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How to Become an OS X Screenshot Wizard

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Whether you know them as screen dumps, screen captures, screenshots, screen grabs or print screens, the process of capturing the visual information — displayed on the screen of your Mac — is a relatively straightforward process …once you know how.

In this tutorial, I’ll show you how! I’ll look at ways to, easily, capture screenshots on your Mac using a little known utility on your Mac, using keyboard shortcuts and by using a third-party developer app.


Introduction

For those who use Windows PCs, or who have come to Apple’s OS X after using Windows PCs, you’ll already be familiar with the Print Screen, or Prt Scr, key that enables screenshots to be taken — albeit only to the clipboard.

Whilst Apple’s Mac keyboards do not have a dedicated key for the purposes of screen captures to be taken, Apple does allow particular key combinations to capture screenshots in various ways. These screen captures are then saved automatically, as .png (Portable Network Graphic) files, to the desktop.


The “Grab” Utility Demonstration

This short screencast provides a practical overview of the Grab utility.



OS X's Grab utility

The “Grab” Utility

Inside the Applications folder, on your Mac, is a folder named Utilities. Inside that, there is a little-known app called Grab.

Grab allows you to capture screenshots of your screen in different ways: capture a Selection, capture a Window, capture the whole Screen or capture a Timed Screen.

Tip: Rather than using Finder to navigate to the Utilities folder, use Command (⌘) Space to launch Spotlight and type Grab to launch the app quickly. Alternatively, you can do the same thing with Alfred app by pressing Option (⌥) Space

Whole Screen

cmd-z

To capture the entire screen of your Mac, click Command (⌘) Z. A small dialogue window with then open to advise the entire screen will be captured as soon as you click outside of the dialogue window.

Note, the dialogue window, itself, will not be captured in the screenshot. If you have a multiple display set up, the only screen that will be captured is the one that you click with the mouse (or trackpad).

A Grab preview window will then open up which you may then copy, save or print. It is important to note that no file will be saved by default. If you wish to keep the screen capture, you will need to save it.

Timed Whole Screen

shift-cmd-z

To capture a timed whole screen of your Mac, click Command (⌘) Shift Z. A small dialogue window with then open to advise the timed screen will be captured ten seconds after you click outside of the dialogue window. This is useful if you need to set up a particular menu to appear in the screenshot.

Note, the dialogue window, itself, will not be captured in the screenshot. If you have a multiple display set up, the only screen that will be captured is the one that you click with the mouse (or trackpad).

Selection of Screen

shift-cmd-a

To capture just a selection of the screen of your Mac, click Command (⌘) Shift A. A small dialogue window with then open to advise you to drag the mouse cursor over the portion of the screen that you wish to capture. The mouse cursor will also give you the X-Y pixel co-ordinates of where the mouse is positioned and, when you click and hold the mouse and drag, it will give the X-Y pixel dimensions of the selection you are making. As you click, hold the click and then drag the mouse, your selection will be shown within a red outlined box. Release the mouse to capture the selection.

Window

shift-cmd-w

To capture a single window of an application displayed on your Mac, click Command (⌘) Shift W. A small dialogue window with then open to ask you to choose a window. The mouse cursor changes to a camera icon. You may then move the mouse over any window, on display, and click to capture just that window.

Note, the dialogue window, itself, will not be captured in the screenshot. If you have a multiple display set up, the only screen that will be captured is the one that you click with the mouse (or trackpad).


Keyboard Shortcuts Demonstration

This short screencast provides a practical overview of the keyboard shortcuts.



Keyboard Shortcuts Demonstration

Keyboard Shortcuts

Admittedly, it’s an interruption to your workflow, a hassle, to have to navigate to Grab utility before you can take screen shots. For that reason, don’t get hung up on using Grab for the purpose of taking screenshots.

There is a better way, if you can remember the combinations, for taking screen shots using keyboard shortcuts.

Whole Screen

shift-cmd-3

Unlike Grab utility, there is no need to launch any particular application to invoke these screenshot actions.

To capture the whole screen, click Command (⌘) Shift 3.

The screenshot will be saved, by default, to the desktop.

Tip: If you have a multiple display set-up, this specific keyboard shortcut will only work on the primary display (the one with the menu bar across the top of the screen).

Selection

shift-cmd-4

To capture the a selection of the screen, click Command (⌘) Shift 4.

In similar behaviour to Grab utility, the X-Y co-ordinates of the position of the mouse cursor, on the screen, will be displayed.

As soon as you click and hold then drag, you will see the X-Y dimensions of the area you are selecting. The area, itself, will be indicated with a semi-transparent grey box over the top of the area being selected. Once you have the correct selection area, release the mouse button and the screenshot will be saved to the desktop.

Tip: Screenshots (pictures of the screen) are saved, by default, as files on the OS X desktop. If you prefer to place a screenshot in the Clipboard, simply hold down the Control key while you press the other key combinations show above. You can then paste the picture into a document using Command V.

Window

shift-cmd-4-space

To capture a screenshot of any individual window, or of the menu bar, Command (⌘) Shift 4 then Space.

The mouse cursor will change to a camera icon which can be moved over any window on the OS X desktop, highlighting each in turn as the cursor hovers over them. To select a window, simply click the mouse button.

The screenshot of your chosen window will be saved to the desktop.

Tip: If you wish to save screenshots to a location other than the desktop, it is possible to change the default location, to which to save, with a terminal command. This is explained later in this tutorial.


Removing Shadows From Screen Captures

The default behaviour is for screenshots to be captured with a graduated, grey shadow around the image.

If you are wanting to capture a precise pixel dimension screenshot, the shadow is going to add to dimensions of your required screenshot and make things generally difficult if you are manipulating the image in Preview, Pixelmator, Photoshop or any other graphics software.

Removing the shadow (or, indeed, restoring it) is relatively simple with a couple of commands in terminal.

To remove the shadows from screenshots, just type the following command into Terminal:

defaults write com.apple.screencapture disable-shadow -bool true

Then, using the following command, restart the System UI Server for it to take effect:

killall SystemUIServer

You can switch it back on by replacing “true” with “false” and, again, restarting the System UI Server.


Changing The File Format

The default behaviour of screenshots is that they are saved as .png files. These are Portable Network Graphic files. If your preference is for a different graphics format, open terminal and enter the following command:

defaults write com.apple.screencapture type image_format

Where image_format is one of jpg, tiff, pdf, png, bmp or pict. For the changes to take effect, enter the following command.

killall SystemUIServer

To return to the default .png format, open terminal and enter the following commands:

defaults write com.apple.screencapture type png
killall SystemUIServer


Changing The Destination

In a similar way to removing (or adding) shadows, and changing the output file formats, we can use terminal to change the destination to where our screenshots are saved.

Supposing that we want all screenshots to go into a dedicated folder within the Pictures folder, we can launch Terminal and enter the following command:

defaults write com.apple.screencapture location ~/Pictures/Screenshots

Again, for the changes to take effect, we need to enter a second command:

killall SystemUIServer

To return the the standard behaviour of saving screenshots to the desktop, open Terminal and enter the following commands:

defaults write com.apple.screencapture location ~/Desktop/
killall SystemUIServer

That will return your Mac to the standard behaviour.


Screen Capture App Demonstration

This short screencast provides a practical overview of a screen capture app.



Screen capture app

Using a Screen Capture App

As with many applications and utilities, for OS X, there is a number of different products available to make the process of taking and managing screenshots a little easier that the inbuilt options.

If the idea of keyboard shortcuts is not your thing, and for some people they aren’t, then it’s time to consider an app to help you. There are a number of screenshot apps available, such as Skitch, SnapzProX, Voila. The one that I use is LittleSnapper, from RealMac Software.

In the same way that OS X provides keyboard shortcuts to capture screenshots, in slightly different ways, so too does LittleSnapper. And it manages it all in an app, rather than leaving images on the desktop.

Capture Entire Webpages

opt-cmd-1

opt-cmd-2

Option-Command–1 will capture the current webpage, in Safari.

Option-Command–2 will open the current webpage in LittleSnapper’s in-built browser.

The ability to capture a webpage, as a screenshot, is often invaluable. To do this without LittleSnapper, you’d end up snapping a screenshot of the web content, scrolling down the webpage, repeating the process and then having to find a way of stitching together a number of images.

Snap Full Screen

opt-cmd-3

Option-Command–3 will snap the full screen and send it to the LittleSnapper image library.

Instead of sending the image to the desktop, as with OS X, this screenshot will be saved to the LittleSnapper Library.

Unlike OS X, LittleSnapper will capture all screens from a multi-display configuration, if that is what you use. It captures each screen as a separate image.

Snap Timed Screen

option-shift-cmd-3

Option-Shift-Command–3will snap a timed screen and send it to the LittleSnapper image library.

Similar to the snap full screen option above, but this give a five-second countdown which is useful if you want to capture a menu, or some sort of pop-over event, in your screenshot.

You can escape the countdown timer by pressing ESC.

Snap Area

opt-cmd-4

Option-Command–4 will snap an area of the screen and send it to the LittleSnapper image library.

This option allows you to select a specific area of the screen. Upon selecting the key-combination, the entire display with darken.

Using the mouse, click and hold at the top left of the area you wish to select, and drag to the bottom right of the rectangle area that you wish to select. The selected area will no longer appear darkened. As you select your chosen area, the pixel dimensions of the selection will be shown.

When you snap the selection, the screenshot is sent to LittleSnapper.

Snap Window

opt-cmd-5

Option-Command–5 will snap a chosen window and send it to the LittleSnapper image library.

For those occasions when you just need to capture a dialogue box or a specific window, this option allows you to get what you want without having to precisely, and manually, select an area.

Upon selecting this key-combination, the whole screen dims with the exception of any window over which the mouse cursor is hovering. Move the mouse cursor to a different window and that becomes selected. To capture the screenshot of the selected window, simply click with the mouse and it will be added to your LittleSnapper Library.

Image Management Features

This is where LittleSnapper comes into its own. Once you have snapped your screenshot, it is placed in a Library where you may perform further actions, including:

  • Catalogue Screenshot Captures
  • Collections and Smart Collections
  • Annotations / Highlighting
  • Blur and Crop
  • Text and Callouts

This sort of functionality is not available in Grab utility or with OS X screenshots.


It’s a Snap!

That’s a comprehensive but concise rundown of two methods, each baked into OS X, and a third-party solution to the issue of capturing screenshots. Somewhat more versatile then Prt Scr on the PC, and quite straightforward once you know OS X’s secret.

For my workflow, I have employed Terminal commands to remove the shadows from my screenshots and I tend to use Command (⌘) Shift 4 (to capture an area) or Command (⌘) Shift 4 then Space to capture any given window. I also use LittleSnapper for when I want to annotate images.

I’d love to hear any tips that you have for creating and managing screenshots and how screenshots fit into your workflow. Just leave any questions or suggestions in the comments, below.

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