This article was first published on 2009-10-28. Due to the age of this article, it is included here for archive purposes only.


The Mac always kept the screenshot process simple. Just hold down Shift+Command+3 and your whole screen screenshot appeared on your desktop labeled as Picture x. Hold down Shift+Command+4 and your mouse cursor changed to crosshairs that let you define a specific rectangle of the screen to capture. Hit Enter and your screenshot appeared on the desktop labeled as Picture x. The operating system defined the file format, with PDF in 10.1 through 10.3 and now PNG since 10.4 till now in 10.6. The pictures always end up on the Desktop. And you can’t change these settings in the Preference Panes.

What if you could change screenshot file formats and the location where OS X saves them with a point and click interface? What if the newcomer could change this option for just themselves without messing up the settings of another user’s account? What if it came FREE!

Then you need to check out Marcel Bresink’s TinkerTool. This program allows a new user to set many options for his own account that Apple chose not to make available in its Preference Panes or program preferences. Go to Bresink.de/osx/tinkertool to download this wonderful tool. It’s only 2 megabytes in size.

Why to Change File Formats and Location.

First, though, screenshot names. If you started with Macs before 10.6, OS X named each screenshot Picture 1, Picture 2, Picture 3. If you had multiple monitors, you might see a picture called Picture 1 (2), representing a picture from the second monitor.

Now with OS X 10.6, the naming convention has changed to Screen shot YYYY-MM-DD at HH.MM.SS. For example, Screen shot 2009-10-23 at 6.12.06 PM. Now each screenshot has a unique identifier, far more specific than Picture 1 or Picture 2.

Now why would you change file formats from the default? What’s a PNG to begin with and why’s different from a TIFF?  What if you just wanted a JPEG?

Well, PNG stands for Portable Network Graphics. The format is designed to maintain the fidelity of the picture versus keeping it a reasonable size. It’s a compromise and it’s also intended to work on as many different kinds of computers. You can give a PNG file to a Windows or Linux user and they’ll see the same picture you see on your Mac.

PNGs work great on your screen. If you intend to publish your screenshots in a book which is printed in much finer detail than what your screen displays, though, you want a format that doesn’t have any compromises. You want TIFF (Tagged Image File Formats) which are much larger than the equivalent PNG picture. That’s OK, because you normally send those pictures to your editor at your publisher on a CD or DVD along with your text.

If you own an inexpensive digital camera, you probably get your pictures as JPEG files. JPEG (Joint Photographic Experts Group) have the advantage of small size. A JPEG file will be the smallest size you can take. If you just want to save space on your hard disk and not worry about how your screenshots print out, use JPEG. If you have a slow Internet connection, save your screenshots in JPEG format. That way, they will upload as quickly as possible. 

What You See When You First Use TinkerTool

When you start up the program, you see a menubar with 10 icons on it.  The contents below change depending on the icon you selected.

You want to select the General icon, the third icon from the left.

The Screenshot file format starts with the Operating System default. But click on the blue area with the up and down arrows at the right end and you see more choices.

Do you or your partner prefer to work with graphics in Adobe Photoshop Document (PSD) format? No problem.  Windows BMP?  TIFF? Even working with someone still using Mac Classic OS with PICT? Again, no problem.

Now as for the Target folder for screenshots, the program starts with the Desktop as its target. But click on the blue area with the up and down arrows and you have more choices. Click on select a different folder… and a File Selector box opens up. Choose a preexisting folder (/Pictures) or add another folder within /Pictures just for your screenshots (/Pictures/Screenshots). You can even put it on a network drive for access by your team.

Just pick your new file format and screenshot location and log out from the Apple menu and log back in, and you’re working in your new format with pictures saved to your new location.

Do I need a new Intel Mac to use this feature of TinkerTool

No, you don’t need a new, or slightly used in my case,  Intel Mac to use this feature. TinkerTool can change the screenshot file format and folder location even on my old PowerPC iMac running 10.4.11. So if you support older Macs, you’ve got an answer for screenshot problems.

What Other Features does TinkerTool posses?

Among other things, TinkerTool enables to change your Finder to show hidden and system files. You can enable or disable animation effects when opening files. You can turn off the 3-D glass desktop effect of the Dock, which really bothered a lot of people in Leopard. Best of all, you can reset your Mac’s settings back to what they were before you used TinkerTool. TinkerTool is not as powerful as other 3rd party system tools, such as Maintain’s Cocktail. While not as powerful, you don’t need administrative privileges to make changes in TinkerTool. So students in computer labs or children whose parents granted them restricted access to the family Mac can use TinkerTool.

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.