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Top Screenshot Tips
These screen-capture tips provide built-in and add-on solutions to just about anything you might wish to snap.
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Capturing good screenshots in Mac OS X requires some experimentation. If you simply want to capture the screen for reference later on, you can do it easily with the built-in screen-capture tool. However, if you are a professional writer or a student preparing that term paper and need great-looking screen shots, you have to spend a little more time exploring your options.

These screen capture tips provide built-in and add-on solutions to just about anything you might wish to snap.

Using Snapz Pro X

The ultimate screen-capture utility is Snapz Pro X ($29, $49 with movie-capture support; 30-day demo available) from Ambrosia Software Inc. (http://www.ambrosiasw.com/utilities/snapzprox/). It sports customizability and multiple output formats, and it grabs the screen as you see it, including or excluding that pesky mouse arrow, at will.

Set up your shot and press command-Shift-3 (customizable) to freeze the screen and take care of the details. You can choose the entire screen, objects (windows or icons), or a region, even during Quicktime and DVD movie playback (the built-in screen capture featrure is disabled while DVD Player is active).

Figure 4. Taking care of SnapZ Pro X screenshot details

Selection capture, coming after you've set up your screen just the way you like it, allows you to take your time to mark out and alter the region before double-clicking it to take the final shot.

Figure 5. Capturing a portion of the screen

Snapz Pro X can even capture the drop-shadows beneath a window. Simply change the Border option under Image Options to Drop Shadow. Prior to Snapz Pro X, I'd always have to switch the background to white to capture the nice shadow around the window without including a slice of my desktop image.

There's so much more to Snapz Pro X — like recording screen activities as a QuickTime movie for purposes such as product demos — that it's difficult to do it justice in this quick overview. Download the 30-day trial and give it a whirl yourself.

Screen Capture with Terminal

Terminal [Hack #48] comes with a command-line version of the built-in screen-capture utility, aptly named screencapture. For usage instructions, simply invoke it on the command line:

% screencapture 
screencapture: illegal usage, file required if not going to clipboard
usage: screencapture [-icmwsWx] [file] [cursor]
  -i      capture screen interactively, by selection or window
            control key - causes screen shot to go to clipboard
            space key   - toggle between mouse selection and
                          window selection modes
            escape key  - cancels interactive screen shot
  -c      force screen capture to go to the clipboard
  -m      only capture the main monitor, undefined if -i is set
  -w      only allow window selection mode
  -s      only allow mouse selection mode
  -W      start interaction in window selection mode
  -x      do not play sounds
  file    where to save the screen capture

To capture the entire screen, type screencapture ~/Desktop/image.pdf, where ~/Desktop/image.pdf is the path and filename to which you wish it saved. To capture the screen interactively in regional or window mode, use screencapture -i image.pdf.

Figure 6. Using screencapture on the command line

If you prefer the output to go right to the clipboard rather than an image file, use screencapture -c. Of course, you can use these various command-line options in tandem; screencapture -ic, for example, is an interactive screen-capture session, sending the result to the clipboard.


You can grab a screenshot of a remote Mac's desktop — or even the login screen — thanks to screencapture and some not-so-fancy remote access footwork [Hack #71]. Simply log in to the other Mac remotely, run screencapture on the command line, and copy the resulting screenshots back over to your local Mac.

—Wei-Meng Lee

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