Change the Screen Shot Capture File Format in Mac OS X

Aug 16, 2010 - 13 Comments

Change the screenshot file format in Mac OS X All versions of Mac OS X default to saving captured screen shot files to PNG format, but if you’d rather have them save as another file type, it’s actually quite easy to modify the file format and change the default to something new. Whether the desired format is JPG, TIFF, PDF, GIF, or back to PNG defaults, let’s walk through the process of changing the format.

How to Change the Screen Shot File Format in Mac OS X

To switch the image file format used by screen shots you’ll need to use a defaults command. To get started, launch Terminal, located in the /Applications/Utilities/ folder (it’s accessible through Spotlight and Launchpad as well), and then use the following command strings to change to the appropriate file format. Syntax needs to be entered exactly and onto a single command line prompt to execute properly.

Set the Screen Shot Type to JPG

After you have launched Terminal, type the following command to change to JPG:

defaults write com.apple.screencapture type jpg

Hit the return key to execute the command. Next, you must issue another command to restart SystemUIServer so that changes take effect:

killall SystemUIServer

Again hit return.

Now take a screen shot as usual in OS X (Command+Shift+3) and locate the file on the desktop to verify the change has taken place, the file extension should now be .jpg as will the image format itself.

JPG is perhaps the most common alternative, since it’s compressed by default while still retaining fairly decent image quality, and it’s also an extremely common type of web graphic. For many of us, switching the screenshot format to JPEG is the primary objective.

For the remaining file types we will combine the command strings together making them easier to copy & paste into the terminal as a single line of command syntax.

Set as PDF

PDF is another optional format, though it’s less common:

defaults write com.apple.screencapture type pdf;killall SystemUIServer

Set as GIF

GIF is generally lower quality with less colors, but it can be chosen if necessary:

defaults write com.apple.screencapture type gif;killall SystemUIServer

Changes will take effect automatically.

Set as TIFF

TIFF is a large high quality and entirely uncompressed image format. TIFF is generally best used for print purposes, and is generally not recommended to use for most individuals because the resulting screen shot file sizes can be quite large (10MB or more, per screen shot). Nonetheless, here’s how to set it as the primary format if desired:

defaults write com.apple.screencapture type tiff;killall SystemUIServer

Set the Screen Shot File Type Back to the OS X Default of PNG

Want to return back to the default PNG format? No problem, use the following command string in terminal:

defaults write com.apple.screencapture type png

Again, after the command string has been executed, you will need to kill the SystemUIServer for changes to take effect:

killall SystemUIServer

Now if you take a screen capture, it’ll appear as whatever file type you specified.

Updated: 4/15/2013

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Posted by: Paul Horowitz in Mac OS X, Tips & Tricks

13 Comments

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  1. Polarbreeze says:

    This advice appears in numerous places on the web. Unfortunately, it does not work. I think people just copy other people’s advice without checking whether it actually works or not.

  2. Allison says:

    Worked beautifully! Thank you so much! I was actually really upset that when I updated to Lion OSX,all of my screenshots were saved at png files, and the only way I could save them as jpg extensions was to literally duplicate the screenshot in preview (because Lion got rid of the “save as” option =/), and then save the copy as a jpg and delete the original. Such an unnecessary hassle. Glad I stumbled upon this!

  3. jt says:

    If there were only a way to do this in iOS. I don’t like the huge filesize of PNG files. Maybe I’ve been around for so long that I prefer the compressed picture formats but given the actual size of an iOS device such as an iPhone or iPod touch, .jpg files are more than sufficient to use as the default picture filetype for screenshots.

    This is a problem when I post screenshots in Twitter and I look at the size of a PNG file and it disturbs me the size when and if I export the file to .jpg, it’s at least have the file size.

  4. Dave says:

    This does not work for me in Mountain Lion. Anyone know of a way to make it work in Mountain Lion or am I the only one unable to change it? Screenshots come out as .tiff files even after doing the terminal command to change them to .jpg.
    Thanks,
    Dave

  5. Gaynor says:

    I’ve tried various tips but still can’t find a way of converting a screenshot into a JPG in Mountain Lion. Worked fine in Snow Leopard but now the ‘Save as’ button has gone, there’s no obvious way to do it.

  6. Lance says:

    This is a really dumb idea. NEVER use Terminal if you don’t have to. Half the people who do this will not remember later how they changed this, so they will have to search online again. Also, a goof in typing in Terminal could cause problems that you don’t know how to fix.

    Just use OnyX. It allows making these changes in GUI, which is much safer than command line. It allows many other tweaks and system maintenance steps, also, such as clearing caches and logs or showing hidden files. then all these changes are easy as pie to revert using the same OnyX gui. Leave command line to the Linux geeks and don’t go to Terminal unless you have no GUI option.

    I am always amazed that there are a hundred different blog and tip site articles about editing a text document, such as the Hosts file, in Terminal. Geeze, folks, it’s a text document. You can edit it in TextEdit, for crying out loud!!!

    • paul says:

      Changing the file format of screen shots created in Mac OS X is not a dumb idea. The terminal is best for advanced users though, if it’s confusing to someone they should not do it.

      And editing the /etc/hosts file, which is completely different from changing file formats of screen shots, requires administrator access to the hosts file, which is why most people turn to the terminal for that.

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