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. NetFixer looks great, but just for the record here’s a paparazzi bookmarklet to do the same:


  2. Derek – great post, I didn’t know about the window selection shortcut so I am really pleased about that and I like the png crusher as well.

    @Brett – I tried your javascript but it didn’t seem to work with my Paparazzi (in the apps folder).


  3. Brett, no go for me as well for the bookmarklet. That was something I actually tried after seeing that NetFixer offered one to make capturing screenshots a little moe convenient.

  4. Jack says:

    Some nice pointers there; don’t foget, you can change the OS X default screenschot output file type. The easiest way is probably by using the free App TinkerTool, which gives you option to set the file defautl to PNG, PDF, TIFF, PICT, JPG-JFIF, JPEG 200, BMP, GIF, PSD, SGI, or TGA.


  5. Why would someone want to purchase and use something like TinkerTool when the utility mentioned in the write-up (OnyX) is free and offers the same functionality (concerning tweaking screenshot settings). The way the comment was composed makes me think it was nothing more than a spam post by an individual who did not read the article.

    Comment edited. I neglected to notice that TinkerTool is indeed free while TinkerTool system requires registration.

  6. Onyx rocks there is no point in buying something else.

  7. GM & Jack, thanks for the correction. Edited my comment. I guess my memory fooled me into thinking that TinkerTool System and TinkerTool were one in the same. I used to use System for disabling the startup chime. An erroraneous comment that I made without checking – sorry. There was one other “OS X utility” that was on my mind as well – Cocktail.

  8. gm says:

    Has anyone actually looked at TinkerTool – it’s freeware.

    It’s TinkerTool System that’s not free, and that’s a totally seperate product.

  9. Jack says:

    Derek – think there has been some misunderstanding…TinkerTool *is* free…

    from the site:

    “You can download the application TinkerTool at no charge. It is offered without implied warranty of merchantibility or fitness for a particular purpose.”

    It’s a pretty handy little tool; basically provides a GUI for a whole bunch of OS X setting that are otherwie hidden and otherwise require a pretty good knowledge of bash.

    You can do the exact same thing for changing the file types by tapping the following into the terminal:

    defaults write type x

    where x is the extention of the filetype you wish to use (eg: “defaults write type jpg” without the quotation marks).

    p.s. thanks for fixing the formatting in my last comment.

  10. Oops – I didn’t check either! Sorry about that. But is it any better than Onyx?

  11. brian says:

    OS X disables the keyboard commands for taking screenshots while watching a DVD. HOWEVER, it does NOT disable screenshots altogether! Just fire up a Terminal window and say something like ‘screencapture Desktop/frame.png’ (or ‘.pdf’ in 10.3)

  12. Wevah says:

    [quote comment=”17997″]@Brett – I tried your javascript but it didn’t seem to work with my Paparazzi (in the apps folder).

    This comment system seems to auto-smartify quotes; try changing the quotes in the javascript URL to straight quotes.

    (Yeah, this “NetFixer can capture via a bookmarklet!!” thing is getting to me. 😉 )

  13. Derek says:

    [quote comment=”18505″]OS X disables the keyboard commands for taking screenshots while watching a DVD. HOWEVER, it does NOT disable screenshots altogether! Just fire up a Terminal window and say something like ‘screencapture Desktop/frame.png’ (or ‘.pdf’ in 10.3)[/quote]

    Great tip Brian. Great for anyone who isn’t a little hesitant to play around with the Terminal.

  14. Derek says:

    OnyX will work with Panther – created for PPC / Intel (version 1.5.3). Check MacUpdate for the download link.

  15. Derek says:

    Open OnyX and the screenshot settings are under the Parameters menu option.

  16. Jose Manuel Araque says:

    Onyx does not work with Panther, it requires Tiger. I tried TinkerTool and found no way to change this setting. Any hints?

  17. Jose Manuel Araque says:

    Apologies: Onyx 1.5.3 works with Panther. But I still can’t find how to make this change!

  18. Jose Manuel Araque says:

    Thanks for the feedback. Regretably this option is NOT available in the Panther version. I also tried Cocktail, no luck.

  19. Wevah – thanks for posting the fix, works great!

  20. subcorpus says:

    kewl tip …
    thanks …