Getting the Perfect Screenshot in OS X

apple screen

Many of the features of Mac OS X have intricacies to them, fine-tuned options that allow you to easily get exactly the result that you want. This is true of the screenshot feature of OS X. You can take a basic screenshot of everything on your screen, just as on most operating systems, but you can also tweak the key commands in many slight ways to get different results. This article will go over the tricks of the Mac screenshot and how to get exactly the shot you need.


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To take the most basic screenshot that just captures everything on your screen at the time, press Command, Shift, and 3 simultaneously. This will cause the image to appear automatically on your desktop in the form of a PNG file that can be uploaded to websites. To capture the shot of the whole screen to your clipboard instead of your desktop, just add Control to that combination of keys. This makes the screenshot paste-ready, so you can drop it wherever you need, such as in Powerpoint or Word.

If you want to capture just a particular portion of the screen, rather than the whole thing, press Command, Shift and 4. When you do this, your cursor will change to a crosshair. Click and drag with that crosshair to select the desired area to be captured, and when you release the mouse it will save the selected portion as an image on your desktop, again in PNG format.

You can even just take a screenshot of an application. This can be perfect if you are trying to diagnose a problem with an app or are giving someone help and need to show exactly what the application looks like. To do this, again press Command, Shift and 4, and once you see the crosshair cursor press Spacebar. The cursor will change into a camera, and when you scroll over an application it will become highlighted. Highlight the application you want to capture and click. A camera sound will play and the file will save to your desktop as with the other screenshots.

If you also add Control into the mix with the application and portion capturing commands, the images will be saved into your clipboard instead of as a file on your desktop just as with the whole screen command.

Another way to capture screenshots is the built-in Grab utility, found in the Utilities folder in Applications. Grab has the advantage of allowing you to include a cursor or menu and save in different file formats. To include a cursor, go to Preferences and choose the cursor you want to appear.

Under the Capture window at the top, there are 4 modes to select from. Selection mode allows you to capture a portion by dragging, similar to with the command function above. With Window mode, you can choose a window to capture. It will take the shot when you click on the desired window, including the cursor at the place where you click. Screen mode allows you to capture the whole screen, the cursor again appearing where you click.

The most useful mode of Grab, however, is Timed Screen. This gives you 10 seconds from when you start the timer to open menus and get the cursor to the right place before it automatically takes the shot. No matter what mode, when you take the shot the image opens in a new window, which you can then save in the place and format you want.

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