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How do I take a screenshot on a Mac computer?

How to take a screenshot on a Mac?

Since I have to write tutorials for this web site and others, the first thing I learnt on my new MacBook was how to take a screenshot. It involved using keyboard shortcuts quite like my old Windows computer.

However, in contrast to Windows, where I used the Prt Sc key to capture the screen as an image onto the clipboard and then open it in Paint or Photoshop, the Mac’s screenshot keyboard shortcut involves a three keys. Additionally, the screen area can be changed by including a fourth key.

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Keyboard shortcuts for screen capture on the Mac

There are three key-combinations for taking a screenshot on the Mac:

Key-combination Result
Command + Shift + 3 Full screen capture
Command + Shift + 4 Manually select screen area
Command + Shift + 4 + spacebar Specific window

Full screeshot

Hold Command + Shift + 3 to get a screenshot which is immediately saved on the desktop as a png image named “Screen Shot YYYY-MM-DD at HH.MM.SS am/pm” (On Mac OS X Yosemite and El Capitan). The screenshot image is quite large – about 1MB – on my MacBook Pro. Double click to open it in Preview.

FYI, on the Mac, the Desktop is default location to which the screenshots are saved. You can change this with a couple of commands executed through the terminal window. For step by step instructions, refer how to change the default location of screenshots on the Mac.

The above key combination – Command, Shift and 3 keys – captures the entire Mac screen. If you want only a specific window or select an area, you can edit and crop the image. However, there are smarter ways to get only a portion of the screen or a window of your choosing.

MacBook keyboard with screenshot key-combination highlighted - Command+Shift+3

Capture only a part of the Mac screen

To capture only a part of the screen on the Mac, use the key-combination Command + Shift + 4. This turns the cursor into crosshairs. Click and drag to select an area on the screen. When you release, a screenshot of the selected area will be taken and stored on the desktop (or the designated folder) as a png image file. Also, when the cursor turns into crosshairs, you’ll notice a couple of numbers. These are the x and y co-ordinates of the screen.

Right-click to return to the normal mode, if you decide not to take a screenshot.

Take a screenshot of a chosen window

If you’re like me and are interested in only one window, there is an even better way to get the job done. Here is what I do.

Though not necessary, I keep the chosen window at the very top and then use the key combination – Command + Shift + 4 + spacebar. This turns the cursor to a small camera icon. I then take the cursor on the window of my choice and click on it. A screenshot is saved immediately. Like I mentioned, the target window doesn’t need to be at the top; as long as it is even slightly visible, take the cursor on it (the window will be highlighted) and click for a screenshot.

Screen capture to clipboard on the Mac

The three key combinations I mentioned above will save the screen capture as an image in the designated folder. What if you want the screenshot to be captured and stored in the clipboard? The simple solution is to include the Option key in the combination; as in, Command + Option + Shift + 3. For further details, check out how to put the Mac screenshot in the clipboard.

Happy “screencapturing” – it is now officially a word!

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