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Take Better Screen Shots on Mac OS with 6 Pro Tricks & Tips

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Anyone who takes a lot of screenshots in Mac OS X is familiar with the challenges involved; how quickly their desktop fills with various PNG files, sorting them into folders or just throwing them elsewhere, converting screenshots to another image format, copying them to the clipboard for pasting to another application, cropping to a size, or anything else required before the screenshots are in their final usable format.

In addition to the standard tips and keyboard shortcuts, we will focus on some more advanced methods to improve the screen capture experience in OS X, including setting a named folder to save them all automatically, changing the self-recorded image format, taking challenging screenshots with a timer, clicking the cursor and a nice trick to move after it is placed on the screen. These 5 tricks will help you take better screenshots in Mac OS X and apply to standard screenshot capture methods except for the timer, which requires a separate feature outside of the normal keyboard shortcuts.

Quick overview the two primary screenshot shortcuts to which these tips apply, for those less familiar with:

  • Command + Shift + 3 – Click on the full screen capture and save it to your desktop as a file titled “Screen Shot” followed by the date
  • Command + Shift + 4 – Turns the cursor into a check box that can be drawn on the screen to take rectangle objects, and also saves to the desktop as a file

There are actually many other keyboard shortcuts for taking screenshots in OS X, but they are actually best covered elsewhere because not all of them can be applied to the tips here.

1: Create and set the named screenshot folder

Tired of the clutter of your desktop? Me too, and the solution is simple: make a named folder for screenshots and then set it as the new default screen destination. I recommend that you create a subfolder in the ~ / Pictures / directory called Screenshots and set it as the new default location for all screenshots with the following default command:

defaults to write com.apple.screencapture location ~ / Images / Screenshots /

To do this, restart SystemUIServer for the changes to take effect:

killall SystemUIServer

To test it by taking a screenshot, it will now save directly to the Screenshots folder instead of the desktop.

2: Change the screen image image file format

PNG files are typically large and inflated, and are not the most web-friendly; if your screenshot is for the web, you can reduce the file size dramatically and avoid converting images from batches by simply changing the default screen file type to another image format:

defaults type com.apple.screencapture type jpg

Restart JPG’s SystemUIServer as a new file type to reset:

killall SystemUIServer

Take a screenshot to confirm. You can also select GIF, TIF, PDF, or revert back to PNG if you want the default setting again. Choose the format that suits your needs, which can prevent you from having to convert a huge group of images after taking them.

3: Take impossible screenshots with the self-timer

Launch the Grab application in / Applications / Utilities / and you can take screenshots with a timer to capture things that would otherwise be impossible, such as some menu buttons, system events, and splash screens.

  • Drag down the “Capture” menu and select “Scheduled display”

The default grab setting is 10 seconds, if you need to set a different delay, use Terminal instead:

screen capture -T 3 bollyinside.jpg

Replace “3” with how many seconds you want the timed delay to be.

4: Capture the mouse pointer or custom cursor in the screenshots

The Grab app mentioned above has a handy feature that allows you to display the pointer in screenshots, and is customizable from several pointer types. Here’s how to use it:

  • In Grab, open Options and select the type of cursor you want.
  • Take a screenshot with Grab to capture the mouse cursor

Show cursor as screenshots

5: Remove drop shadows from the window screens

By default, OS X drop shadows are included behind window-centric screenshots (not full-screen captures), but they can be disabled with a simple default write command used in a terminal, turn it on, and type the following commands to turn shadows off:

defaults type com.apple.screencapture disable-shadow -bool true

Press Enter and kill SystemUIServer for the changes to take effect:

killall SystemUIServer

Exit the terminal and take the screenshot as usual, it is now shadow-free and looks a bit like this:

Screenshot without shadow

This can be easily compiled by compiling the same command and compiling “true” to “false” and then killing SystemUIServer again to re-enable wundowshadows.

6: Move the selection area from the original location

Command + Shift + 4 lets you take a screenshot of the check box, but have you ever wanted to move it around after you drew the check box? You can.

  • Press Command + Shift + 4 to drag the screenshot check box as usual, then press SPACEBAR and click to drag the screen

Screenshot check box

I had never heard of this before, but CultOfMac found this cool trick, cheer them on!

Do you have any other skills for taking better screenshots? Let us know in the comments.

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James Hogan
James Hogan
James Hogan is a senior staff writer at Bollyinside, where he has been covering various topics, including laptops, gaming gear, keyboards, storage, and more. During that period, they evaluated hundreds of laptops and thousands of accessories and built a collection of entirely too many mechanical keyboards for their own use.

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