Create & manage screenshots on OS X

Creating & managing screenshots on OS X may not garner the same type of attention had the topic been something more along the lines of creating a web development environment on OS X, cloning a hardrive, or improving your iChat experience. Regardless, those that do collect and amass a large collection of images can attest to the fact that such collections can 1) be tedious, 2) get quite unorganized, or 3) utilize more disk space than they should. All of these issues are easily resolved with a few simple techniques.

Capturing basic screenshots

Thankfully, OS X offers a number of options which allow a user to capture both entire screens and specifc regions using convenient keyboard shortcuts.

OS X keyboard shortcuts
Description Keyboard Shortcut
Full screen (Save to Desktop) CMD+Shift+3
Full screen (Save to Clipboard) CMD+CTRL+Shift+3
Select region (Save to Desktop) CMD+Shift+4
Select region (Save to Clipboard) CMD+CTRL+Shift+4
Select item (Save to Desktop) CMD+Shift+4 then Spacebar
Select item (Save to Clipboard) CMD+CTRL+Shift+4 then Spacebar

As you can see, OS X includes a great selection of basic screenshot options for quick screen grabs to send to contacts via email or instant message. For those that may prefer a graphical user interface (GUI) for screenshots, OS X offers the Grab utility located in Applications > Utilities. Grab allows users to capture a selection, a specific window, the entire screen, or a timed shot. While screenshots captured using one of the aforementioned keyboard shortcuts are saved as PNG files, Grab saves captures as TIFF files.

Although the free options included with OS X will suffice for most, others may yearn for additional options – including drop shadows, rounded corners, or alternative GUI’s. Check out any one of the following screenshot utilities: SnapNDrag, Snapz Pro X, or Screenshot Plus.

Configuring OS X screenshot commands

OnyX screenshot settings

The built-in commands are most likely suitable enough for the average user without incurring additional costs that 3rd party software requires. Screenshots captured using one of the shortcuts above are automatically saved to the Desktop (default). If, however, the file format or default save location is unacceptable, download a copy of OnyX. In addition to providing users with an interface to tweak the default screenshot settings – including file format (PNG, TIFF, JPEG, PDF, GIF, PICT, BMP, SGI, & TGA) and the default save path – OnyX offers a great number of system maintenance options. Check out my favorite Finder tweak which aligns the Dock to the left or right of a screen.

Capturing entire web pages

Stumble upon an inspiration website worth archiving for later viewing? Previously, I would have recommended the lightweight utility known simply as Paparazzi. While Paparazzi captures excellent full length images of websites, the utility requires that users copy ‘n paste URLs in order to capture and save.

Although Paparazzi is more than capable as far as full web pages are concerning, Shiny Frog’s NetFixer one-ups the utility by providing a convenient bookmarklet which automatically captures your current web page.

Individuals hesitant to download additional software created for the sole purpose of capturing websites in their entirety can check out the Pearl Crescent Page Saver extension [Firefox required]. This handy extension captures multiple images – scrolling your browser window in order to view the entire site – and stitches the captures together into a single image file.

Capturing video & DVD screenshots

VLC video screenshot capture

While most of the popular techniques for capturing images from movies or DVDs require paid software (see Snapz Pro X), one open source application requires no registration fees or upfront costs. Simply download a copy of the VLC media player and open your favorite video files, VCDs, or DVDs. During playback, simply select the ‘Video (menu bar) > Snapshot’. Alternatively, users can simply press the CMD+OPTION+S keyboard shortcut. VLC will automatically capture a single frame from the video file and save the ensuing PNG screenshot to your Desktop.

Optimize & compress PNGs

pngCrushrrr icon imageFor those that elect to retain the higher quality default PNG file format, shave and optimize images using a tiny utility known as pngCrushrrr. pngCrushrrr was designed with one task in mind – PNG optimization – and requires no interface to do so. Simply drag any PNG file on to the utility icon and a crushed version is created.

Additional questions concerning the task of capturing screenshots on OS X? Feel free to drop comments, questions, or recommendations below.

Discuss - 26 Comments

  1. Jack says:

    Jose, if you aren’t seeing the option in OnyX, Tinkertool or Cocktail it is likely something to do with the software running under OS X Panther (I’m looking at the option in both OnyX and TT now in Tiger). Have you tried using the terminal to change the default file-type? :

    defaults write com.apple.screencapture type x

    ^where x = the extension of the file type you wish to use.

  2. Ruddy says:

    I’ve always needed something for video screenshots. (Sometimes I need to do tutorials and such)
    Thanks Derek!

  3. […] [Create & Manage Screenshots On OS X] […]

  4. Lee says:

    Have you tried Skitch? It works real well, too. I thought the screenshots on this quickset of OS X shortcuts is a good reference – http://blog.gingergeek.com/2009/06/how-to-capture-screenshots-in-mac-os-x-with-keyboard-shortcuts/