The screen shot shortcuts ⌘ Command ⇧ Shift4 or ⌘ Command ⇧ Shift4 do not write a file.

The latter shows the cross hair and let me define an area but that's it.

Copy to clipboard works for both screen and selection area. Grab can write a file too.

The issue occurs only with my user account but not with another (I created an new user to narrow down the failure area). My humble conclusion is that it must deal with my specific environment/configuration, but I have no clue how to narrow it down further or pin-point to the error prone configuration:

System preferences → Keyboard → Shortcut does not give any hint: No error no warning.

Both shortcuts are assigned to the two system functions "save picture of screen as a file respectively save picture of selected area as a file.

I did disable/enable the checkbox, too; no effect. I changed the target directory forth and back and restarted the UI Server; no obvious effect.

Any idea how to figure out the root cause or better, how to fix the problem?

  • 3
    Are you on a Touchbar Mac?
    – JMY1000
    Feb 14, 2018 at 1:59

3 Answers 3



Open the terminal and write

defaults write com.apple.screencapture location ~/Desktop
defaults write com.apple.screencapture target file
killall SystemUIServer


Being on Mac OS 10.14 (Mojave), I ran into the same issue. At one point the screenshot shortcuts 'would not work' anymore. (I was able to save a screenshot to clipboard using Cmd+Shift+Ctrl+3, but it wouldn't work to save a screenshot to the desktop anymore.)

Looking at the output of defaults read com.apple.screencapture in the terminal, I noticed a target = clipboard; being set:

    "last-messagetrace-stamp" = "568547998.720744";
    location = "/Users/kim/Desktop/";
    target = clipboard;

Changing the target back to file (defaults write com.apple.screencapture target file) and restarting the SystemUIServer (killall SystemUIServer) would restore the expected behaviour.

It looks like the new screenshot controls which were introduced in Mojave overwrite the target setting (Cmd+Shift+5, see the official apple support page for more information). When selecting "Clipboard" in the "Save to" menu, the target in com.apple.screencapture will also be set to clipboard. For some reason, this setting will then also affect the "take screenshot to file" shortcuts.

Note: Of course, you could also reset the target setting in the new screenshot controls. Just choose any folder location in the "Save to" option (e.g. Desktop, Documents or any other location) and the target should be set to file again.

  • It makes all sense. But unfortunately it still doesn't work. I am on macOS Monterey; the target was already set to file, but nothing is saved in the location. Feb 1 at 16:14

That sounds to me like a misconfiguration of the target directory, perhaps it was changed at some point or the location is no longer valid. You mention having changed the target directory but didn't mention how. My guess is that the target directory was not entered correctly. Please verify it using the method below.

Determining the target location

  1. Open Terminal and type: defaults read com.apple.screencapture location
  2. Check that the directory returned by the above command is a valid/accessible location on your mac by navigating to it through the Finder or using the command: open /path/to/returned/location - replacing the example path here with that which was returned by the above command.
  3. If all was successful, you should see those screenshots from earlier, in that folder. If not, try the commands in the next section.

What next?
If you had no success with the commands above, try changing the default location to which screenshots are saved.

In Terminal, type:
defaults write com.apple.screencapture location /path/to/new/location hit the enter/return key to execute the command. Note that it is best to drag the folder into the Terminal window for the correct path to be entered - this is where most mistakes happen. For changes to take effect, the SystemUIServer needs to be restarted with the killall SystemUIServer command.

By default, the target location for screenshots is the desktop at /Users/[username]/Desktop.

Any unknown combination of events could have lead to the initial change so sometimes verifying and telling the system where to put the data once more is the quickest fix.

I would be interested in following up with you on this, let me know if that was helpful or if you require any more information.

  • 3
    It is worth mentioning that the Dropbox application is known to change the location of screenshots, so it can save them in your Dropbox Feb 14, 2018 at 2:40
  • 2
    Yes. I did verify the target location and checked the accessibility of the location by creating a file in it. I reseted the target location to default (Desktop) and restarted the SystemUIServer process. I did it on on the shell as well as with the "tinker tool" with no effect.
    – Urs S
    Feb 14, 2018 at 15:50
  • 1
    To answer Scott's comment: I checked the Dropbox too: no screen shot contents there.
    – Urs S
    Feb 14, 2018 at 15:54
  • 1
    I have been having the same problem: Screenshots do not save to desktop like they should, but save to the clipboard without issue. Additionally, this issue does not exist when I create a new account. My screencapture location is configured correctly: $ defaults read com.apple.screencapture location and /Users/<me>/Desktop. Any other things that could be causing this?
    – Cylarc
    May 3, 2018 at 22:03
  • 1
    I thought I was having same problem today. I was using CMD-SHIFT-3 to take a screenshot and save to desktop. I didn't hear a click or see anything to make me think it was working. But when I closely inspected the desktop I saw the method was working. I'm on a 2010 iMac running High Sierra 10.13.4.
    – Natsfan
    May 4, 2018 at 2:16

My macOS refused to save to THAT custom folder (/Users/myuser/Pictures/Screenshot), no matter what I tried (deleting preferences, killing SystemUI, giving read&write permissions).
The system just decided it doesn't like that specific folder; anymore; while it used to work fine.

The only sane solution I found was to choose another folder and start to store screenshots there.

It's a senseless bug, not worth trying to fix it.
Spare yourself frustration and choose simply another directory for screen-captures, via:

  • ⌘ Command ⇧ Shift5 -> Options -> Other folder..
  • or via defaults write com.apple.screencapture location /Users/myuser/Pictures/ScreenCaptures (or whatever other folder you prefer)

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