Change the Screen Shot File Format in Mac OS X

Aug 16, 2010 - 19 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 screenshots 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 output is JPG, TIFF, PDF, GIF, or back to PNG defaults, let’s walk through the process of changing the format of screenshots made on the Mac.

This applies to all versions of Mac OS X.

How to Change the Screen Shot Capture 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 File Type to JPG

The most common file type to switch screen shots to is JPEG. After you have launched Terminal, type the following command to change the capture file format to JPG (JPEG):

defaults write type jpg;killall SystemUIServer

Hit the return key to execute the command.

Now take a screen shot as usual in Mac 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 popular 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 Screen Shot File Type as PDF

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

defaults write type pdf;killall SystemUIServer

Setting Screen Shot File Type to GIF

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

defaults write type gif;killall SystemUIServer

Changes will take effect automatically.

Setting Screen Shot File Format 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 type tiff;killall SystemUIServer

The video below demonstrates setting the file type of screenshots on Mac to JPEG format:

Set the Screen Shot File Type Back to Mac 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 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: 4/14/2016

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


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  1. Jorge says:


    But just a question….

    When it was as .png, when a capture was taken the file was saved on the desktop with the “xxxxx.png”

    Now, with the change to JPG, no extension….

    This its important because most of my clients use Win, so extension needed!

    Any hit?

    • Abo Ao says:

      Works great in Mac OS X with El Capitan too, thanks. I changed the file type of my screen shots to JPEG because I prefer the jpeg format to png as it is compressed already, PNG files are quite large.

      Thanks again, works great!

  2. Ivar says:

    Possible source of confusion: this works as advertised when using the OSX keyboard shortcuts to take screenshots, but it does not work if you use the Grab app.

  3. Mariska says:

    I changed the name of my screencapture according to the guide and it worked. However, when I wanted to change it back it didn’t work. And now I’m not able to make a screencapture at all anymore :(
    Can anybody PLEASE help me with this?

  4. 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.

  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. 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.

  7. 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.

  8. 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!

  9. Polarbreeze says:

    This advice appears to work wonderfully. I think people just copy commands from one the web page and put them into their terminal and try it out.

    It’s best to try this yourself, which works great to change the file capture format in Mac of screenshot files, before commenting. Do this without checking whether it actually works or not.

    • moz says:

      alternatively, it means you are doing something wrong. if you don’t kill SystemUIServer the changes do not take effect.

      i set mine to jpg a long time ago, png is too heavy and offers no advantages. it works fine.

    • Peter says:

      It works perfectly for me in OS X Lion. You need to use killall SystemUIServer at the end maybe you forgot to do so.

    • plimplam says:

      really helpful!thank you so much! :)

    • Paul says:

      It definitely works. Everything we publish we test and review.

      • sjacob says:

        Terminal command, with the killer UI after, worked on OS 10.10.2 too – did run terminal and killer a couple times to try various format – HOWEVER, my “capture save on screen” goes in .jpeg and my “capture in memory to paste” goes in .pdf … is there two terminal command for each of the forms or 1 for all???

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