How do you take a screen snapshot on a Mac?

Screen snapshots are pictures of a portion of the screen. Being able to take a screen snapshot can be very useful. I typically use this feature several times each day. Here are some reasons why I commonly take a screen snapshot:

  • To capture the exact text of an error message that appears on my screen.
  • To be able to print something that is not easily printed.
  • To capture a part of the screen so I can send it as an email attachment, often in a set of step-by-step instructions. A picture is worth a thousand words.

I’m going to highlight the two most common ways that I take a screen snapshot. For a complete list of ways read this page. Simultaneously hold down the Command key (aka Apple key), Shift key and the 4 key. The cursor will change from the arrow to an icon of a crosshair. Position the crosshair in the upper left corner of what you want to capture, then click and drag to the lower right corner. Release when the entire desired area of the screen is selected. When you release, the snapshot will be taken and automatically saved to the Desktop. In Mac OS X version 10.6 the file will be named “Screen shot” followed by a date and time stamp. In older versions of Mac OS X the file will be named Picture 1, and subsequent snapshots will be named Picture 2, Picture 3 and so forth.

There are countless ways you can use these snapshots. You can rename them. You can double-click to open and print them. You can move your snapshots into folders to keep them organized.

Sometimes I don’t want to save a copy of the snapshot as a file on my Mac. Instead, I just want to capture something on my screen and immediately paste it into an email or some other document. In this case, I simultaneously hold down the Control key as well as Command, Shift and 4. I then position the crosshair the same way to capture the snapshot. However, in this situation the snapshot is saved to the Mac’s invisible “clipboard.” Now I can go to an email message or a Word file and use the Paste command to paste the snapshot.

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