Take Better Screen Shots in Mac OS X with 6 Pro Tricks & Tips
Anyone who takes a lot of screenshots in Mac OS X knows the challenges associated with them; how quickly their desktop will fill up with various PNG files, sorting those into folders or just tossing them elsewhere, converting the screenshots to a different image format, copying them to the clipboard for pasting into another app, cropping down to size, or whatever else is required before the screen captures are in their final usable format.
Going beyond the standard advice and keyboard shortcuts, we’re going to focus on some more advanced methods for improving the screen capture experience in OS X, including setting a designated folder to save them all into automatically, changing the saved image format itself, taking challenging screen shots with the help of a timer, snapping the cursor, and a nice trick that lets you move around the drawn screen capture box after it’s been set on screen. These 5 tricks will help you to take better screen captures in Mac OS X, and they will apply to the standard methods of taking screenshots, with the exception of the timer which requires a separate feature outside of the normal keyboard shortcuts.
A quick review of the two primary screen shot shortcuts these tips will apply to, for those who are less familiar:
- Command+Shift+3 – Snaps a screen capture of the entire screen(s) and save it to the desktop as a file labeled “Screen Shot” followed by the date
- Command+Shift+4 – Turns the cursor into a selection box that can be drawn on screen to snapshot items in the rectangle, also saves to desktop as a file
There are actually many other keyboard shortcuts for taking screen shots in OS X but they are really best covered elsewhere since not every one of them will be applicable to the tips here.
1: Create & Set a Designated Screen Shot Folder
Tired of screen shots cluttering the desktop? Me too, and the solution is simple: make a designated folder for screenshots to appear into and then set that as the new default screen shot location. I recommend making a subfolder in the ~/Pictures/ directory named “Screenshots”, then use the following defaults command to set that as the new save location for all screenshots:
defaults write com.apple.screencapture location ~/Pictures/Screenshots/
Follow that up with a restart of SystemUIServer for changes to take effect:
Test it out by taking a screen shot, it’ll now save directly to the Screenshots folder instead of the desktop.
2: Change the Screen Shot Image File Format
PNG files are typically large and bloated and not the most web-friendly, if your screenshots are destined for the web you can dramatically reduce the file size and avoid the hassle of batch converting images by just changing the default screen shot file type to another image format:
defaults write com.apple.screencapture type jpg
And again, restart SystemUIServer for JPG to be set as the new file type:
Take a screenshot to confirm. You can also choose GIF, TIF, PDF, or return back to PNG if you want the default setting again. Pick the appropriate format for your needs and this can prevent you from having to batch convert a huge group of images after they’ve been taken.
3: Take Impossible Screen Shots with a Timer
Launch the Grab app found in /Applications/Utilities/ and you can take screen captures on a timer, letting you screenshot things that would otherwise be impossible, like some menu pulldowns, system events, and splash screens.
- From Grab, pull down the “Capture” menu and choose “Timed Screen”
The default Grab setting is 10 seconds, if you need to have a different time delay, use Terminal instead:
screencapture -T 3 osxdaily.jpg
Replace “3” with how ever many seconds you want the timed delay to be.
4: Capture the Mouse Pointer or a Custom Cursor in Screen Captures
The aforementioned Grab app has a handy feature that lets you show the pointer in screenshots, and it’s actually customizable from a variety of pointer types. Here’s how to use it:
- In the Grab app, open “Preferences” and select the desired cursor type”
- Take a screen shot using Grab app to capture the mouse cursor
5: Disable Drop Shadows from Appearing on Window Screen Shots
OS X defaults to including drop shadows behind window-centric screen shots (not full screen captures), but these can be disabled with a simple defaults write command applied in the Terminal, launch it and enter the following commands to turn the shadows off:
defaults write com.apple.screencapture disable-shadow -bool true
Hit Enter then kill the SystemUIServer for changes to take effect:
Exit out of Terminal and take a screen shot as usual, it will now be drop-shadow free and look a bit like this:
This can be reversed easily by applying the same command and flipping “true” to “false”, then killing SystemUIServer again to re-enable the wundowshadows.
6: Move the Selection Area from the Original Position
Command+Shift+4 allows you to take a screenshot with a selection box, but have you ever wanted to move it around after you’ve drawn that selection box? You can.
- Hit Command+Shift+4 to draw the screen shot selection box as usual, then hit and hold Spacebar and click to drag the box
I’d never actually heard of this one before, but CultOfMac found this neat trick, cheers to them!
Got any other pro tricks for taking better screen shots? Let us know in the comments.