Accessing The Built In Screen Capture Utilities In Mac


After reading my recent article about screen-capture utilities for Windows, my friend asked my recommendation of the similar tool(s) in Mac and where can he download it/them. As unbelievable as it might sound, there are many Mac users who do not know that, unlike Windows, Mac OS X comes with built in screen capture utilities.

Here’s how to use them.

Shortcuts to Screenshots

To utilize the first set of screen capture utility, Mac users need to know some shortcuts – key combinations. They are:

  1. To capture the entire desktop, press Command-Shift-3. The screen shot will be automatically saved as a file on your desktop.
  2. To capture a specific area of the desktop, press Command-Shift-4. A cross-hair cursor (with x and y pixel values to help you measure the area) will appear and you can click and drag to select the area you wish to capture. When you release the mouse button, the screen shot will be automatically saved as a PNG file on your desktop.
  3. To capture a specific application window, press Command-Shift-4, and then press the Spacebar. The cross-hair cursor will change to a camera, and you can move it around the screen. As you move the cursor over an application window, the window will be highlighted. The entire window does not need to be visible for you to capture it. When you have the cursor over a window you want to capture, just click the mouse button and the screen shot will be saved as a PNG file on your desktop.

Note: You can add Control key to the shortcuts above to place the screen shot on the clipboard instead of saving it to the desktop. For example, the key combination to capture the entire desktop become Control-Command-Shift-3. Then you can paste the shot into another program (such as Photoshop).

Give Way to Grab

Mac OS X also gives you another method for capturing screen shots; using the (often overlooked and forgotten) utility called Grab, located in the Applications > Utilities folder. Grab is useful if you need to include a cursor or a menu in your screen shot, or if you want to save your screen shot to TIFF format.


Another additional feature that make Grab better than Mac’s basic screenshot feature is that Grab will open the result image in a window and let you choose where to save it and under what name you want the saved file to be. This will save time spent on renaming the files later.


1. To capture the screen with Grab, open the app. Then you can choose one of the capture modes from the “Capture” menu: Selection, Window, Screen, Timed Screen.

2. To include a cursor, first go to Grab Preferences and select the cursor icon you wish to have in your screen shot.


3. If you choose the Selection (Command-Shift-A) mode, you can capture a specific area of the screen by dragging your mouse around it. Just like the basic screenshot function in Mac, Grab will display a tooltip showing the size of the region you have selected. No cursor will be shown in this mode.

4. If you choose the Window (Command-Shift-W) mode, an instruction window will appear asking you to select the window you wish to capture. Click the “Choose Window” button then the instructions will disappear and the window you click will be captured, including the mouse cursor at the position where you click (if a cursor was selected in Preferences).


5. If you choose the Screen (Command-Z) mode, an instruction window will appear asking you to click the screen when you are ready to capture. The mouse cursor will be included in your screen shot at the position where you click (if a cursor was selected in Preferences).

6. If you choose the Timed Screen (Command-Shift-W) mode, an instruction window will appear, allowing you to prepare your screen for capture. When you are ready, press the “Start Timer” button and you will have ten seconds before the screen is captured. This allows you to open menus and sub-menus, if necessary. After ten seconds the entire screen will be captured. The mouse cursor will be included in your screen shot if a cursor was selected in Preferences.


I personally prefer the basic screenshot feature of Mac since it’s faster and simpler. But at times when I need advanced screenshot feature, Grab is always there to help.

Do you have other alternatives to capture screenshots in Mac? Share your opinion using the comment below.


  1. i use Skitch for screen captures as i am able to drag the capture straight into Evernote and/or share it on the internet immediately.

  2. A great special purpose tool is Paparazzi which is a screen capture tool for websites. Enter the url and it takes a screenshot of the entire web page (not just the visible part on your screen). For everything else I just used the built-in screenshot method you describe.

    1. Thank you for the%2

  3. Gotta agree with Nathan,I use Skitch all the time and find the image captured by Skitch to be more crisp.The instant upload and share that’s built in into Skitch is a great time saver.

  4. Personally i use Macvide ScreenCap! A very good program for capturing.You’d taken result screenshots to PNG, JPEG, TIFF, BMP formats,
    Save captured video to quickTime MOV, iPod mp4 or Mobile 3GP formats,Save captured to Flash SWF and FLV Video. Also you can print your screen shots or publish them to the internet.
    Nice tool.
    You can try it here
    I have no regrets by using it.

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