Blog Post

4 OS X Screenshot Tools

Taking screen captures in OS X is pretty simple and powerful. Today I’ll explain how to use the built-in screen capture functionality, the included application Grab, and a couple of third-party options that offer extra functionality.

Built-in OS X Functionality

  • Command + Shift + 3

    This keystroke results in a full screenshot and saves the resulting file as a PNG, to your desktop. The file is named with the date and time it was captured.

  • Command + Shift + 4

    Pressing these keys initially brings up a cross hair on screen that displays the coordinates of the cursor. Click and drag to select the area you want to capture. When you release the mouse button, the capture will be saved to the desktop as previously mentioned.

    If you press the spacebar while the crosshairs are visible, it changes into a camera icon that you can position over a specific window that you may wish to capture. (That window must be visible when you initiate the keystroke.)

    During both modes you may hold the Control key at the time of capture. Doing so will save the resulting shot to the clipboard rather than a file on the desktop.


The Grab application resides in the /Applications/Utilities folder. It’s pretty simplistic, and essentially duplicates the functionality of the built-in OS X feature, albeit, with a couple of small differences. After you’ve taken the screenshot, it is displayed for you to review at which time you must explicitly save it, if it is indeed what you wanted. This also allows you to choose where you’re going to save the file. There’s a Preferences window where you can choose from eight cursor images to be captured in the resulting image. Otherwise, things are pretty much the same. The keystrokes are different, as you’ll see next.

  • Command + Shift + A

    This keystroke results in a crosshair on screen that displays the coordinates of the cursor. Click and drag to select the area you want to capture.

  • Command + Shift + W

    This keystroke allows you to move windows around to select the one you’d like to capture.

  • Command + Z

    This keystroke results in a full screenshot.

  • Command + Shift  + Z

    This keystroke results in a full screenshot after a 10 second timer elapses.


Skitch is developed by the rockstars at Plasq. It’s super powerful and really easy to use. You get to edit size, crop, draw nondestructively, there’s multi-format export, web upload, copy to clipboard, review history and much more. The best part is, it’s 100% free to use!

  • Command + Shift + 5

    Pressing this keystroke brings up the (now familiar) crosshairs to select the region of the screen you wish to capture. The image is then opened into Skitch for further editing and use — this is the same for each key combo.

  • Command + Shift + 6

    This keystroke results in a full screen capture.

  • Command + Shift + 7

    This keystroke brings up a frame that you can resize to capture a portion of the screen. Initially this may seem to be the same as the crosshair — the difference is, the frame retains its dimensions each time, allowing you to capture uniform shots multiple times.


LittleSnapper is developed by RealMac Software. It approaches screenshots from an iPhoto perspective, allowing you to catalog, group, and tag your shots for later use. There’s a built-in browser for grabbing all or a portion of a webpage. The export feature allows you to save a webpage to a PDF file, or any screen capture to multiple image formats. There’s also an editor for tweaking the shots once you’ve captured them. With all this functionality comes a price — it’s $39. There’s also a free trial to see if it’s a good fit for you.

  • Command + Option + 3

    This keystroke produces a full screen capture. Once captured, it is loaded into the LittleSnapper gallery for further editing and use — this behavior is consistent with all key combos.

  • Command + Shift + Option + 3

    Similar to Grab, this gives you a short timer before the full screen image is captured.

  • Command + Option + 4

    This keystroke gives you the crosshairs to choose the region of the screen to capture.

  • Command + Option + 5

    This keystroke captures a specific window on screen. At least a portion of the window must be visible before initiating the keystroke.

So depending on your screenshot needs, there’s an app for that (sorry, I couldn’t help myself). The built-in tools are great and produce nice results. I personally opt for Skitch almost daily as it provides the level of control I need, but can see where something like LittleSnapper would be ideal for the designer types. There are plenty of other options out there too, if you want to get your Google on. But hopefully we’ve armed you with a little more knowledge today, to get that perfect screenshot the next time you need one.

19 Responses to “4 OS X Screenshot Tools”

  1. If you need to turn your screen captures into “how-to” guides or software documentation then we make a program called ScreenSteps. The main difference between ScreenSteps and other screen capture applications is that as you capture screenshots they are automatically assembled into a document for you. You can then add text, annotations and export to a wide variety of formats including blogs and wikis.

    But if you just need to capture single images and don’t need to create documents then I really like Skitch.

  2. Johnny C

    Another use for screenshots, unmentioned above, is to remotely monitor a task in progress on your Mac (such as a file copy operation, backups progress, video encoding, 3-D rendering, etc). Essentially the ability to leave your Mac, and easily keep tabs on what it’s doing.

    For this I use the free (donations accepted) TImed Screenshot, which is configurable with a very tiny text file in the .app directory. Set your interval & destination, and the screenshots will add up accordingly. This works perfectly with more than one monitor and even my large 30-inch Cinema Displays for you skeptics.

    How to remotely view the screenshots then? There are many options to, but I find the simplest for me, is to have them saved to my Dropbox application’s shared folder (which actively syncs to the web, for the uninitiated). I then view the screenshots via the free Dropbox iPhone app, which gives access to your synced Dropbox folder extremely quickly.

    This a simple way to use screenshots to monitor working tasks from anywhere. There are times when you will need to do more than simply monitor, for which you can use the free LogMeIn service (info at ) to connect to your computer remotely and restart a process or task that has failed. LogMeIn allows full control of the remote machine, but ultimately serves a very different purpose than any screenshot utility. So there is a discussion for another day.

    Happy working from home!

  3. The guys over at have a couple of cool solutions.
    I actually use EasyCrop which has screen capture and also has a super crop and resize for web/email etc feature but there main screen grabbing software is SnapNDrag.
    I have EasyCrop installed on a 100 user base for them all to use to update our websites and blogs. It is very user friendly, even our staff writers can use it ;)

  4. Travis M

    One of the key features I need in a screen capture tool is the ability to capture complete web pages, including below the page fold, in one shot.

    The built-in tools can’t, to my knowledge, accomplish this. I recall testing layers, littlesnappr, and a few others and they didn’t have an option for this – or it wasn’t easily found.

    I know of only two ways to take complete web page screenshots:

    1. Firefox combined with an extension called ScreenGrab

    2. More recently I’ve been using SnagIt! Beta for Mac combined with the Firefox extension they provide.

  5. WhiteyMcBrown

    Are there any that work like OneNote on the PC? I want to keep capturing, one shot after the other, having them all collected sequentially on a single canvas. I don’t want to have a bunch of files anywhere or have to paste from clipboard after each screenshot. I often collect a lot of references for my design work and I’d love if I could just set up a worksheet called “new website inspiration” and then go to town, just capturing stuff onto it.

    Ideally, I’d press a hotkey (say F10) and then just drag out a selection marquee. Then press F10 again and drag out another selection. When I go to (or whatever), it would have a page with those 2 screenshots on it, ready to be printed, emailed, exported, etc.

  6. Snapplr is incredibly useful. It directly takes screenshots to mail or to a defined folder, building up on the system-shortcuts, but leaving the choice to you every single time. No cleanup needed, no finder-like interface. just works :-).

  7. Rees Maxwell

    For intensive needs: try Layers ( It takes a ‘screenshot’ with every element in it’s own layer, including the elements that are ‘behind’ others. So you truly get everything on your screen. It’s all saved as an editable PSD. Pretty awesome, and $15 cheaper than LittleSnapper! (But overkill for what most folks need screenshots for.)