Mac OS X: Changing the Default Screenshot Format

| TMO Quick Tip

As The Mac Observer’s Jeff Gamet notes in an earlier Quick Tip, taking screenshots in Mac OS X is easy-peasy. But what if you’re not happy with the default PNG format? It’s actually pretty easy to change through the Terminal application.

The usual disclaimer here is that you need to be careful with Terminal, especially if you’re unfamiliar with its workings. Type everything exactly as it’s written, and note that most commands are case-sensitive (though, in this case, both “PDF” and “pdf” are acceptable). 

TerminalSee? Terminal’s not scary.

So to get started, open Terminal (located in Applications > Utilities) and type the following, then hit Enter:

defaults write type pdf

Obviously, you can replace “pdf” in the command above with other formats if you’d like (such as tiff, jpg, or gif). To make the changes then take effect, you can either log out and log in again, or you can type the following into Terminal and hit enter to force the change:

killall SystemUIServer

If you’re worried about getting the Terminal commands wrong, you can copy and paste them from this article, too.

After doing so, you’ll notice your menu bar go a little wonky for a moment, as the SystemUIServer controls both screenshots and a lot of the Menu Extras (such as your Airport icon). It won’t take long for your menu bar to settle down and go back to normal.

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Thanks for the information. I always appreciate cool little nuggets of command like fun.

What I’d like to know, though, is why you would want to change the default screenshot image type? For the given example, png seems like a better choice than pdf, since png is more open to modification as a ‘true’ image format, rather than the quasi-document format that pdf is.


For one thing, you can annotate PDFs in Preview, but that doesn’t apply to the other formats.


I frequently have problems sending png screenshots to coworkers and clients who use Outlook. They keep complaining that the image won’t show.

I’ve been having to change the screenshot format from png to jpg using Preview, so being able to change the default format here is a big boon to me.

Gareth Harris

Many thanks. I find pdfs most useful to send to others.


i use onyx for this. tinkertool can do it too.

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