Taking Screenshots: Three Tricks for the Mac and One for iOS

Did you ever want to capture what’s on your screen, or at least a part of it? Screenshots aren’t just for technical writers trying to document app behavior—you might also use them to provide feedback on a photo, to document an error message for someone who helps you with your Mac, or to record a particularly funny auto-correct fail in Messages on your iPhone.

OS X and iOS have both long included built-in screenshot features that make it easy to take a high-resolution picture of what you see onscreen. (You can, of course, use a camera to take a photo of your screen, but that will never look as good.)

Taking a screenshot in iOS is super simple, and it works the same on an iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch. Just press the Home and Sleep/Wake buttons simultaneously. You’ll see the screen flash, and iOS saves the screenshot to your Photos app—look at the bottom of the Camera Roll or, if you’ve turned on iCloud Photo Library, the All Photos album. The same technique works on the Apple Watch, where you press both the digital crown and the side button simultaneously. (Accidental presses of those buttons explains why random Apple Watch screenshots might appear in Photos.)

On the Mac, you can take your pick from three built-in methods of taking screenshots:

If you take a lot of screenshots, consider memorizing OS X’s keyboard shortcuts. For a full-screen screenshot, press Command-Shift-3. For a screenshot of an arbitrary size, press Command-Shift-4 and drag out a rectangle. To capture just an object like a window, press Command-Shift-4, hover the pointer over the window, press the Space bar to show the camera cursor over the highlighted object, and then click to take the screenshot. The Command-Shift-4 shortcut is the only way to capture a menu. All screenshots are saved as PNG files on your Desktop and automatically named with the date.
If that sounds geeky and hard to remember, try Apple’s Grab app, which is hidden away in the Utilities folder inside your Applications folder. It’s a simple app, but it can take full-screen, window, and selection screenshots, and it walks you through the process. You can also use Grab to capture a full-screen screenshot with a timer, which is handy if what you want to record appears only while you’re dragging an icon or other object, for instance. Captured screenshots appear in Grab as Untitled TIFF documents that you can close, copy, save, or print.
Want to mark up a screenshot with circles and arrows and a paragraph of text, just like the photos in Arlo Guthrie’s Alice’s Restaurant song? For that, use Apple’s surprisingly powerful Preview app, which can take screenshots and opens them as graphic documents that you can edit. Choose File > Take Screenshot > From Selection, From Window, or From Entire Screen. That last option is automatically a timed screenshot so you can set up any temporary conditions while the timer counts down. To access the tools you need to  add shapes or text to your screenshot, choose View > Show Markup Toolbar. When you’re done, you can save the screenshot in a variety of formats.

You can also take screenshots using a cornucopia of third-party screenshot utilities. In general, they don’t offer much more than Apple’s options when it comes to capturing screenshots. Where they stand out is providing better tools for marking up and manipulating screenshots, and in offering an interface for managing and sharing screenshots. Choosing among them is largely a matter of personal preference, but check out Evernote’s free Skitch, Global Delight’s $29.99 Capto, and Aged & Distilled’s $39.99 Napkin.

Whatever method you choose, remember that a picture is worth a thousand words, and the right screenshot can be even more valuable.

Enhance Copy & Paste with Clipboard Utilities

One of the most important technologies of the computer age is Copy & Paste. You may not think about the humble clipboard much, but Copy & Paste has saved you incalculable amounts of work by letting you copy something you’ve done previously to the clipboard, paste it into another document or app, and make any necessary changes. Whether you’re updating a monthly report, tweaking graphics for an annual party, or entering sales numbers in a custom database, Copy & Paste ensures that you don’t have to retype data or start from scratch.

What if you could make Copy & Paste even more powerful? With the right clipboard utility installed on your Mac, you gain two major new features:

  • Use clipboard history to access previously copied data. By default, every time you copy something to the clipboard, it replaces whatever was there before. With a clipboard utility, though, you can see a list of items you’ve previously copied to the clipboard and paste any one of them, which is way easier than finding and copying the data again. Clipboard utilities even preserve your clipboard history across restarts!
  • Edit or filter the data on the clipboard before pasting. This is useful, for instance, if there’s a mistake in the contents of the clipboard, if you copied styled text but want to paste plain text, or if you want to replace all double spaces in the copied text with single spaces.

Which clipboard utility is right for you depends on what else you might want it to do, or you might even have one installed already without realizing. That’s because clipboard enhancements are a bit like blades in a Swiss Army knife: they tend to be bundled into other utilities. You won’t go wrong with any of these clipboard boosters: the macro utility Keyboard Maestro, the launcher LaunchBar, and the dedicated clipboard helper Copy’em Paste.


Keyboard Maestro ($36) is a macro utility, which means that it lets you string together a series of actions—copy this, switch apps, click here, paste, switch back, for instance—and then invoke that series with a trigger such as a hotkey, menu command, timer, or system activity. Keyboard Maestro offers hundreds of actions and numerous triggers, but from the clipboard perspective, it provides a persistent clipboard history, multiple named clipboards, filtering of clipboard contents when pasting, removal of styles from pasted text, and a user-specified hotkey for anything you want to do. You cannot, however, edit clipboard text manually.


LaunchBar ($29) is a launcher, so its primary feature is opening or switching to an application or file by typing a hotkey followed by a few letters from the name of the app or file. That’s hugely useful in its own right, but LaunchBar also maintains a filterable clipboard history across restarts, lets you paste a clipping as plain text, and can merge copied text with whatever is already on the clipboard. Other apps in this category include Alfred (with the optional £17 Powerpack), Butler ($20), and QuickSilver(donationware).


Copy’em Paste ($14.99) focuses on clipboard enhancements, wrapping nearly every clipboard-related feature you could want in an attractive interface. It offers a full clipboard history, makes it easy to paste multiple items quickly or even in a batch, can transform pasted text in a variety of ways, and lets you organize clippings into groups. It also enables you to edit text clippings, search for text in your clippings, and ignore apps whose clipboard changes just clutter your clipboard history. Competitors include CopyPaste Pro ($30) and iClipboard ($9.99).

Regardless of which of these utilities you choose, you’ll soon be juggling the contents of your clipboard like a pro…and wasting a lot less time!

Rearrange Menu Bar Icons in Sierra

Have you ever wanted to rearrange the menu bar icons that breed like bunnies at the top of your screen? Some of that has been possible in the past, but macOS 10.12 Sierra finally lets you configure your menu bar the way you want it. To move a menu bar icon, hold down the Command key and drag the icon to a new position. This works with every icon except the Notification Center icon in the rightmost spot; it has to stay in that location.

Teleport Around Your Mac with the Sidebar

If your Mac resembles an absent-minded professor’s office with files and folders strewn hither and thither, getting to the right spot to open or save a file may have become slow and clumsy. Sure, in an ideal world, you’d organize everything perfectly, but you’d also be flossing twice a day, calling your mother every Sunday, and eating more leafy greens. So let’s talk about a shortcut that lets you put off that big reorg for another day: the sidebar that graces every Finder window and Open/Save dialog.

t1

First, make sure it’s showing. In the Finder, with a Finder window active, if the View menu has a Show Sidebar command, choose it. (If it says Hide Sidebar, the sidebar is already showing.) Or, when you’re in an Open or Save dialog, click the sidebar sidebar-button  button (it’s in the dialog’s toolbar) to show and hide the sidebar.

t2

Now, to make the best use of the sidebar, try these tips:

  • t3
    By default, the sidebar shows a lot of items you likely don’t use. Turn off anything that’s unnecessary to make the sidebar shorter and more useful. Choose Finder > Preferences > Sidebar to see four categories of sidebar items. Favorites are mostly folders, Shared items are networked computers and servers, Devices are hard drives and other storage devices, and Tags display recently used Finder tags. Be ruthless here and uncheck anything that you seldom use or don’t understand.
  • To make the sidebar even more manageable temporarily, hover the pointer over a category label in the sidebar and click Hide when it appears. That category’s contents disappear, making what’s still in the sidebar easier to focus on; to get them back, hover over it again and click Show.t4
  • Add your own frequently used folders to the Favorites category so you have one-click access to them in the Finder and when opening or saving files. Drag a folder from the Finder to the Favorites list to add it. The folder is still on your disk in the original location, but if you click it in the sidebar, its contents appear instantly in the Finder window. If you’re tempted to add a slew of folders to the sidebar, resist the urge. Instead, add a new folder that contains aliases to your desired folders; it’s only one more click in the Finder window’s Column view to see their contents. (To make an alias, select the folder and choose File > Make Alias; you can then move the alias to the desired location and rename it however you want.)
  • Don’t be shy about adding and removing folders; there’s no harm in adding a folder for a few days while you’re working on a project, and then removing it when you’re done. To remove a folder, Control-click it and choose Remove from Sidebar. The folder disappears from the sidebar, but stays on your disk.t6
  • Organize your favorites so they’re in an order that makes sense to you, whether that’s alphabetical or the most important at the top. To do this, simply drag them to rearrange.
  • Once you have your sidebar set up as you want, make sure you use it! In the Finder, to open files, click a folder in the sidebar to display its contents. You can even drag files from one folder into another folder in the sidebar to move them—or Option-drag to copy them.
  • When you want to open a file in an app, choose File > Open, and in the Open dialog, click sidebar items to jump directly to those folders. The same goes when saving a new file; choose File > Save and use your sidebar to navigate to the desired location.

Put these tips into play on your Mac, and you’ll be teleporting between far-flung folders in no time!

Revert to iOS 9’s Home Button Behavior

iOS 10 changes how you use the Home button to unlock your iOS device from the Lock screen. Previously, you could unlock it by merely resting your finger on the Home button when the Lock screen was showing. In iOS 10, however, you must press the Home button and then use Touch ID to unlock the device. With newer iPad and iPhone models, Touch ID reads your fingerprint so quickly that you can usually press the Home button instead of just resting your finger on it. However, this new behavior may be disconcerting with early Touch ID-enabled devices, such as the iPhone 5s, which take longer to read a fingerprint. To revert to the previous behavior, go to Settings > General > Accessibility > Home Button and enable Rest Finger to Open.

 

tip-home-button-behavior