you prefer to select an area from scratch.

5. Turn off the thumbnail
Click 'Options' and untick 'Show Floating Thumbnail'. You can hide the cursor in static shots/indications of clicks during videos from this menu, too.

6. Set a countdown
The Options menu also provides the option of a 5- or 10-second timer between you initiating a screenshot capture and it happening.

7. Move the screenshot toolbar
Toolbar getting in the way? Drag it from the space above or below the X that closes it.

Change the default format and save location of screenshots

If you're using a version of macOS earlier than macOS Mojave, then follow these instructions to change the type and location of the files.

OS X saves screenshots as .png files by default, which can be changed to .jpg by inputting the following command into Terminal: 

defaults write com.apple.screencapture type jpg

It doesn't have to be .jpg either - you can switch the file format to a number of supported extensions such as PDF, tiff, or bitmap, among others, by entering it at the end of the line. 

To change the location enter in the following command:

defaults write com.apple.screencapture location

Then, enter in the path of the new folder you want to save the screenshots into, or drag and drop it into the Terminal window.

When you're done, enter this command to load the new setting: 

killall SystemUIServer

How to annotate screenshots using Preview

How to take a screenshot on a Mac

(Image credit: Apple)

If you’d rather annotate your screenshots later, instead of clicking on the thumbnail to do so immediately after capturing, you may certainly do so. When you’re ready, click on the saved screenshot file to open it in Preview.

Preview won’t just let you crop, resize and tweak your screenshots – it also has some nifty built-in annotation features that come in handy for placing text over them. Make sure the Edit Toolbar is visible (from the View menu) and you’ll see options for drawing shapes, speech, thought bubbles and more. 

For creating instructions out of screenshots, the arrow tool will come in particularly useful. There's also the option to highlight text in different colours, strikethrough some text, add notes and type some text into boxes. 

How to take a screenshot on a Mac using a Windows keyboard

If you use a Windows keyboard with your Mac, you can still use the keyboard shortcuts listed above. However, as Windows keyboards do not have the Command (⌘) key, you need to press the Windows key (which holds the Windows icon).