Taking Screen Shots in Mac OS X


How do I take a screen shot of what I see on screen so I can attach it to an email message?


Any Application, Mac OSX and an email client like Apple's Mail.app


There are often times when it's necessary to send all or part of a drawing or something else see on screen as an email attachment to a client or consultant or prospective client. In some instances the entire drawing screen needs to be sent while other times only selected portions of the drawing should be sent. Fortunately Apple's Mac OS X has features which make it easy to do just that!

Related Information
You can also use Apple's PDF? Services and PDF Work flow to email content as a PDF file simply by using the Print... command. Read this caddpower.com article for more on PDF Services and read this caddpower.com article for an example on how it can be used to email part of a drawing.

What To Do

In this article we'll discuss the different methods available natively in Mac OS X for capturing images on your screen and how to send the information as an email attachment (meaning you don't have to buy anything extra). We'll also throw in a suggestion to use a third party utility like SnapZproX which, while it's not free, has some great additional uses which make it well worth considering. Which method is right for you will depend on the particular circumstances; we've used them all over the years. Here are the various methods we use, in no particular order:

Method: Perform a Screen Shot and save to your hard disk or the Clipboard?

Apple has historically provided methods of capturing a picture of your screen (often called a screen shot or screen capture) which can be a fast and easy way to create content to be used as an email attachment.

Screen shot to Clipboard - Do This:

  1. Open the PowerCADD Drawing and navigate to the area you'd like to send
  2. Press Shift+Control+Command+4 (yah, that's a lot of keys to press and you might need two hands)
  3. The cursor changes: click and drag to specify the area you want to capture and send
  4. After you hear the camera shutter click, the selected area is saved to the Mac OS X Clipboard
  5. Create a new message in your email client program (e.g. Apple's Mail.app)
  6. Click in the body of the message window and choose Edit menu > Paste
  7. The content of the clipboard (the image area selected in step 3) is pasted into the message window (example:pastedGraphic.tif)
  8. Complete your email message and send it

While this screen shot to clipboard method is very convenient, one of the draw backs include not being able to rename the file attachment; do you want the recipient to see a generic file name? There is also no direct method of specifying the type of file format used to capture the image (*.TIF, *.JPEG, *.PDF, etc.) which can be an inconvenience if the recipient can only open JPEG files; while most modern operating systems can handle the *.TIF files, in addition to the larger file size, it's a potential problem you should be aware of.

If you have changed the default file format for screen captures (as described below), it's possible the item pasted will be *.PDF or *.JPG? in which case the file is fine to be sent as a cross platform attachment.

Other Screen Shot Methods
Here is a list of Apple short cut key commands you can press to capture a screen shot. Any screen shot saved (captured) to your hard disk can be renamed in the Finder and simply attached to your email message.

  • Shift+Command+3: Captures the entire screen and saves a file to your computer desktop
  • Shift+Command+Control+3: Captures the entire screen and copies the content to the computer clipboard
  • Shift+Command+4: Captures the area defined by dragging a marquee on screen and saves a file to your computer desktop
  • Shift+Command+Control+4: Captures the area defined by dragging and copies the content to the computer clipboard
  • Shift+Command+4 then Spacebar: Capture a window, menu, or menu bar and saves a file to your computer desktop
  • Shift+Command+Control+4 then Spacebar: Capture a window, menu, or menu bar and saves a file to your computer clipboard

When saved to your desktop, the files are typically saved as *.PNG? (Portable Network Graphics file) files with a file name of Picture1.PNG; each subsequent screen shot will have a sequential number (Picture2.PNG etc.). Prior to Mac OS X Tiger (10.4) the default file format for screen shots was *.PDF. In Tiger the file format changed to *.PNG. While the *.PNG was intended to replace *.GIF as a cross platform file format, it can have problems being viewed on older Microsoft and legacy Mac OS X (e.g. OS 9) operating systems. For that reason we recommend changing the default file format used when taking a screen capture to *.PDF, *.JPG, or *.TIF, all of which are know to be solid cross platform performers and which can be opened by older operating systems.

To Change the Default Screen Shot File? format used by Mac OS X, do this:
While you can probably find some third party shareware or freeware utilities to change the file format used when saving a screen shot, we find this simple Mac OS X / Unix command line fix to the be quickest and easiest. If you're new to Unix and the command line interface, don't panic! It's very easy and you truly can't do any serious harm:

  1. Choose Applications Folder > Utilities Folder and double click on Terminal.app
  2. The Mac OS X Unix Terminal application will launch, immediately to the right of the command line prompt $ sign type
  3. defaults write com.apple.screencapture type pdf
    • Hint: You can simply copy/paste the above line if you prefer but if typed it much match exactly, including spaces
    • Hint: pdf is simply the preferred file format type in the example above. You could type jpg to create a jpeg file instead of a PDF, or tif, or png to create files in those specific file formats
  4. Quit Terminal and Log Out and Log In of Mac OS X again (or Restart) for the change to take effect


You can also use an application like CockTail XTNL URL or other third party shareware and freeware applications to make the above noted change.

Method: Use Grab to capture a screen image and save it to disk

Since Mac OS X was released, Apple has included a free utility application called Grab which allows you to capture any part of your screen. The screen capture is opened in Grab where you can then save the file to your hard drive; that file can then be attached to an email message.

Do This:

  1. Open the PowerCADD Drawing and navigate to the area you'd like to send
  2. From the Finder choose Applications > Utilities > Grab and double click Grab to launch that application
  3. From Grab choose Capture menu > Selection
  4. Press Option + Tab to navigate between the open applications until you arrive in you PowerCADD Drawing
  5. Press and Drag the cursor to select the area you'd like to capture
  6. The captured area is opened in Grab
  7. Choose File Menu > Save As... to save the file to your hard disk


Now simply create a new email message and attach your saved file from step (7) above to that message. Note that the files saved from Grab are in *.TIFF (or *.TIF) format. TIFF files are typically a larger file size that JPEG and might be too large to use an email attachment (that will depend on the limits set by your Internet Service Provider or Systems Administrator). To convert the *.TIF file to another format, open the saved file in step (7) in Apple's Preview.app and use File menu > Save As... to save the file in the desired format such as JPEG.

Generally we don't use Grab as it requires some extra steps which we like to avoid but there are times when it's a helpful fall back to other techniques so it's worth having in your bag of tricks. For example, standard Mac OS X Screen Captures do not include the cursor; using Grab you can specify no cursor or different cursor types (choose Grab menu > Preferences...).

Method: Use SnapZProX to capture a screen image

SnapZProX XTNL URL is a third party shareware application that costs between US$30 and US$70 depending on which version you purchase. While this applications isn't free, it provides so many great options that we can't help but mention it here; the cost is easily worth it over the long haul and the developer has an excellent reputation of keeping the product current (as of this writing the software is not Mac Intel Native but development is in progress){the Mac Intel native version is available and works great!}.

Do this to perform a screen capture and save it directly to a new email message:

  1. Open the PowerCADD Drawing and navigate to the area you'd like to send
  2. Press Shift+Command+3 (or the custom key command sequence you might have applied in the SnapZpro Preferences
  3. From Capture Options choose Send To Email
  4. Press and Drag the cursor to select the area you'd like to capture and press Return
  5. A new email message window is opened and the capture area is inserted into the message body
  6. Compose your message and send it


One of the reasons we like SnapZPro so much is the ease with which you can specify different options for capturing the image. For example you can choose to specify a name for the file before it's attached to the email message. You can also choose different drop shadow effects, watermarks, file types (jpg, tif, psd, pdf, etc.), or whether or not to show the cursor in addition to the various file formats which are only a pop-up menu away. All in all we feel this utility is worth having in the tool box and can't recommend it highly enough.

As you can see there are a lot of ways to get the job done; just pick one that works for you and go for it!

We hope that helps

If you found this article or the website in general to be helpful, educational or a time and money saver you can show your support. Thank you ~ Brian (huc) Huculak

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