How to capture a screen shot in Mac OS X

Use Mac OSX screen capture features for quick “snapshots” of whole or part of a computer screen

Screen captures are useful illustration tools for demonstrating steps in a process or simply «snipping» anything from something on the computer screen. Learn how to use Mac’s OSX screen capture feature in its Preview application, and get a quick start in the process. Also, the Preview application has some handy image editing tools where sizing and annotation of screen captures can be done quickly and without resorting to other photo editing applications.

This article will also briefly cover the Mac «Grab» utility that does quick screen captures, but has no imaging editing capability. On the other hand, the Grab utility has a feature that allows for screen captures of dropdown menus in open windows.


Step 1

Using the Preview application

(Note: For this and the next steps, the screen or window «target» must be open before attempting a screen shot.)

Open the Mac Preview application (either from the dock or from the Mac Applications folder).

From the active Preview/File menu select Take Screen Shot. Choose from the three options by pointing to the arrow:

  • From Selection … will yield a cross-shaped mouse pointer for surrounding a rectangular area of the screen.
  • From Window … will prompt you to select one open window for a quick screen shot.
  • From Entire Screen… will capture everything showing on the screen.

The resulting screen shot will open in a new window. Name it and save it to your Mac desktop.

Step 2

Using the Mac Grab Utility

Open the Grab utility from the Mac Applications/Utilities folder. Use the Capture menu in the same manner as the Preview application. Note that the Capture menu has an additional option called «Timed Screen,» which allows you to open a dropdown menu in an active window or show a screen tip that would otherwise disappear if you tried using the Preview Application for the shot.

As in the Preview method, the screen shot will open on the Mac desktop. To further edit (crop, annotate, etc.) the resulting screenshot, take another screenshot of the open file using Preview. The Grab utility does not have editing functions. Its main advantage is its «Time Screen» function.

Step 3

Using Mac shortcut keys

Below is a chart of shortcut keys for the different types of screen captures. Note that the shortcuts also allow for placing a screenshot into Mac clipboard, for a quick paste of the image into an open application window.

Mac OSX shortcut keys for screen captures


Take a screenshot of the entire screen, and save it as a file on the desktop

Command-Shift-4, then select an area of the screen

Take a screenshot of a limited area of a screen and save it as a file on the desktop

Command-Shift-4, then space, then click a window

Take a screenshot of an open window and save it as a file on the desktop


Take a screenshot of the screen, and save it to the clipboard, ready to be pasted into another application window

Command-Control-Shift-4, then select an area

Take a screenshot of an area and save it to the clipboard…

Command-Control-Shift-4, then space, then click a window

Take a screenshot of a window and save it to the clipboard…

Things Needed
• A Mac computer.
• The Mac OSX operating system
• The Preview application and the Grab Utility on the Dock.

Tips & Warnings
• Use the Mac Preview application for most screen captures.
• Us the Grab utility for screen shots of applications to show drop down or main menus.
• Use the Mac shortcuts illustrated below Step.
• Do almost all your editing (cropping, annotating, etc.) of your captured images using the Tools menu of the Preview application.


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