How to Easily Screenshot on a Mac

August 1, 2018

When starting a new job, I was introduced to an entirely new culture -- one with Apple computers. 

At this time, knowing how to use a Mac was a distant memory (as in, an elementary school memory). That meant I had no clue how to take a screenshot.

Thankfully, the process is easy:

Like knowing how to take a screenshot on an iPhone, screenshots on a Mac are easy. Plus, there are plenty of ways you can take screenshots, which you'll find right here.

In total, this article will go through the following tips and tools to take a mac screenshot:

How to screenshot on Mac

When I realized I didn't know how to screenshot using an Apple product, I tried -- momentarily -- to avoid taking screenshots. Turns out I couldn’t go two days without screenshots, so I searched for a tool that would replicate how to screenshot on Windows.

As it turned out, and as you'll see, I didn’t need one. 

While we go through the ways to take a screenshot on your Mac, you’ll experience the benefits of screenshots first hand -- I have taken plenty of my own that I will share throughout this article!

To begin with, let’s take a deeper look at the command function used to screenshot a portion of your Mac screen.

Mac Screenshot command functions

This is the most common way to take a screenshot (also known as a screen grab).

Step One

Press the buttons Shift-Command-4 at the same time.

Key Commands to Screenshot on Mac

These three buttons will enable you to capture a select portion of your screen.

Step Two

After simultaneously pushing Shift-Command-4, click and drag your mouse over the portion of your screen you’d like to capture.

Step Three

Release your mouse to take the screenshot.

Here you can see a video of how the process looks in action. For the purposes of this tutorial, I have taken a screenshot of this blog’s header.

Note the following:

  • The cursor appears when I press and hold down the Shift-Command-4 keys
  • The box appears and changes size as I drag my mouse
  • The box disappears when I release my mouse
Screenshot on Mac

When you go through the process yourself, you’ll hear a sound when releasing your mouse. The sound replicates the shutters clicking on a real camera, informing you the screenshot has been taken.

Now, let’s look at how to take a screenshot of the entire page. This is the same thing as the print screen on a PC keyboard.

TIP: If a simple screenshot isn't enough, it's time to explore screen and video capture software.

See the best FREE Screen Capture Software →

Print screen on a Mac using command functions

A common issue PC users face when switching to Macs is trying to find the “print screen” button.

Thankfully, it is still easy to capture the entire screen on your Apple computer. The steps are similar to those we just discussed, on how to use command functions to capture a portion of your screen. The difference? Just one number!

To simulate the print screen on your Mac, press and hold down Shift-Command-3.

Key commands to screenshot on Mac

When capturing the entire print screen, you’ll notice one difference: there is no highlighted area showing your screen grab.
Even though you don’t see the screenshot process happen when capturing your entire screen, I promise it occurred!

And, if you have the sound on your computer, you will again hear the fun little camera “click” as you release the keys.

With both of these command functions to capture a screenshot, you will find the image file on your computer’s desktop. We’ll look at that later on.

How to screen grab on a Mac - programs and tools

Instead of using the command functions on your Mac keyboard, you can also take a screenshot with programs on your Mac computer. Some of these come pre-installed, others will need to obtain from the Mac App Store.

Let’s start with Preview, a program that comes pre-installed on your computer.

How to take a Mac screenshot with Preview

Preview is the default program images are displayed with on your computer. Unless you move your screenshots to iPhoto, you are using Preview to open any screenshots and images on your Mac. 

In this example, I downloaded an image from the stock footage website Unsplash. When I opened the picture it from my downloads folder, this is my desktop view. You can see the image was automatically opened in Preview:

Mac Photo Preview

Preview allows you to do more than just view images. The program makes it very easy to edit images and -- you guessed it -- take screenshots.

To take a screenshot on a Mac with Preview, start by opening the program. Then, click on “File” in the menu that appears on the top of your screen.

From there, a drop down menu will appear. Click on “Take Screenshot,” and you will see three options appear.

Take Screenshot Mac Preview

To screen grab a portion of your screen (as you did holding down command-shift-4), choose “From Selection.” To capture your entire screen, replicating the print screen button, choose “From Entire Screen.”

Preview also enables you to take a screenshot of a selected window. Let’s take a look at that process now.

How to screenshot windows with Preview

To screenshot a window with Preview, have the window you want to screenshot open on your computer. Then, bring up Preview, and choose File - Take Screenshot - From Window.
 Screenshot a Window on Mac

When you do, a small, black camera icon will appear, with the message “Move the camera over the window you want to capture.”

Then, as you hover your mouse (aka the camera icon) over your window, simply click your mouse. The camera icon will disappear, and your screenshot will pop up in a new window.

Here you can see what that window looks like. Notice that the image name (at the top center) is Untitled.

Name a screenshot on Mac preview

Click on the word “Untitled” at the top of the screen to rename your image and choose where you would like to save it.

Rename screenshot on Mac

Later in this article, we’ll look at how you can use Preview to edit your screenshots, including adding the bright red arrows you’ve seen throughout this article!

How to screenshot on Mac with Skitch

Skitch is a Mac snipping tool you can download from the Mac App Store. It is similar to Preview, as you can take or edit screenshots through Skitch, or using the shift-command-4 function.

Follow these steps to capture a screen grab with Skitch:

Step One

Download the program and open it on your Mac. Here’s what the Skitch icon looks like on your Mac toolbar.

skitch icon mac toolbar

Step Two

Once the program is open, click on the small triangle pointing down next to  “Screen Snap,” found on the top center of the page. Once you do so, a drop down menu will appear.

Screenshot with Skitch

Similar to other programs, you can choose if you would like to capture your entire screen or a portion of your screen. In addition, you can time your screen snap or edit pre-existing image and PDF files.

Step Three

To capture a select portion of your screen with Skitch, choose “Screen Snap” from the drop down menu.

Screen snap on Skitch

Step Four

As soon as you select Screen Snap, a grid will appear.

Screenshot with Skitch

Just like the shift-command-4 function, click and drag your mouse to capture the selected area. Release the mouse when you have the correct area highlighted.

How to take a timed Mac screenshot

There could be times when you want to take a timed screenshot, especially when the screenshot image requires mouse movements. For example, you may want to screenshot a pop-up window, but it disappears or changes when you move your mouse to take a screenshot.

 Skitch allows you to take timed screenshots. The process is similar on both programs, as you experiment with both, you can see which interface you prefer.

Skitch is automatically set to take a screenshot after a five-second delay. Let’s take a look at how you can utilize this feature when taking a screen grab from your YouTube channel.

Step One

To take a timed screenshot for your YouTube Thumbnail, go to your selected YouTube video. Then, click the pause button a few seconds before the moment you’d like to capture.

Youtube timed screenshot

Step Two

Once you have your video paused, open Skitch. From the Screen Snap button, choose “Timed Screen Snap.”

Step Three

In your YouTube video, click and drag the crosshairs to highlight the area to capture. In this case, the highlighted area is your thumbnail.

Step Four

As soon as you release your mouse, the five second timer will begin. Click the play button on your video, then move your mouse out of the screen grab area.The YouTube player will disappear as your video plays, enabling you to get a clean screen grab.

The trickiest part is selecting the correct area for the perfect YouTube thumbnail size. Thankfully, practice helps in that area!

TIP: If timed screenshots are too tricky, and you want to share your screen in real time, consider switching to screen sharing software.

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Where are Mac screenshots saved?

So, you’ve taken a screenshot, and you decided to do so using the shift-command-4 function. After you’ve released your mouse and heard that satisfactory “click,” where does your screen grab go?

When I took my first screenshot on Mac, I thought it disappeared into the abyss! It took a few moments of detective work as I wondered where my screenshots were saved. Thankfully, I quickly discovered the answer: Mac screenshots are saved on your desktop.

This can lead to some crowded desktops! You don’t have control where on the desktop your screen grabs land, but you can move them after. To avoid this problem, file your screenshots on a regular basis. My time management is highest when I file screenshots as soon as they’re taken.

Thankfully, I can easily find my screenshots by opening a Finder window with my desktop:

Mac screenshot saved on desktop

You can see my recent screenshots within the red boxes. Now, let’s look at what those file names mean.

Screenshot names on a Mac

Mac computers automatically assign names to your screenshots. The default naming convention for your screenshot files is:

Screen shot - year - month - date at time

Take a look at the bolded words in that format. These will be customized to the exact moment the screenshot was taken on your Mac.

This makes it easy to sort your files when looking at your desktop folder. In addition, if you are using your screenshots as documentation, this enables you to keep a record of the content’s date and time.

If you’d like to change the name of your screenshot, click on the file name when viewing your image in Preview.

Change Screenshot File Name

You can also click on the file name of your finder window to change it. Consider using screenshot names that are a quick reminder of the content.

If you have too many screenshots (especially if they are all on your desktop!), it gets difficult to find that screen grab you took two weeks ago. (Especially when you don’t remember which day you took it!)

Becoming a Mac screenshot pro 

After just a few screenshots, you will feel as if you’ve been taking Mac screenshots for as long as you can remember. Using the Shift-Command-4 keys becomes second nature, as do the other programs and command functions.

For other devices, use this step by step guide on how to screenshot on any device.

If you're looking for more ways to capture you screen, including video options, check out reviews of screen and video capture software on G2!

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