In its most basic form, taking a screenshot on a Mac can be achieved by holding down Command + Shift + 3, but many more options are available when you delve a little deeper. In this article, we show you how to take a screenshot of your Mac's display, then edit and save it. 

The methods here work in all versions of macOS or Mac OS X, but there are some additional features exclusive to macOS Mojave or later that we cover too.

Screenshots are saved to your Desktop by default, although you can change where your screenshots are saved. Generally your screenshot will save as a .png file, which you may want to open in Preview or a similar image viewing program, and then Save As with a different file type extension. There are other ways to change the format your screenshot is saved in below.

Screenshotting the whole screen

Want to save an image what's on your screen (or if you have more than one screen, both of them?) It's really simple on a Mac:

  1. Hold down Command + Shift + 3.
  2. You may hear a sound like the shutter of a camera and, in macOS Mojave or later, you'll see a preview of the screenshot appear in the bottom-left. Clicking on it allows you to quickly crop and edit your image before saving it. 
  3. By default, the screenshot will be stored on your desktop. (We explain how to change where the screenshot is saved later in this article.)

You probably don't want to screenshot the whole screen, however. Most likely you just want to show someone a single interesting thing that one of your applications is up to, or you will want to highlight a particular area of your screen to make something obvious to the person you are taking the screenshot for, which leads to our next option.

Screenshotting part of the screen

If you want, you can choose to take a screenshot of a selected area within the screen, rather than the whole thing. 

  1. Hold down Command + Shift + 4. Crosshairs screenshot
  2. You'll see a cross appear on your screen with some numbers, as illustrated above, drag these crosshairs across the area of the screen you want to screenshot, as below, so that they form a rectangle around what you want to 'grab'. To do so, click the mouse button, or press the trackpad, and drag diagonally from the top left to the bottom right (or vice versa).
  3. When you have the area covered by your rectangle release the mouse button, or the trackpad, and your screenshot will be taken. Take screenshot of part of screen
  4. As we mentioned above, the screenshot will appear on your desktop as either a .jpeg or as a .png file, labelled as 'Screen Shot' [year]-[month]-[day] at [time]'. If you are using Mojave you will see a thumbnail appear in the bottom right of your screen that you can click on and edit straight away.

Protip: Once the crosshairs appear, you can let go of the keyboard keys. Once you've clicked the mouse button and started dragging the cursor, press Space, and you'll be able to move the selected area around. Hold Shift and you'll be able to move it horizontally only.

Protip 2: Press Escape at any time to abort the screengrab. No image will be generated or captured.

Taking specifically sized screenshots

You can just about see, in the image above, that there are two numbers by the crosshairs that we've dragged over the desired screen space (near the bottom right). These are pixel numbers. In the case above, 1073 x 660.

Once you click and start dragging the selection window across your desired section of screen, the numbers will start showing the size of the selected space, which can be helpful if you want a screenshot that's 800 pixels by 450, or a perfect square for example.

Here's a closer look at what you'll see while taking a Mac screenshot. If we released the mouse button at this point we would capture a (rather boring) screenshot measuring 119 pixels by 70.

How to take a screenshot on Mac

So, if you want to take a screenshot of an area with specific dimensions, this is what you could do:

  1. Hold down Command + Shift + 4.
  2. When the crosshairs appear on your screen, drag these crosshairs to cover an area of screen that equals the pixel width and depth you need. Don't worry too much about how well you cover the area you want to grab.    
  3. Before letting go of the mouse button/trackpad, press the Space Bar, then you can move the box around your screen until you have the area covered you want to screenshot.
  4. Once you are happy with your selection, release the mouse button/trackpad.

Screenshotting multiple images with the same dimensions

If you frequently have to take images that are the same size - for example, we use 1600 x 900 images so that tends to be our default - you could set up your crosshairs in advance by using Command + Shift + 5. Here's how:

  1. Hold down Command + Shift + 5.
  2. When the crosshairs appear on your screen drag these crosshairs to cover an area of screen that equals the pixel width and depth you need. You don't need to worry too much about how well you cover the area you want to grab because once you release the mouse button you will be able to move the box around your screen until you have the area covered you want to screenshot.
  3. Once you are happy with your selection, click Capture (if you are using Mojave).

Screenshotting a window

What if you want to screengrab or screenshot a single window on your desktop?

  1. Hold down Command + Shift + 4.
  2. When crosshairs appear, hit the Space key.
  3. Position your cursor over the window (it will be highlighted) and click your mouse/press the trackpad. You'll see a camera icon and the foremost window will turn grey.
  4. Choose the window you want and click your mouse. A screenshot of the window (complete with shadow) will appear on your desktop.

Click to take a screenshot of this window only - and the resulting image will have a nice shadow effect, too.

Screen shot a Window Mac

Screenshotting a window without a shadow

  1. Hold down Command + Shift + 4.
  2. When crosshairs appear, hold down Alt/Option, then press Space + Alt.
  3. Position cursor over window (it will be highlighted in blue) and click.
  4. Screenshot of window (without shadow) appears on your desktop as .png.

Adding the Option (or Alt) key will give you a final result without shadows. You'll feel like your fingers are playing Twister, but it works.

Screenshotting a dropdown menu (or other screen furniture)

The same technique can be used to screenshot menus. Open the menu you want to screenshot, then press Command, Shift, 4, then press Space, and move the camera icon over the open menu dropdown.

  1. Hold down Command + Shift + 4.
  2. When crosshairs appear, press Space.
  3. Position cursor over dropdown menu and left-click.
  4. Screenshot of dropdown menu appears on your desktop.

You'll get a screenshot of the menu (although it won't include the title at the top of the dropdown - to screenshot that you'll need to use the standard Command + Shift + 4 and judge the selection by eye).

How to take screenshot on Mac: Screenshot a dropdown menu

And it doesn't stop there. You can use the same technique to capture neat screenshots of other screen furniture that you might not think of as windows. Here's a screenshot of our Dock, which we grabbed in the same way - Command + Shift + 4 and then Space:

How to take screenshot on Mac: Dock

You can also capture the top bar, certain elements of the top bar on the right-hand side, or all the icons on your desktop with the top bar, Dock and wallpaper image removed.

Taking timed screenshots

To take a timed screenshot in Mojave (or later) you need to do the following:

  1. Hold down Command + Shift + 5.
  2. Click on Options.
  3. Under Timer choose 5 or 10 seconds.
  4. Now choose the kind of screengrab you want to take. Entire screen, selected portion, selected window.
  5. You'll see a timer start up. When it reaches zero, your screenshot will be taken.

This way you can take a screenshot of something you need to control - you can't do two things at once so it means you can set the screenshot up to be taken and then do whatever it is you want to capture.

If you are in an older version of macOS or Mac OS X you can use Grab to take a timed screenshot. Press Command + Space and start to type Grab, or search through the Utilities folder (which you'll find in the Applications folder.)

  1. Open Grab.
  2. Click on Capture > Timed Screen.
  3. Click on Start Timer.
  4. A red dial will start filling in beside the camera icon to show you how much time is left before the screen will be grabbed.
  5. This will only allow you to screengrab a whole screen - but you can later edit the grab to focus on a particular element if you like.

How to take a screenshot on Mac: Timed screen grab

Launch Grab and click Capture in the top menu; you'll see options for the usual screen captures (a small Selection, a Window, or the entire Screen, each one with a shortcut that you can use to access it in future) but also includes the handy option of timed screenshots (select Timed Screen), for when you want to set up a capture and then activate whatever it is you want to grab. The timer is 10 seconds.

Save a screenshot as JPEG or TIFF in Mojave

Since Apple removed Grab with the update to Mojave it also removed a really simple way to save a screenshot as a JPEG or TIFF file. The easiest way to change the format that your screenshot is saved as would be to open it in a photo editing app, such as Photos or Preview or Photoshop and Save As.

However, if you are feeling confident enough, you can make a change in Terminal that should mean your Mac always saves a screengrab as a .jpg, for example.

  1. Open Terminal (Press Space+Command and start typing Terminal).
  2. Paste in the following:
    defaults write type jpg
  3. Press return.
  4. You will need to restart your Mac before the changes will come into effect.

In older versions of macOS, you can use Grab to save screenshots as JPEG rather than PNG files. It is also possible to choose to save your shots as PNG or TIFF.

  1. Open Grab.
  2. Click on Capture, choose from Selection, Window, Screen or Timed Screen (more on that option next).
  3. If you want to take a screenshot of a Window, click on that Window.
  4. You will hear a camera shutter sound and the screengrab will appear so you can name it and choose where to save it.

Where are screenshots saved on Mac?

By default, Mac screenshots are saved to the desktop. In Mojave or later, you can choose a variety of other places where your screenshot can be saved.

However, if you were to use an app such as Grab (available in earlier versions of MacOS) to take your screenshots then they might end up elsewhere. Grab is likely to save the screenshot to your Documents folder - and if you don't change the name of the image it will save as Untitled.

It is possible to change where screenshots are saved in Mojave:

  • Hold down Command + Shift + 5.
  • Find the location you want to save to in the Save to section.
  • Or, if you want to save the image elsewhere, choose Other Location.

We have more advice about changing where your screenshots go here, including how to change the location of screenshots in High Sierra and older versions of Mac software.

How to edit a screenshot

One of the most useful features in more recent versions of macOS is the ability to edit screenshots without opening an application to do so.

When you take a screenshot in Mojave, a thumbnail of it will appear in the bottom right corner of your screen. To edit it does the following:

  1. Click on the thumbnail.
  2. This will open the Markup tools for drawing, highlighting, adding shapes, text boxes and even your signature to the screenshot.
  3. You can also rotate or crop the image.
  4. And you can Click on the Share button to choose from options such as Mail, Message or add to Photos.

Edit screenshot in Mojave

This thumbnail can also be immediately dragged into a document.

Troubleshooting: Screenshots are blank

This is not an uncommon occurrence, unfortunately.

If you've carefully followed the instructions above and you're sure the selection, window or screen that you targeted for screenshot contained graphical elements but these now aren't showing up in the image captured, the chances are that the software you were using has chosen specifically to block screenshotting functions.

You should be able to get around the problem by using either a different piece of software that does the same thing.

Troubleshooting: Screenshot on Mac not working

If you are taking screenshots and they aren't appearing on your desktop it might be that you were accidentally pressing ctrl at the same time - which would copy the shot to your pasteboard.

If it's not as simple as that, go to System Preferences > Keyboard > Shortcuts and check that the shortcuts are activated under Screen Shots.

Another possibility is that the usual shortcuts have been assigned to something else, so double-check that here in System Preferences too.