Taking screen shots in Mac OS X

A simple tip that is often asked – how do I take screen shots (or print screen as it is known in Windows) in Mac OS X?

The screen capture options in Mac OS X are quite robust, offering solutions for not only capturing the entire screen but for capturing windows of running applications, or a manual selection of the screen itself.

It is important to note screen grabs are saved to your desktop as PNG files by default.

For those looking for the commands without more information the list is below. Read on if you would like an explanation.

Command-Shift-3 – Screen shot all displays to PNG files on the desktop.
Command-Shift-4 – Screen shot a specific selection of the screen using the cross hair.
Command-Shift-4 followed by Space bar – Screen shot a running application window.

Adding Control to any of the above will copy the image to your clip board rather then a file on your Desktop.

Below is an overview of the different inbuilt methods.

Capturing the whole desktop

Pressing Command-Shift-3 will capture all desktops (in the case of multiple displays) and place the files on your Desktop. If you would prefer to copy the screen shot straight to you clipboard as opposed to a file on your desktop, add the Control key to the combination above. For example,  Command-Shift-Control-3 – Please note this appears to only copy the primary Display to the clipboard in the case of multiple displays.

Capturing a manual selection of the screen

Pressing Command-Shift-4 will change your mouse cursor into a set of cross hairs. Using this you can click a point on your screen and then drag (while holding down the mouse button) and select the area of the screen you would like to capture. When you release the mouse button the screen shot is taken. As with the previous method you can add the Control key to copy the selection directly to your clipboard. For example, Command-Shift-Control-4 will allow you to select a portion of the screen and place this in your clip board.

Capturing a specific application window

Pressing Command-Shift-4 will bring up the cross hairs as above, now instead of making a selection press Space bar. The cursor will change from the cross hairs to a picture of a Camera. You can move this around the screen and you will note when you hover over an open window it will be highlighted to show it has been selected. From here click on the desired window and it will save this to a PNG on your desktop. As before, you can add the Control key to the mix to copy the selection directly to your clip board rather then to a file. The complete command would like like the following. Command-Shift-Control-4 followed by the Space bar.

I hope you find this information useful, please feel free to leave any questions or comments below.