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Mac screenshots: 4 ways to capture your MacBook's screen

Keyboard shortcuts to take screenshots might seem straightforward on your Mac, but each technique captures a different part of your screen.

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Ready, set, screenshot.

Sarah Tew/CNET

If your workflow requires taking regular screenshots on your MacBook or Mac Pro, then you'll need to know three common keyboard shortcuts, and a fourth if you have a MacBook with a touch bar. One of these techniques is a little newer. You might remember it from MacOS Mojave, but if you didn't, rest assured that it has carried over to MacOS Catalina

Stick around, too, because we also walk you through how to work with those screenshots once you've taken them. Apple gives you a fair number of options to easily save, delete and open the screenshot for markup, tools that I've come to appreciate and regularly use.

And if you're looking for other tips, here are five ways to make your loud Mac's fan less noisy and how to get back into your locked Mac if you forgot your password.

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Command-Shift-3

This keyboard shortcut captures a screenshot of your entire screen.

Shift-Command-4 

Use this keyboard combo to turn your cursor into a crosshair, which you can drag to select a portion of your screen to capture. Release the mouse button or trackpad to take the shot.

You have a number of other options after hitting Shift-Command-4:

Press and release the space bar: The crosshair turns into a little camera icon, which you can move over any open window. Click on your desired window to take a screenshot of it. A screenshot captured by this method features a white border around the window with a bit of a drop shadow.

Press and hold the space bar (after dragging to highlight an area but before releasing the mouse button or trackpad): This locks in the shape and size of the selection area but lets you reposition it on the screen. It's very handy if your initial selection area is off by a few pixels; just hold down the space bar to reposition it before releasing the mouse button to snap a screenshot.

Hold down the Shift key (after dragging to highlight an area but before releasing the mouse button or trackpad): This locks in each side of the selection area made with the crosshairs save the bottom edge, letting you move your mouse up or down to position the bottom edge. 

Without releasing the mouse button, release the Shift key and hit it again to reposition the right edge of your selection area. You can toggle between moving the bottom edge and right edge by keeping the mouse button or touchpad engaged and pressing the Shift key.

Shift-Command-5

A relatively new shortcut command introduced in MacOS Mojave (2018), this combination calls up a small panel at the bottom of your display with your screen capture options. There are three screenshot buttons that let you capture the entire screen, a window or a selection of your screen. 

Likewise, the two video-recording buttons let you record your entire screen or a selection of it. On the left is an X button to close the screenshot panel, but you can also just hit the Escape key to exit out.

On the right side is an Options button. It lets you choose where to save your screenshot -- Desktop, Documents, Clipboard, Mail, Messages or Preview -- and set a 5- or 10-second delay so you can line up items that might otherwise disappear when you engage your screenshot tool.

By default, the Show Floating Thumbnail option is enabled, which puts a little preview thumbnail of your just-capture screenshot in the lower-right corner of your screen, similar to the screenshot procedure with iOS. Unlike your iPhone ($465 at Back Market), you can turn off this preview thumbnail on your Mac. Lastly, you can choose to show your mouse pointer in a screenshot or video.

If the screenshot panel is in your way, you can grab its left edge and drag it to a new spot on your screen.

Bonus for Touch Bar MacBooks: Command-Shift-6

If you've got the 16-inch MacBook Pro or another model with the Touch Bar, did you know you can take a screenshot of what's currently showing on the Touch Bar? Just hit Command-Shift-6 to take a very wide and skinny screenshot of your Touch Bar.

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Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET

Easy annotation

If you embrace the Floating Thumbnail, then you'll gain quick access to Markup tools to annotate your screenshot. You can swipe the Floating Thumbnail away or just let it slip away on its own and it'll be saved to the spot you last saved a screenshot. Click the Floating Thumbnail and it'll open in a Markup View preview window (but not Preview) with all of the markup tools you get in Preview.

You can right-click the Floating Thumbnail to:

  • Save the screenshot to your desktop, Documents folder or clipboard
  • Open it in Mail, Messages, Preview or Photos
  • Show in Finder
  • Delete
  • Open in in the Markup preview window described above
  • Close (and save)

Longtime Mac screenshotters may be slow to adopt the new Command-Shift-5 shortcut, but I find myself using it more for the ability to annotate screenshots without needing to open Preview and quickly delete screenshots that I know immediately I messed up. The 5- and 10-second delay options are also useful and appreciated additions.

This story is updated periodically with new information.