This article was first published on 2009-12-05. Due to the age of this article, it is included here for archive purposes only.
With PCs, it’s easy to begin taking a screenshot: just hit the Print Screen key (or the elegant PtScr key seen on small keyboards). The hard part is what to do next. All that does is copy the content to the clipboard. Now what do you do? Most PC users not knowing better just paste it into a Word doc and pass it on. Except now it’s sized too small to fit in the doc and surrounded by white space.
Here’s where the Mac excels. With a Mac, you get a variety of types of screenshots and a variety of file types available to you. The main downside is that it doesn’t start by just hitting a single purpose key on your keyboard. Let’s take a look at the different ways of getting what you want.
3 Methods for Taking Screenshots
Use the Keyboard to Act Quick
Apple made taking screenshots a matter of striking a chord of keys. For a full-screen shot, you hit Shift+Command+3 together. To select a specific area, you hit Shift+Command+4 together. The screen cursor then changes into a crosshair. You set your cross-hairs on the top left-hand corner of the area you wished to capture, hold down the left mouse key and drag over the selected area to the lower right-hand corner. Release your mouse, hear a click, and you see the screenshot in a file on your desktop.
You can also get one specific window by doing the Shift+Command+4 thing, and then toggle between cross-hairs and window by hitting space bar.
Extra Bonus: hold down control when the shot is taken and it will copy the contents to your clipboard PC style instead of making a file on the desktop. This saves a step if your goal is to paste it into another app like Photoshop.
The default is for the image to be a PNG titled "Screenshot (date)" in Snow Leopard or just "Picture 1" in older OS X versions. Apple also preset the file format of the screenshots and where the computer saved them. Unfortunately, they didn’t allow easy access to these preferences. To change this, you’ll need a 3rd party utility, such as Tinkertool, to change OS X hidden preferences. See How Do I Change My Screenshot Format and Saved Location? for more information.
Use Grab to Get a Timer
What if you or your publisher wanted your screenshots in uncompressed TIFF format (preferred by print publishers) instead of the default PNG or PDF? You can use the Grab utility, which you will find in your /Applications/Utilities folder.
Once you launch Grab, you can use your mouse to capturing the whole screen, portions of the screen area, or even timed shots. You don’t need to use a key combination. Advantage: menu driven and you can use a timer to get things you need the cursor to setup, like menus.
Disadvantage of Grab over the Shift+Command+3/4 method? Your screenshots come out as TIFFs only. These screenshots will be substantially larger than a PNG screenshot. If you want to change the format and reduce the size, you can always use Preview to convert them. You may lose fine details in your picture, though.
Use Preview For a Variety of File Formats
If you’ve upgraded to 10.6 or bought a new Mac, Preview should solve the problem of file format selection. In fact, now that Preview 5.0 in OS X 10.6 includes the ability to take screenshots from a selection, from a specific window, or the whole screen, it may be all you’ll ever need. Once you’ve taken the screenshot, it loads it into Preview and you can save it in the multiple formats Preview provides.
But What if I Want Video?
Well, there’s an app for that too. The new Quicktime 10 player allows for capturing video of what is transpiring on your screen. Just go to File>New Screen Recording. It doesn’t have a variety of options, but it is free. For more robust screen recording options, check out Snapz Pro X.
Got any special tricks for screenshots? Let us know in the Comments section below!
Tom Briant has used Macs since 2001, just when OS X was introduced. He is the editor of the MacValley Voice, newsletter of the MacValley Users Group in Northridge, California.