Screenshot on Mac Not Working? 5 Ways to Fix It

Fix the screenshot feature and get back to capturing images

A 2018 MacBook Air on a pedestal.
Getty Images

The screenshot feature is built into macOS, so you don't need any additional software; it should just work. When it doesn't, you are missing a useful tool for troubleshooting and communicating ideas through email and text messages.

Information in this article applies to Macs with macOS Catalina (10.15) through macOS Sierra (10.12), except as indicated.

The Correct Way to Take a Screenshot on the Mac

Follow these tried and true methods for taking screenshots on your Mac. They are known to work, and if they don't work for you, additional troubleshooting may reveal the problem.

  • Keyboard Shortcut: On your keyboard, press Command+Shift+3. If the sound is on, you hear a camera shutter sound, and a screenshot of the entire Mac screen appears on your desktop. The file has a name along the lines of Screenshot [date and time]. If you only want a portion of the screen or a single window, select it and press Command+Shift+4.
  • Preview app: Inside the Preview app, go to the File menu and choose Take Screenshot. Select one of the three options: From Selection, From Window, or From Entire Screen.
  • Screenshot app: Open the Screenshot app (available in macOS Mojave and later). After you open the app, resize the window to capture whatever you need in a screenshot.

Why Is Taking a Screenshot on Your Mac Not Working?

It's rare that screenshots don't work, so a few steps may reveal why your Mac isn't performing as expected. There are several things you can do to pinpoint the problem.

To state the obvious, if everything else works correctly on your Mac, your keyboard—whether wired or wireless—is connected. The keyboard isn't the problem.

Check Your Keyboard Settings

Check your keyboard shortcut settings. They are turned on by default but may have been switched off at some point or set to keyboard combinations other than the defaults. To check this:

  1. Open System Preferences by selecting it from the Apple  menu at the top of the screen or from the Dock.

  2. Click Keyboard.

    System Preferences in macOS
  3. Click the Shortcuts tab.

  4. In the left pane, choose Screenshots and check the settings that appear on the right.

  5. If the shortcuts are turned off, click the check boxes to turn them back on or click Restore Defaults to restart the system with the default keyboard shortcuts.

    Keyboard system preferences in macOS

Restart Your Mac

Running your Mac for long periods without shutting it down can cause it to run inefficiently or cause certain apps to work improperly. If the screenshot feature on your Mac isn't working, shut it down and turn it on again.

To do this, click the Apple icon in the top left corner of the screen, and select Shut Down. Press the Power button after the Mac shuts down to restart it.

Reset the Mac's NVRAM

Reset the NVRAM. Similar to a simple restart, resetting the nonvolatile random-access memory (NVRAM) can sometimes resolve issues with basic Mac apps and functionality. This memory is responsible for controlling many of the internal settings of your computer.

To reset NVRAM, shut down the Mac and then turn it on and immediately press and hold Option+Command+P+R for about 20 seconds.

If your Mac has an Apple T2 security chip (as do the Mac Mini, MacBook Air, and Mac Pro models introduced in 2018), release the keyboard combination after the Apple logo appears and disappears for the second time.

Confirm Location for Saving the Screenshots in Screenshot App

Although the default is to save screenshots to the Desktop, if you've ever changed that setting, your screenshots may be hiding from you somewhere you haven't looked. To check the location in the Screenshot app:

Open the Screenshot app and click Options in the floating menu bar. Confirm the location that is checked in the Save to section is the correct one. If not, change it.

Screenshot app Save to location setting

Check Your Dropbox Settings

If you have Dropbox on your Mac, you may have set it so that screenshots are saved to your Dropbox rather than to your Mac's Desktop.

You can check the setting and change it or remember that you need to go to Dropbox to see your saved screenshots.

  1. Launch Dropbox and click the Dropbox icon on the top menu bar of your Mac.

  2. Click the down arrow at the right corner of the window.

  3. Select Preferences.

    Dropbox on a Mac
  4. Click the Import tab.

    Dropbox General preferences
  5. Uncheck the Share screenshots using Dropbox check box.

    Dropbox Import settings