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While this might be old hat to some of you, for those who don’t know, it’s incredibly useful to know how to take screenshots of your device. Let’s say you’ve got a PowerPoint presentation for a class, and you can’t save the image to insert it into your slide deck. What do you do? Screenshots to the rescue! Here’s a list of all the native OS X screenshot functions, how to activate them, and how it’s been useful for me. Important note: All Mac screenshots that save an image produce a .PNG file titled with the time and date you took the screenshot that saves automatically to your desktop. For screenshots that copy to your clipboard, just paste (using Command V), onto whatever application you wish. If you’re worried about getting it to work, you’ll know you successfully captured your screen/window/area by the ensuing camera snapping sound.

Save Screenshot of Entire Screen as a File: Shift Command 3. This is most useful if you want to post pictures of your entire screen to Flickr/blogs to show off your cool desktop and all your various menu bar applications. I’ve also found it nice for showing others how I arrange my windows in my workflow. Altogether though, the utility is rather limited.

Save Screenshot of Specific Window as a File: Shift Command 4, then hit space. This is really, really handy! Mac OS X changes the screenshot cross cursor to a camera and automatically recognizes windows. You just choose whichever window you want, hover over it (you’ll know which one by the obvious blue glow), and click to save the image. I use it all the time to capture great focused screenshots for HackCollege, or for showing friends and family what settings need to be checked/turned on to enable additional functionality in their applications.

Save Screenshot of Arbitrary Area as a File: Shift Command 4, then click and drag the area you wish to capture using your mouse. Remember that PowerPoint dilemma I brought up earlier? This is the solution to that problem. Let’s say an image is displayed via Flash on a website. You can’t save it, so just use this screenshot capture to get what you need and make your presentation shine! It’s also handy for capturing only a portion of a window to save the extra step of cropping an image later. Remember that the numbers below the cursor refer to your capture’s pixel dimensions; the top number is length while the bottom number is width.

In case you don’t want to produce a file and just need to copy the capture to the clipboard, just hold the Ctrl key while invoking the aforementioned keyboard shortcuts. They all work the same way but just copy to the clipboard instead. Additionally, you can use Grab, a program found within your utilities folder, to perform the same tasks via a GUI. After you take a screenshot using Grab, it spits out an untitled image document that you can then save wherever you wish. Grab includes the additional functionality of a timed screen capture if that’s of interest to you. Most of the time though, I find the basic keyboard shortcuts more than powerful enough for my needs. 

One last thing: There’s third-party software out there for taking screenshots with far more advanced options than the ones natively available in OS X. Try Paparazzi (capture entire webpages – free), Skitch (annotate, edit, and share screenshots – free), Layers (save windows in your screenshots as separate layers in Photoshop – $24.95), or LittleSnapper (manage and edit all your screenshots – $39.99) if you’re interested.

How have screenshots helped you produce better work? Are there any additional tips that I missed? Let us know in the comments!