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How to Take a Screenshot on a Mac and Annotate It!

Updated on February 18, 2014
Jonathan Wylie profile image

Jonathan is a certified teacher who has taught in the UK and in the US. He now works as a Digital Learning Consultant.

Mac desktop screenshot
Mac desktop screenshot

Keyboard Shortcuts for Screenshots on a Mac

You might not know this, but Apple has a number of options for taking screenshots on a Mac built-in to Mac OS X. They opted to include these as keyboard shortcuts. Not everyone is a fan of keyboard shortcuts, but once you learn the ones you need, you will quickly jump to it in your time of need. Each combination gives you slightly different options, so here is a quick summary of what you can do:

  • Command+Shift+3: Takes a full screen screenshot and saves it to the desktop as a PNG file.
  • Command+Shift+4: Don't need a full screen capture? This one lets you select the area to capture, then saves to the desktop. Simply click and drag to select the area you need.
  • Command+Shift+4+Space Bar: Click an active window to save it to the desktop.
  • Command+Control+Shift+3: Takes a screenshot of the screen, and saves it to the clipboard. You can then paste the screenshot into other apps.
  • Command+Control+Shift+4: Like above, but lets you select the area to capture first and then saves it to the clipboard to paste into other apps.
  • Command+Control+Shift+4+Space Bar: Wrap your fingers around this super combo and you can click any active window to save it to the clipboard for pasting later.

Selected area screenshot captured with Cmd+Shift+4
Selected area screenshot captured with Cmd+Shift+4

Annotating Mac Screenshots with Preview

If you chose to save your screenshot to the desktop, you can double click it to open it in the Preview app. Preview is a versatile app that can be used for all manner of useful things, one of which is annotating screenshots.

Once your screenshot is opened inside Preview, click View > Show Edit Toolbar to reveal the annotation tools at your disposal. You can also click the toolbar icon that looks like a pencil inside a square to the same thing.

There are a number of tools you can use to annotate your screenshot. They include:

  • Shape tools
  • The arrow tool
  • Text boxes
  • Speech bubbles
  • A crop tool
  • Image resizing tools

See the image below for an indication of which one is which, or simply hover your cursor over the toolbar icon to see a small popup explanation of what each tool does.

Preview annotation tools
Preview annotation tools

Skitch for Mac: The All-in-One Screenshot Solution

If the keyboard shortcuts are just to numerous or difficult to remember, you can always opt for an all-in-one solution like Skitch for Mac, a free screenshot app that will capture your image and give you the tools you need to annotate it.

Skitch is made by Evernote and has apps for Mac, Windows, iOS, and Android devices. You can download the Mac app at the Mac App Store.

Capturing and Annotating Screenshots with Skitch for Mac

Skitch has a number of screen capture modes that include full screen screenshots, selected area screenshots, and even a timed screen shot that lets you select and area and then gives you a five second countdown before the screenshot is captured.

Skitch for Mac has many of the same annotation tools that are found in Skitch for iOS. They include:

  • An arrow tool
  • A text tool
  • The shape tool
  • Freehand drawing tool
  • Highlighter tool
  • A labeling tool
  • The blur tool
  • A cropping tool

Simply select the tool you want to use, and click and drag across your screen to apply your annotations. Once you are done, you can save your file, email it, or log in with your Evernote account to save and sync it to Evernote.

Skitch for Mac
Skitch for Mac

What Else Can I Use?

If you are serious about your screenshots, and want even more annotation options and customization, then Snagit for Mac is about the best you can get. Snagit is a paid app, but you get a lot for your money, and there are discounts for educational institutions, non-profits, and government organizations. You also get great customer support and free updates for life!

There are dozens of annotation options, as well as the possibility to create your own custom annotations and save them for the next time you need them. Snagit integrates with Google Drive so that you can import images and export finished screen captures. You can even record some basic video screencasts and share them straight to YouTube, Facebook and more.

Find out more about Snagit for Mac here.

Snagit for Mac
Snagit for Mac | Source


So, there are plenty of options for capturing screenshots on your Mac. The one that you choose will likely come down to personal preference, or how much money you are willing to spend, but these three are among the best options available for Mac users.


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