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The screen capture shortcut on the Mac is one of the most useful tools I know. It grabs the screen and neatly places a .png file onto your desktop.

But is this the highest quality screen capture you can get? Is it possible to get a higher resolution screen capture? Are there any ways to tinker with the settings of this command?

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migrated from Apr 1 '11 at 21:20

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up vote 10 down vote accepted

The PNG is losslessly compressed; there's isn't a possible better-quality screenshot.

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The image will always have the same dimensions as the screen or window being captured — a 1440x900 screen will create a 1440x900 screenshot.

Today's operating systems are resolution-dependent: everything you see screen is either being shown at actual size (e.g. a 10-pixel-by-10-pixel icon which has actually drawn as 10 pixels by 10 pixels) or has been rendered at some pixel dimensions. So, the size of objects on a computer display is entirely dependent on the pixel density of the display — a higher-resolution screen (or screen capture!) would make everything smaller.

An interesting example of this is Apple's iPhone 4 — its screen has a higher resolution (and pixel density, since the screen is the same physical size) than previous models. Apple had to craft bigger icons to keep everything the same apparent size, and screenshots from iPhone 4 are much larger than older models.

You can change the format of screenshots, and the folder where they're dropped, using utilities like TinkerTool.

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Using the terminal you can change the file type to jpeg, which can give you better quality results.

defaults write type jpg
killall SystemUIServer

Instead of jpg you can also set it to many other file types including tiff, pdf, png, bmp or pict. Try which one works best in your case.

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How is a jpg considered better quality than tiff, png, or any of the other lossless formats? – Kent Jan 27 '14 at 1:43
Good compromise between quality and compatibility with programs. If quality is your only concern then stick with tiff. – Paul Jan 27 '14 at 4:21
tiff isn't better than png in this case. Both are lossless. Both use the same compression, lzh. But png is immediately useful in way more software than tiff including the web. – gman Jan 30 '15 at 21:46

I have experimented a bit with this, and I found out that on a non retina display, a screen capture is done with 150 dpi when using the pdf format from the commandline.

As far as I can see, the resolution from the other formats is at a mere 72 dpi.

So, pdf must be the best format to do the original screen capture with, and then convert it to jpeg, png or whatever afterwards.

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