Get the most from screenshots on your Mac

There are a whole host of reasons you might want to take a screenshot on your Mac, from grabbing an image of an error message to send to tech support, to proving you paid for an online order in case the confirmation email doesn’t come through. Whatever the reason, it’s easy, we’ll show you how to screen capture on your Mac here.


What is a screenshot?

A screenshot is simply a snapshot on your Mac of the screen at the time the shot is taken. It’s saved on your Desktop as a PNG image with the name formatted as: “Screen Shot [date] [time]” where [date] and [time] are the date and time the image was taken. You can then edit it, store it, or share it like any other image.

In macOS Mojave, you can preview a screenshot before it’s saved and then choose to crop it, share it, or delete it, as you can in iOS.

How to take screenshots

There are three sets of commands for taking screenshots in macOS. One grabs the whole screen, the second grabs a section of the screen you draw after pressing the keyboard shortcut, and the third grabs the active window on your Mac, complete with transparency and drop shadow.

  • To take a screenshot of the whole screen:

Press Command+Shift+3. You’ll hear a noise like a camera shutter and the PNG will appear on your Desktop.

  • To take a screenshot of a section of the screen:

Press Command+Shift+4. Use your mouse or trackpad to move the crosshairs to one corner of the area you want to grab, click then drag the crosshairs to the opposite corner and release the mouse or trackpad button.

  • To grab a window: 

Press Command+Shift+4 then when the crosshairs appear, press the spacebar. You’ll see the crosshairs change to a camera. Place the camera over the window you want to grab and click the mouse or trackpad button. The window will be grabbed on a transparent background.

When you use Command+Shift+4 to grab a section of the screen or a window, if you change your mind, you can press the Escape key to cancel the screenshot.

How to rename a screenshot

The default name for screenshots isn’t very helpful if you want to be able to search for it on your Mac, or understand what it is without previewing or opening it. To change its name, either:

  • Click and hold on its name in the Finder and type a new name; or
  • Click on it in the Finder, press Command+I to open the Get Info window and type a new name in the Name & Extension box; or
  • Open the image in Preview or another image editing app and use Save As to give it a new name

Tip: You can also use Preview to crop, re-size, or annotate screenshots.


How much disk space do screenshots take?

That very much depends on what you’re grabbing. A full screen of mostly white space, for example will take less space than a window with lots of detail in it. A screenshot of a full screen on a Retina 13in display with a moderate amount of detail, for example, is about 1.5 MB.

How to free up space to take more screenshots

If you find that your hard disk or SSD is filling up as you take more screenshots, you can easily free up space by uninstalling applications you don’t use or getting rid of ‘junk’ files. These are files created by the system, or by applications like Photos and iTunes and which you don’t need. They could be temporary files that are still on your disk, cache files, or files that support features, like multiple languages, that you don’t use.

You could hunt all these files down yourself and delete them manually, but there is an easier way. CleanMyMac X makes it simple to remove applications and junk files quickly. And, as an additional benefit, getting rid of these files can improve the performance of your Mac. At the very least, it will give you back several gigabytes of disk space to use for taking screenshots.

To get started, download CleanMyMac X free here. Then check out the System Junk, Photos Junk, and iTunes Junk utilities by clicking them in the sidebar. Or do Smart Scan by pressing the Scan button as soon as CleanMyMac launches.

Smart scan

Taking a screenshot is a very useful feature in macOS and it’s improved even further in Mojave. It’s very easy to do, using one of the three combinations of keyboard shortcuts described above. Remember to rename them once you’ve taken them and file them in an organized system so that you can find them easily when you need them.

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