How To: Take Screenshots of Windows Without Drop Shadows in Mac OS X

Take Screenshots of Windows Without Drop Shadows in Mac OS X

There are many ways to take a screenshot in Mac OS X, but all of the well-known options give you a drop shadow for windows seen in the picture.

If you use the Command Shift 3 shortcut, it takes a screenshot of the entire screen. If you use the Command Shift 4 shortcut, it lets you select a portion of the screen. If you use Command Shift 4, followed by Spacebar, you get an option to take a screenshot of a specific window.

That last option is really useful, as it lets you select a full window without your desktop or any additional app windows behind it cluttering things up, but it still adds a drop shadow to the selected window, as see below.

Using the shortcut Command Shift 3, followed by Spacebar, and clicking.

Because of the drop shadow, there's a lot of empty space around the image that you may not want, especially if your uploading the image onto certain websites. For instance, the empty space turns white in this article, as clearly seen above. Even if you were to take the screenshot using Preview instead, the drop shadow would still be there.

But there are many ways to solve this issue, from the super simple to the more complex to the most convenient.

Method #1: Use the Option Key for Shadowless Windows

It's a little-known trick, since it's not mentioned anywhere in Mac OS X, but it's the simplest one out of all the ones I will be mentioning here. Just use the Option key when taking a screenshot of a window.

To make that clearer, hit Command Shift 4 to activate the crosshairs selection icon, then Spacebar to activate the camera icon. Then, while you click on the window of your choice, hold down the Option key.

Using the shortcut Command Shift 4, followed by Spacebar, and Option-clicking.

If you don't like using this easy-to-forget keyboard combo every time you want to get rid of the drop shadows for window screenshots, then try out the following option.

Method #2: Use TinkerTool to Toggle Shadows On/Off

By using a third-party app called TinkerTool, it's easy to disable drop shadows for the standard Command Shift 4 / Spacebar screenshot. Head to the "General" tab in the app, and uncheck the box next to "Include shadow when capturing window."

Your choice won't be activated until you reset your Mac's menu bar services, which you can do by either logging out and logging back into your user profile, or using the following Terminal command.

killall SystemUIServer

Now whenever you use the Command Shift 4 / Spacebar shortcut, drop shadows will be gone—no Option needed. To bring drop shadows back, just check the option in TinkerTool and reset your menu bar services using one of the two options above.

If you want to see more of what this app can do for your Mac, check out Andrew's TinkerTool guide, where he goes into depth about each section and what kind of tweaks are available.

Method #3: Use Terminal to Toggle Shadows On/Off

If you're familiar with Terminal, you may just want to use it over TinkerTool to toggle drop shadows on and off. To do so, just input the following command.

defaults write disable-shadow -bool true

Just like with TinkerTool, you will need to either log out and back in, or just use the following command to refresh the menu bar services.

killall SystemUIServer

Drop shadows should now be disabled when using the default Command Shift 4 / Spacebar routine without Option. If you ever want to bring them back, just use the following command in Terminal, again, followed by the SystemUIServer killall command.

defaults write disable-shadow -bool false

Method #4: Make Your Own Window Capture Shortcut

The hidden keyboard shortcut may be a pain in the ass, and the TinkerTool option requires a logout/login in order to take effect each time you want to enable/disable the drop shadow. Also, Terminal commands seem like overkill when it comes to screenshots. So what's the next best thing? Creating a Window Capture service.

If you've used Automator before in the past, this should be a breeze. If not, it's still fairly simple and is a good starting lesson for getting to know Automator and what it can do for your Mac.

  1. Open up Automator on your Mac (it should be in Applications).
  2. Select "Service" from the popup window, then "Choose."
  1. Change Service receives selected from "text" to "no input."
  1. Select "Utilities" from the left actions menu.
  2. Drag "Run Shell Script" over to the blank area.
  1. Delete "cat" from the "Run Shell Script" box, then paste the following code into it.

timestamp=$(date +"%Y-%m-%d at%l.%M.%S %p");
file="$HOME/Desktop/Screen Shot $timestamp.jpg";
screencapture -ow "$file"

If you want to use military time (aka 24-hour time) instead, use the following.

timestamp=$(date +"%Y-%m-%d at %H.%M.%S");
file="$HOME/Desktop/Screen Shot $timestamp.jpg";
screencapture -ow "$file"

  1. Go to "File" -> "Save" (or use the Command S shortcut).
  2. Save as "Window Capture" (or "No-Shadow Window Capture," etc.).
  1. If prompted to apply the changes, do so and it will automatically be added to your list of services.

If you were not prompted to save this as a service on your system, you might have to do so manually. Just go to "System Preferences" -> "Keyboard" -> "Shortcuts" -> "Services," then scroll down and make sure that "Window Capture" is checked under the "General" section.

Using the Window Capture Service

After applying the newly created service across your system, you should see "Window Capture" as an option whenever you select "App Name" -> "Service" from the menu bar. Click on this to initiate a window-only capture.

A camera icon will pop up. Just hover to select the window that you want, then left-click to take the screenshot. It will be recorded with the same filename that standard screenshots use in Mac OS X.

The resulting image will be isolated without any drop shadow.

Make a Keyboard Shortcut for Faster Capturing

To streamline this process, add a keyboard shortcut for the service so that you don't have to do any more clicking than needed. To do this, go to "System Preferences" -> "Keyboard" -> "Shortcuts" -> "Services" and scroll down to and select "Window Capture" under the "General" section.

Click on "add shortcut" to the right, then input one using your keyboard. I chose Command Shift 5 so that it's close to the default screenshot shortcuts—without having to worry about Spacebars or Option keys.

  • Command Shift 3 = Full screen picture
  • Command Shift 4 = Selected area picture
  • Command Shift 5 = Isolated no-shadow window picture

The Caveat of Using the Window Capture Tool

While this new Window Capture tool will get the job done in most cases, and is more convenient than other methods, there is one minor caveat to using it—it doesn't play nice with app preference windows.

As an example, let's take iTunes. If you open up "Preferences" in iTunes, you won't be able to use the keyboard shortcut to take a screenshot of the Preferences window. You won't be able to use "File" -> "Services" either.

Instead, you have to click on a different app or on your desktop, then choose the shortcut/menu bar item to bring up the camera icon. However, this alone will likely leave you with a screenshot of the window grayed out (i.e., it'll look like it's not selected).

To make sure that the Preferences window is not grayed out in your screenshot, before clicking on the window to snap the screenshot, hit Command Tab to select iTunes first. Whichever window was in the foreground, in this case Preferences, will look like you're using it.

The easiest alternative to doing the above workaround is to just resort back to the default Command Shift 4, Spacebar, Option-click routine, the TinkerTool method, or the Terminal trick. They're not as bothersome when you only have to do it sometimes.

Deleting Your New Window Capture Service

If you don't like this new Window Capture shortcut, you can always disable it by unchecking it from the "Services" menu mentioned above. Additionally, you can delete it altogether. All services that you create using Automator are located in the "Services" folder, which can be found by going to "Username" -> "Library" -> "Services." Just find Window Capture and trash it.

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