6 great free ways to make a picture or video of your Mac’s screen


6 great free ways to make a picture or video of your Mac’s screen
Mac Tip #511, 09 November 2011

Sometimes you need to take a picture of what’s on your Mac’s screen — either a single picture or a video. Here are 6 great ways to do that — all of them free.

Command Shift 3 or 4 (free)

Make a Screenshot - keys.

Make a Screenshot — keys.

Your Mac has some existing key commands to make screenshots — either the full window or a portion of the window. Look in System PreferencesKeyboardKeyboard Shortcuts to see what they are and potentially to change them.

When you take a screenshot with the built-in commands it creates a .png file on the Desktop, unless you use the optional … to the Clipboard commands.

See How to make a picture of your Mac’s screen for details on how to use this.

Use Grab to make a timed screenshot (free)

The Mac’s built-in screen capture doesn’t capture menus. You may also want a picture of what happens after you click something. That’s where a timed screenshot comes in.

Using the Grab app on your Mac you can set a short delay before the picture is made. Grab is in the Utilities folder inside the Applications folder.

A timer starts and gives you 10 seconds to get ready — for example pulling down a menu. Then the picture is made.

See How to make Screenshots for some detailed instructions on using Grab.

Use Skitch (free)

Skitch.

Skitch.

Skitch is a free app that gives you lots of possibilities with screenshots, especially if you want to share them. It adds an icon to the Menu Bar, so it’s easy to get to.

Use the Snap button on the Skitch window to make a simple screenshot, a timed screenshot or even to grab a photo from your webcam.

Skitch lets me add arrows, boxes, text and change the size.

Skitch lets me add arrows, boxes, text and change the size.

Skitch also makes it easy to add arrows, boxes, text and so on, to change the size of the image and to share it.

Skitch has become my favourite for casual use and for quickly saving screenshots in a known spot.

Make a desktop movie with QuickTime (free)

Make a desktop movie with QuickTime.

Make a desktop movie with QuickTime.

This may only work in later versions of the Mac OS. See Make a screencast or audio recording with QuickTime Player 10 for a detailed explanation of how to make a movie of what you’re doing on your Mac.

Recording a movie of what’s on your screen could be helpful for showing someone else how to work with a particular piece of software, for example, or for showing how a problem occurs when you do certain things.

Take a screenshot with Preview (free)

Preview.app (v 5.5.1) can do all kinds of surprising things, beyond just displaying PDFs.

Preview can make screenshots too.

Preview can make screenshots too.

Open Preview and look under the File menu. Choose one of the options — From Selection…, From Window… or From Entire Screen.

Preview.app does a countdown for a full screen screenshot.

Preview.app does a countdown for a full screen screenshot.

Preview then makes the appropriate screenshot, showing brief instructions so you know what to do. For the Entire Screen option it uses a countdown to give you time to arrange things as you wish.

Once it’s captured the screenshot it opens it as an Untitled Preview document for you to work with and save.

Use the Terminal (free)

Man screencapture.

Man screencapture.

If you’re one of the geekier readers of MacTips you’ve probably tried out the Mac’s command line interface once or twice. You can make screenshots from the Terminal too: screencapture -T 10 myscreen.jpg. That would use a timer to count for 10 seconds then capture the entire screen to an image named myscreen.jpg.

You might like to change directories first so you know where the screenshot will go. man screencapture will tell you the possibilities.

Paid software may work better for professionals

I’ve used all the above free software and it’s great for ordinary people wanting to quickly capture still or moving images of their screen. Mainly though, it’s not the best choice for professionals, except perhaps Skitch.

In another Tip I’ll look at paid software that has more power and flexibility — the power and flexibility that professionals need.

Related Tips

These Tips are also about making screenshots and videos.

  1. How to make a picture of your Mac’s screen, May 2010. It explains in more detail about using Command (⌘) Shift (⇧) 3 and Command (⌘) Shift (⇧) 4.
  2. Make a screencast or audio recording with QuickTime Player 10, February 2011.
  3. How to make Screenshots. It’s from February 2002 so it’s a little dated, but it still holds good. It explains in more detail about using Grab for timed screenshots.
  4. How (not) to make screenshots on an iPhone, January 2010. It also tells you how you do make screenshots on an iPhone, iPad and iPod touch.

Have you used these methods to take screenshots or screen videos of your Mac? Tell us about it in the Comments at the website.

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2 Comments

  1. desikaka said:

    it would be really great if you were able to produce a short YouTube video of your tips.

    • Miraz Jordan said:

      I do make videos of some Tips. This one would be particularly challenging, with trying to make a video showing me making a video. :-)

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