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How do I capture the screen onto the clipboard on a Mac?

Copy Screenshot to clipboard on the Mac

With just one key, the entire screen is captured and saved onto the clipboard on Windows. I then paste this as an image in PhotoShop. On the Mac everything is complicated. And it saves it as an image instead of putting it in the clipboard. Is there no workaround for this?
Lorenza Tomas

I feel you Lorenza. I agree that taking a screenshot on the Mac is slightly more convoluted – it involves three keys instead of one (Prt Sc) on Windows. Anyway, the good news is that quite like Windows, the Mac screen too can be captured and placed onto the clipboard. The bad news is that the key-combination includes one more key!

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Capture screen to the clipboard on the Mac

The Mac has three different key-combinations for capturing the screen:

  • Command + Shift + 3 : Capture the entire screen.
  • Command + Shift + 4 : Capture only a part of the screen which you can select by clicking and dragging the mouse cursor.
  • Command + Shift + 4 + spacebar : Capture only a specific window.

All the above will save an image of the capture into the designated folder. To avoid that and to place the screen capture in the clipboard, one needs to use an additional key in the combinations above – the Option key. Thus,

  • Command + Option + Shift + 3 : Full screenshot
  • Command + Option + Shift + 4 : Only a part of the screen.
  • Command + Option + Shift + 4 + spacebar : Screenshot of a specific window

Mac keyboard with screen capture keys highlighted

When is it useful to put the Mac screen capture in the clipboard?

On Windows I was used to having the screenshot in the clipboard which I could then paste in my chosen graphic editor. I’ve realised that when screenshots are saved as images, one generally ends up with a whole bunch of them. The folder in which the screenshots are stored is a mess. It’s cumbersome and time consuming to find out the one I really want to use. And then I have to delete the ones I don’t want.

With the screen capture going to the clipboard, the work continues seamlessly. After taking the screenshot, I move directly to the graphic editor, paste it as a new image and do whatever I wanted to do, else discard it immediately.

Anyway, I leave you now with a little tip. I use Skitch a small application from Evernote for the Mac to annotate the screen captures. The software also has the ability to take a screenshot (just one mouse click) and present the image ready for annotations. If screen capturing is what you routinely do, I suggest you checkout this neat app.

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