Screenshot settings

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Those of us who take screenshots for a living—OK, maybe it just seems like it sometimes—generally agree that Ambrosia Software’s Snapz Pro X is the king of screenshot utilities. However, Mac OS X actually has some impressive screenshot-taking abilities of its own. For example, you can use the following keyboard shortcuts to take screenshots:

Command+Shift+3 Full-screen screenshot Command+Shift+4 Crosshair to allow selection of screenshot area Command+Shift+4,
then spacebar “Camera” to capture a specific screen object

The thing is, Tiger’s screenshots are automatically saved to the Desktop in PNG format. If you want to save a screenshot in a different format, or to a different location, Apple’s “official” solution is to add the Control key to any of the above combinations, which copies the screenshot to the clipboard instead of saving it to a file; you can then paste the screenshot into any graphics application—such as OS X’s Preview—and save it in your preferred format and to your preferred location. Obviously, this isn’t the most user-friendly procedure.

Fortunately, Tiger provides the ability to change the screenshot format as well as the location to which screenshots are saved. Unfortunately, as described in this Mac OS X Hints article and this one, doing so involves entering obscure commands in Terminal. And the reality is that many Mac users avoid Terminal like the plague.

As usual, resourceful Mac users/developers have come to the rescue with myriad utilities designed to make these changes via an easy-to-use interface. Although most of them change the screenshot format, a few also change the default screenshot save location. I recently downloaded and tested all of these utilities that I could find; here are my favorites.

One of the best free utilities for changing just the screenshot format is cf/x’s savescreenie 1.2 (   ). It offers you a choice of seven different screenshot formats; just choose the format and then click the Set button. What makes savescreenie especially useful is that you can click the “info” button next to each format (except for PCT) to view detailed information about that format in your Web browser. The major drawback of savescreenie is that after changing the screenshot format setting, you need to log out and then back in (or simply restart) for the change to take effect. Unlike the two alternatives below, it doesn’t automatically restart the necessary system services. (If you like savescreenie, you can use it and then simply type

killall SystemUIServer
in Terminal to finish the job.)


Even more useful, although not quite free, is EGO Systems’ $2 Screenshots Preference Pane 1.0 (   ). As its name implies, it functions as a preference pane in Mac OS X’s System Preferences utility—just where you’d expect system settings such as screenshot format and location to be found. Like savescreenie, it presents you with a list of available screenshot formats, but it adds GIF, JPEG-2000, SGI, and TGA as options. When you select a format, you’re provided with a short description of that image type right there in the window. (You don’t get as much information as what’s on the savescreenie-linked Web sites, but you do get useful applicability guidelines for each format—for example, you’re told that the PICT format is a good choice if you plan to send your screenshots to people using Mac OS 9 or earlier.)

Screenshots Preference Pane

Screenshots Preference Pane also lets you change the default location to which screenshots are saved. Click the Select button and then navigate to your preferred folder. (Mine’s a folder called Screenshots inside my Pictures folder.)

After you’ve made your selections for screenshot format and location, click the Save button. Screenshots Preference Pane makes the change and then restarts the SystemUIServer service. (You’ll know this is happening because all of your Apple-provided menu bar menus will disappear and then reappear—SystemUIServer is what handles all of these menu extras.) Unlike with savescreenie, you don’t have to log out/in, restart, or enter a command in Terminal in order to take advantage of your new settings.

Finally, if you want to be able to change both screenshot format and location, but you don’t want to pay $2 for the feature and good interface, Bruce Phillips has created a handy (and free) AppleScript-based solution called Screenshot Settings 1.0.1 (   ). Launch the application and choose whether to change the location or the format of screenshots. For the former, you’ll navigate to the desired folder; for the latter, you’ll see a list of possible formats—the same options offered by Screenshots Preference Pane. After you make a change, the SystemUIServer is automatically restarted. Screenshot Settings’ interface isn’t as pretty as the other options, and you must choose location and format settings separately, but under the hood it’s making the same changes.

Screenshot Settings setting dialog
Screenshot Settings format dialog

Whichever of these products you choose, you get an easy-to-use way to customize your screenshots.

These products work only with Tiger (Mac OS X 10.4).

UPDATE 8/13/2007: Updated link for Screenshot Settings. Note that the new link is to version 1.1, rather than 1.0.1.

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