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Mac OS X Keyboard

How to Print Screen on a Mac, 6 different ways to capture screenshot on a Mac

If you Googled “How to do Print Screen on a Mac” it means that you recently have switched from Windows to a shiny Mac and have no idea where to find “Print Screen” button which is present on most keywords designed for Windows. There are some exceptions but almost all Windows keyboards have “Print screen” button somewhere. Unfortunately, there is no such button on your Mac but it doesn’t mean that you can’t take screenshot, you can but the process is a bit more complicated, harder to memorize but is much more flexible when it comes to output and what you are specifically looking to capture in a screenshot.

There are 6 (!) different ways to capture a screenshot on your Mac, 3 different approaches with 2 different outputs for each but personally I use only two and I call myself a heavy Mac user and I have taken thousands of screenshots in the last year alone that are all published on these WordPress theme collections. I have no idea how many are there but I am sure that there are at least few thousands screenshots all captured using OS X Mavericks and OS X Yosemite.

I originally decided to write this tutorials because dozens of people have asked how I have created all those screenshots on this website and I will leave this blog post as reference to anyone asking the same question again.

How to Capture Print Screen on a Mac

1. Method

1.1 Capture entire screen area and save it to clipboard

Command ⌘ + Control + Shift + 3

Command ⌘ + Control + Shift + 3 - Capture screenshot and save it on clipboard

Command ⌘ + Control + Shift + 3

1.2 Capture entire screen area and save it to a file on your desktop

Command ⌘ + Shift + 3

Command ⌘ + Shift + 3

Command ⌘ + Shift + 3 – Capture screenshot and save it as file


2. Method

This method will help you to capture selected area of our screen such as menu bar, opened applications, some part of desktop, some application window or anything else. This is slightly more “advanced” method but it is very useful if you get used to it. Personally I use this method a lot but you have to repeat this method to memorize and learn how to use it properly on your Mac.

2.1 Capture selected screen area and save it to clipboard for further use in apps

Command ⌘ + Control + Shift + 4

Command ⌘ + Control + Shift + 4 + Drag with mouse. Capture selected area of screen and save it on clipboard.

  1. Press the Command ⌘ + Control + Shift + 4 (for older Mac versions use Apple key ⌘+ Control + Shift + 4) all at the same time.
  2. You will notice that your mouse cursor changes to “+” with pixel coordinates on the right side
  3. Now click and drag a box around the section that you want capture and release the mouse button when you are done
  4. Now screen capture is saved on clipboard for further use in apps

2.2 Capture selected screen area and save it to a file on your desktop

Command ⌘ + Shift + 4

Command ⌘ + Shift + 4 + Drag with mouse. Capture selected area of screen and save it as file on your desktop.

  1. Press the Command ⌘ + Shift + 4 (for older Mac versions use Apple key ⌘ + Shift + 4) all at the same time.
  2. You will notice that your mouse cursor changes to “+” with pixel coordinates on the right side
  3. Now click and drag a box around the section that you want capture and release mouse button when you are done
  4. Now screen capture is saved on a PNG file on your desktop (if not otherwise specified)

3. Method

This method will help you to save a print screen of a particular application window such as web browser, Keynote, Pages, Numbers or other.

3.1 Capture a screenshot of a particular app window and save it to clipboard

Command ⌘ + Control + Shift + 4

Command ⌘ + Control + Shift + 4 + Space bar + Mouse Click. Print screen particular windows on save it on clipboard

  1. Command ⌘ + Control + Shift + 4
  2. You will notice that your mouse cursor changes to “+” with pixel coordinates on the right side
  3. Now with spacebar (that very wide button on your keyboard )
  4. Now click on window you would like to capture in screenshot
  5. Screenshot is now saved on your clipboard for further use in apps

3.2 Capture a screenshot of a particular app window and save it to a file on your desktop

Command ⌘ + Shift + 4

Command ⌘ + Shift + 4 + Space Bar + Mouse Click. Print screen particular windows on save it as file on desktop.

  1. Command ⌘ + Shift + 4
  2. You will notice that your mouse cursor changes to “+” with pixel coordinates on the right side
  3. Now with space bar (that wide button on your keyboard )
  4. Now click on window you would like to capture in screenshot
  5. Screenshot is now saved on a PNG file on your desktop (if not otherwise specified)

Like I said, there are 3 methods with 2 different outputs and we have covered them all. If you are having trouble with any of these methods, please let us know in comments below.

You don’t need to memorize all these methods and the best solution here is to find the one or two that you like the most and practice for a while to memorize theme. If you think that you will definitely forget, make sure to bookmark this page for further reference.

Change the File Format Your Mac Uses to Save Screenshots

If you did try to use some of the above mentioned methods, you might have noticed that screenshots saved as PNG files. In most cases it is OK to use this file format because you will get the best image quality but if you are using MacBook Pro Retina or some other 4K monitor you will notice that screenshots can be as large as 5-8MB and that is unacceptable for sending several such files via email.

There is solution for this as you can change the default file type for screen captures by using a simple terminal command. Every installation of Mac OS X includes the Terminal which you can find in Applications -> Utilities. Or use search to find “Terminal” faster.

Most major image formats are supported by this OS X function including PNG, PDF, GIF, TIFF, and JPG, we’ll go with JPG since that is a common type and will output smaller image size than default PNG.

Mac OS X Yosemite Terminal

Now that you have Terminal opened copy/paste this command and hit enter (return):

defaults write com.apple.screencapture type jpg

You might have to input your Mac user password, if so, just go ahead and do it.

These changes will take effect after next restart but you can use this command to make these changes instant. Again copy/paste this command in Terminal window and hit enter (return).

killall SystemUIServer

Screen captures will now be saved as JPG files. To change back to PNG or to any other file format just run through the process again setting ‘png’ or other as your type in the first Terminal command.

In case you are looking for original image of Mac keyboard we used for this tutorials you can download it from here.

Aigars

Frontend web developer and web designer specialized in free and premium WordPress theme development. Started to learn to code 2 years ago and now I am familiar with CSS/HTML/JavaScript (jQuery) and PHP. Obsessed with application performance, user experience and simplicity.

This Post Has 21 Comments
  1. for entry: 3.2 Capture a screenshot of a particular app window and save it to a file on your desktop

    this appears to cut off at the currently visible screen. So it doesn’t take a screen dump of the off-screen part of an app.

    1. Joris,

      Yes, that’s how it works. There is no other combination in Mac that would help you with process and you have to look for some 3rd party apps. For screen capture I use browser extension called Awesome Screenshot and it is available for Chrome, Firefox and Safari. It works only in web browser but I believe there might be some other app specific solutions available for other apps as well.

    2. To capture contents that are off the screen, you can use Snagit. It has a scrolling window screenshot mode which enables you to capture all the contents in a scrollable window.

  2. My MAC has lost its ability to capture print screens. Any troubleshooting tips you can offer? I updated to El Capitan, but this did not correct the problem. I used to be able to print screen with no problem.

    1. Teri,

      Make sure that all necessary keys on your keyboard are working fine and try to use different print screen methods to see if others methods does anything. Also make sure that print screens aren’t saved elsewhere because it is one of few things that you can tweak for Mac. For example all my screenshots are saved directly on Dropbox inside Screenshots folder as I have defined it.

  3. This information is great, but what do I do when none of these will work — no print screen saved anywhere?

    Please help. I’m running El Capitan on a 27″ iMac.

    1. Brad,

      Does your screen flashes and makes this print screen specific sound? Or it doesn’t do anything?
      There haven’t been any changes in EL Capitan or even the latest 5K iMac in this process and it works just fine. In fact I have the same setup.

    1. Ruth,

      I am using an 5k iMac and it does work for me. 🙂 Also on 15″ Retina MacBook Pro and on 12″ Macbook using various keyboard including Apple Magic Keyboard and Logitech K810 and K760.

      What keyboard layout, language and what exact keyboard do you use?

    1. Monika,

      You are definitely not alone 🙂
      I am not sure why Apple decided to go this route but I believe that this must be something with “Think Different”, mantra or Microsoft holds some patent of some sort for this functionality. I have no proof for that but I see no logical explanation why we should use so complex keyboard shortcuts.

    1. Anabela,

      I have never tried to capture a print screen from a DVD and don’t have an option to test it since I have no DVD’s anymore. However, it should work exactly like on any other app or service.

    1. Luke,

      I am more than certain that these methods works. Maybe you have a different kw layout or different language for your keyword but it is more than unlikely to make a difference.

  4. Here’s a different twist on the need for a “PrintScreen” key. On a Windows PC, I use a vintage program called Printkey2000. It’s a RAM resident program that’s triggered to capture by pressing PrintScreen. I used MAC’s Bootcamp to install Windows 7, then 10, on my MacBook Pro. Printkey can be made to work in a kludgy way on this MAC “maverick” but a simple keystroke would be great to use instead. Any suggestions?

  5. Any idea how to take a screenshot of the keyboard viewer, which shows the layout of the current keyboard? When you press the command key, the keyboard viewer reverts to showing the QWERTY layout for some reason, which defeats any attempt to capture an image of the keyboard layout. All the screenshot keyboard shortcuts I’ve heard of use the command key.

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