How to take a screenshot on Mac?

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If you are looking to make a screen capture on a MacBook or iMac, the operating system already provides the tools required. With the help of a few hotkeys you can come up with a variety of different screenshots. Below we explain which combination of keys you need to press in order to create a screenshot on mac.

The essentials in brief:

  • Entire screen + save file to desktop: [Shift ⇧] + [Cmd ⌘] + [3].
  • Selected area of the screen + save file to desktop: [Shift ⇧] + [Cmd ⌘] + [4].
  • Capture the entire screen + copy to clipboard: [Control ^] + [Shift ⇧] + [Cmd ⌘] + [3] using the key combination [Cmd ⌘] + [v] insert the screenshot in the chosen location.
  • Capture a selected area of the screen + copy to clipboard: [Control ^] + [Shift ⇧] + [Cmd ⌘] + [4] using the key combination [Cmd ⌘] + [v] insert the screenshot in the chosen location.

How to take a screenshot on a Mac

Apple devices don’t have a ‘Print Screen’ button. It allows Windows users, with one single press of a button, to make a screenshot of everything on display on a monitor. Apple users will always need to press a combination of buttons (a shortcut) to make a screenshot on a Mac. There are different buttons depending on which area of a macOS or OS X you wish to make a screenshot of.

  • Entire screen: You can make a screenshot of the entire screen by pressing [Shift⇧] + [Cmd] + [3].
  • Rectangular area: Press [Shift⇧] + [Cmd] + [4] to grab a rectangular section of a screen. In this case, the mouse pointer will turn into a crosshair cursor. First, move the cursor to where you would like to begin the screenshot. Then click and pull to the desired size before releasing the mouse again. The screenshot will then once the mouse is released. If you wish to cancel the screenshot, simply press the Esc button.
  • Window: If you wish to capture an entire window (and nothing else) as a screenshot, then you should also be pressing the button combination of [Shift⇧] + [Cmd] + [4]. Once again, your mouse will transform into a crosshair cursor. Now by pressing the spacebar the cursor will become a camera symbol. Simply click on the window that you wish to make a screenshot of. This process can also be cancelled at any time by pressing the Esc button.
  • Menu: Even a menu can be saved separately as a screenshot on a Mac. To do this simply open the menu and press [Shift⇧] + [Cmd] + [4]. Using the cursor, click on the menu and create your screenshot. However, this will not save the title of the menu. This can only be done if, prior to clicking your mouse, you transform the pointer into a crosshair cursor by pressing the spacebar. Now when you click on the menu, the title will also be a part of the screenshot. Like with the other options, you can cancel this process by pressing the Esc button.
  • Touch Bar: As of 2016, MacBook Pros are fitted with an additional navigation bar – an OLED touch screen known as the Touch Bar. It is also possible to make a screenshot of this display. A requirement for this is that you have the macOS Sierra 10.12.1 or later. The shortcut key for this form of screenshot – as the Touch Bar is located underneath the actual monitor – is [Shift⇧] + [Cmd] + [6]. (It is also possible to install a button in the Touch Bar specifically for the creation of MacBook screenshots.)

All screenshots will automatically be saved on your desktop as a PNG image file. The naming of the file is also done automatically by the operating system. All file names begin with the word ‘Screenshot’ followed by the time and date that it was created.

It is also possible to copy the screenshot to the clipboard, instead of turning it into a file. By pressing the [Ctrl] button the Mac will store the screen grab in the clipboard. From here it is easier to transfer it to a word and image processing program that you might be working with. This process works with all Mac screenshot shortcuts.

Grab tool: additional way to take a screenshot on Mac

If you wish to take screenshots on your Mac without using shortcut keys, the Grab tool comes in handy. This software is already installed on every Mac operating system. It can be found either in the ‘Utilities’ folder under ‘Applications’ or by using the ‘Spotlight’ search function. This helpful tool is easy to use and can be operated using the menu taskbar. Here you can select which area of a display you wish to save as an image file. Generally, you have the same options as with the keyboard shortcuts: entire screen, a selected window, or a self-determined section.

In addition to this, the software also has a timer function. This makes it possible to make changes on the screen before the screenshot is actually taken. For example, this is very useful if you want to capture the mouse cursor.

Each time the screenshot will appear in a new window. You can then decide what to do with it next – enter the name of the file and then select where it should be stored.

Furthermore, you can also use the Preview tool when creating screenshots. In the program that you would normally use to open images and PDF files, you will find a ‘Create PDF’ option. This option allows you to create 3 types of PDF: ‘From Screen Capture’, ‘From Window Capture’, and ‘From Selection Capture’. The screenshot can then be edited directly in the preview or saved in the various formats.

Common problems when making screenshots on a Mac

Sometimes taking a screenshot on a Mac doesn’t work. This usually has something to do with the program that you are attempting to display. For example, Apple has a configuration that makes it impossible to take a screenshot while the DVD player is running. For copyright reasons, Apple has made it impossible to make screenshots while the playback software is running. This is the case even if you have no desire to include any part of the movie in your screenshot.

To produce a screenshot (of material with which you are making no copyright infringement), there are two roundabout ways of doing this:

  1. Use an alternative playback program. Mac will not prevent you from making screenshots if you use a different software for playing films and videos.
  2. Use a different screenshot program. The limitation outlined above applies only if you wish to produce and edit screenshots directly with macOS or OS X software. There are also third-party providers that offer free software for making screenshots on a Mac.

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