How To Use macOS & Mac OS X Grab Utility To Take Screenshots


I love my Mac’s Utilities folder (Applications > Utilities)! It’s one of Apple’s hidden treasures. Tucked away inside your Mac’s Applications folder, Utilities is the land of Apple’s most dependable apps that never get to your Mac’s main stage, the Applications folder. It’s the place where you find the guts! Where apps like Disk Utility, Terminal, Activity Monitor, Console, and Keychain Access live. Talk about your powerhouses! Alongside its brothers and sisters is a little known Mac app called Grab.

How To Use macOS & Mac OS X Grab Utility to Take Screenshots


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What Makes Grab So Special

Grab is an app for macOS and Mac OS X that lets you take screenshots of your screen. This little utility supports capturing the entire window, the entire screen, or only a portion of your screen.  Although other apps and utilities do similar things, Grab is a decent chap. Sure the built-in Command-Shift–3 and Command-Shift–4 shortcuts are good, but this little app is great! So why settle for just good when we can have great, all from Grab.

So here’s what Grab does

  • Captures part of the screen
  • Takes screenshots of a window on the screen
  • Captures a Timed Screen
    • This gives you 10 seconds to set-up and move any windows or open any menus, so they’re all included in your screenshot
  • Includes option to show or not show a pointer in screenshots
    • Access Preferences, then select a different pointer type or no pointer
  • Capture your entire screen
  • Save screenshots in various formats–JPEG, PNG, even TIFF
  • Screen captures include a small tooltip showing your pointer’s exact coordinate location on-screen

Launch IT

You access Grab in various ways
  • Grab is in the Utilities folder under Applications
  • Or type /Applications/Utilities/ in Finder
  • Or Launchpad > Other > Grab
  • Open Spotlight Search and type in Grab

How to use Mac OS X Grab Utility to take screenshots

Take a picture of a part of your screen that you select

By clicking Grab > Capture > Selection or using the keyboard shortcut Shift+Command+A, you capture a specific region of your screen by dragging around. After selecting the desired area, the capture opens in a new window that you save on your computer.How to use Mac OS X Grab Utility to take screenshots

Taking a picture of a window

By clicking Grab > Capture > Window or using the keyboard shortcut Shift+Command+W, you take a picture of a window that you select.  A prompt instructs you to choose the window you want to capture and click the “Choose Window.”

How to use Mac OS X Grab Utility to take screenshots

Taking a picture of entire screen

By clicking Grap > Capture  > Screen, using the keyboard shortcut Command+Z, you can take a picture of your whole screen. A prompt instructs you to click the screen when you are ready to capture your screen.

How to use Mac OS X Grab Utility to take screenshots

The Coolest Feature: Taking a picture of a Timer on screen

By clicking Grab > Capture > Timed Screen using the keyboard shortcut Shift+Command+Z, you start a 10-second timer, activate part of your screen, and then take a screenshot.  Grab app captures ten seconds after you start the timer.

When you are ready, click the “Start Timer” button, and you have ten seconds to stage your shot before the screen is captured. After ten seconds,  the entire screen is be captured. Timed Screen is usually used to take pictures of your Mac’s menu and menu options.

How to use Mac OS X Grab Utility to take screenshots

After taking your screenshot, you see information about it by choosing Edit > Inspector or using the keyboard shortcut Command+1. Here you find your image’s view size and depth. All screenshots default to the TIFF format; however JPEG and PNG are options you select when saving. Then use Preview app to see and crop or make any other changes to your screenshots.

Image Quality

A lot of people want to change the image resolution. This app natively captures in the TIFF ( .tiff) format, which is fairly high-res. Since Grab is making screenshots of your display, its resolution is limited to your display’s resolution.

How to use Mac OS X Grab Utility to take screenshots

Think of it this way–it’s capturing the actual pixels on your screen. So for the best image quality, make sure you are viewing at the highest resolution your display allows. Go to System Preferences > Displays and check that you’re getting the highest pixels available for your monitor.

Screenshot Picture Format

The default format is usually PNG. However, using Terminal it’s easy to change that to whatever supported format you want–with simple commands. Currently, Mac support PNG, JPG, TIFF, GIF, and PDF formats. So take your pick.

  • Open Terminal ( /Applications/Utilities)
    • To change to JPEG, type in defaults write type jpg
    • For TIFF, type in defaults write type tiff
    • Change to GIF with defaults write type gif
    • Update to PDF by typing in defaults write type pdf
    • Return to PNG and type in defaults write type png
  • These changes don’t take effect until you restart your Mac OR use this additional Terminal command killall SystemUIServer

Grab Not Working After macOS or OS X Update?

If this utility isn’t working after an update, your Grab preference file might have gotten corrupted. To check, open Finder, navigate to the top menu bar, and select Go > Go to Folder.

Type in the following: ~/Library/Preferences/ and press return.

Move that file to the Trash or onto your Desktop. Then, restart your Mac. After your computer is fully restarted, try Grab again. If it works, delete that old preference file.

If updating the preference file did not work, reinstall it using macOS Recovery and reinstall macOS or OSX.


Other Options for Screen Capture on macOS and OS X

If you just plain don’t want to use Grab, try using your keyboard commands. Press Command+Shift+3 and capture your entire screen. Command+Shift+4 performs a screen capture that allows you to select a specific area of your screen using crosshairs. The picture files are saved as screenshots to your desktop. Don’t want to save to the desktop, just press control and the screen captures to your clipboard for easy pasting into other applications (via Edit > Paste or Command+C.)

If your keyboard shortcuts aren’t working, verify that they are enabled in your default keyboard shortcut menu. Open System Preferences, select Keyboard, then the tab Shortcuts, and look at the left panel for the Screen Shots option. Scan the right-side panel and check the boxes next to the options for screen captures.


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