How to Start the Mac Screen Saver with a Keyboard Shortcut in OS X

Jul 10, 2014 - 13 Comments

Start Screen Saver with a Keystroke in Mac OS X

Have you ever wanted to initiate the screen saver of your Mac by hitting a keystroke combination? You’re not alone, and that’s what we’re going to show you how to do here. While OS X does not include this feature by default, we’ll demonstrate how to create an Automator system service that will accomplish the same feat, activating the screen saver by a keyboard shortcut of your choosing.


To be clear, this service will start the default screen saver, meaning whatever has been selected in the Desktop & Screen Saver preference panel, accessible from the  Apple menu and System Preferences. If you want to change the screen saver used by this, simply change it there. For best results, use the screen saver with general password protection too, which will let the keystroke be used as a way to protect the Mac when you’re away from the keyboard or desk.

Part 1: Create a Screen Saver Automator Service for OS X

  1. Launch Automator, found in the /Applications/ directory
  2. Choose to create a new “Service”
  3. Create a new Service in Automator

  4. Use the search box to find “Start Screen Saver” and drag that into the right side panel
  5. Change “Service receives” to “no input”
  6. Make a screen saver Service in Automator for Mac

  7. Go to the File menu and choose “Save” naming it something obvious like “Start Screen Saver”
  8. Save Screen Saver as a service for a keystroke

Now that you have created a service that starts the default screen saver, you need to assign a keystroke combination to initiate the service. Be sure to pick a keyboard shortcut that is unique and easy to remember.

Part 2: Set the “Start Screen Saver” Keystroke for Mac OS X

  1. Open System Preferences from the  Apple menu
  2. Choose the “Keyboard” preference panel then go to the “Shortcuts” tab
  3. Select “Services” from the left side menu
  4. Locate the newly created “Start Screen Saver” service you made, and click on the ‘add shortcut’ button to set your keyboard shortcut to use – in this example we used Control+Command+Option+Down Arrow but you can set whatever you want
  5. Set Keystroke for Screen Saver in Mac OS X

  6. Exit out of System Preferences and test out your new screen saver keystroke

You can try it out by hitting the set keyboard shortcut sequence, which will now initiate the screen saver immediately.

Keystroke to start a screen saver on the Mac

To use this as a variation of the lock screen trick that doesn’t sleep the Mac display, be sure you have set a locked screen password and required the password be used to wake the Mac from a screen saver. That’s handled in the Security & Privacy preference panel under the “General” tab.

Keep in mind you can always use hot corners to start the Mac screen saver too, which for some individuals may be faster and easier to remember than a keystroke, since you simply need to slide the cursor into one of the far screen edges to initiate a hot corner.

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

13 Comments

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  1. Sascha says:

    Nice script!! Thx!
    But as long the ‘Finder’ is active, the keystroke doesn’t work for me.
    In any other program it works.

  2. adam says:

    Inside OSX :
    ctrl+shift+eject = ScreenSleep
    ctrl+shift+alt+eject= MacSleep
    ctrl+alt++eject = Shutdown

    ;)

    • Paul says:

      Right, the screen sleep shortcuts already exist in OS X, but they simultaneously turn off the display. This shortcut launches the Mac screen saver without sleeping the screen, that’s the main difference.

  3. Juanjo says:

    Really useful!!

    Tanks!

  4. MikeT says:

    Or use the build-in lock screen shortcuts for Mac 10-6 up Inc. Mavericks.

    Alt + CMD + eject key.

    Regards,
    M

  5. Alex says:

    So when I try to add my keyboard shortcut to the service, I get nothing….it’s like the keyboard strokes aren’t being recognized. Tried this with 2 different keyboard (Mac & PC) and neither is recognized. Thoughts on why the keyboard isn’t being recognized? :-\

    -alex

    • Paul says:

      You likely just need to use a different keyboard shortcut, it may be conflicting with an existing system keystroke. Try something very unique that does not conflict with a standard keyboard shortcut, it will work to activate the screen saver.

  6. Alin says:

    Or, you know, just assign it to a hot corner.

  7. shape says:

    hmm, can’t get this to work and i’ve tried about 8 different key commands now, up to 3 modifier keys and still no response. ‘start screen saver’ shows up in the Services -> General section, i try various shortcuts, it recognizes and inputs the shortcuts, but when i move to another app and test them there is no response, no screensaver. yes, the hot corners always work but i googled this function b/c i really need to assign it to a key command for something specific i’m doing, and need to get this working.

    also, if i go to the top OSX menu and select the current app name’s drop down menu, then go to the services menu, it shows up there there and i can select it with the mouse pointer, but the screen saver just won’t start.

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