How to change screenshots file format on Mac

Learn how to change the default file format for screenshots on Mac from PNG to JPG, HEIF, GIF, PDF, or TIFF.

MacBook with PNG, JPEG, HEIF, GIF, PDF, and TIFF written on its screen, signifying various screenshot formats

By default, macOS saves screenshots to the desktop as PNG files. PNG is great if you care about image quality, because the format uses lossless compression techniques that won’t degrade image quality. On the downside, PNG screenshots tend to be fairly large in size.

Although you can use Apple’s stock Preview app or any third-party image editor to convert PNGs into JPEGs and other image formats, why take extra steps if macOS can do all the heavy lifting for you?

In this tutorial, we’ll show you the easy way to change the image format for screenshots you capture on your Mac.

Before we get to it, keep in mind macOS recognizes the following graphics formats out of the box: JPG, HEIF, GIF, PDF, PNG, and TIFF. You can have macOS save your screenshots in any of these formats.

Related: How to take screenshots on Mac – a complete guide

How to change the screenshot file format on your Mac

There are two ways to do that. The Terminal method will affect all future screenshots you take on your Mac, while the Preview method is perfect for taking just one or a few screenshots in another format while leaving your default screenshot file format as it is.

Using Terminal

1) Launch the Terminal app on your Mac.

2) Decide on the file format you want to use, then enter one of the following commands in Terminal and press the return/enter key.


defaults write type jpg;killall SystemUIServer


defaults write type heic;killall SystemUIServer


defaults write type gif;killall SystemUIServer


defaults write type PDF;killall SystemUIServer


defaults write type tiff;killall SystemUIServer

After that, take a screenshot, select it, and press the Command + I keys to see its properties. You’ll notice that the screenshot image file format is not PNG but rather JPEG, PDF, or the format you chose.

Change the screenshot format back to PNG

If you decide to revert to the default PNG file format, simply enter this command into Terminal and hit the return key:

defaults write type png;killall SystemUIServer

Using Preview

1) Open the built-in Apple Preview app on your Mac.

2) From the top menu bar, click File > Take Screenshot and choose From Selection, From Window, or From Entire Screen.

Take Screenshot using Preview on Mac

3) Now take the screenshot, and it will immediately open in Preview. Hit the red close button from the top left of the Preview window to bring up the save file options.

4) Click the drop-down box for Format, pick a format, and hit Save.

Choose format to save your Mac screenshot in

About image quality

I’m unaware of any Terminal command that would make it possible to specify compression quality.

If you want control over that – or need to annotate your screenshots, resize them and perform other touch-ups – consider third-party image editors such as Skitch (free download), CleanShot X (currently $29), or Pixelmator (currently $49.99).

Which screenshot format to use?

Each image format has its own drawbacks and advantages, so you’ll have to decide for yourself which one to use depending on your specific use cases.

As a rule of thumb, you’d be typically using:

  • TIFF: For print
  • JPG/PNG: For blog posts and web graphics
  • HEIF: For screenshots in very small file size
  • GIF: For lower-quality images with fewer colors
  • PDF: For rich documents with complex layouts such as Pages/Word docs or Keynote presentations.

Screenshot file size comparison for different formats

To give you a feel of typical file sizes relative to one another, I took six screenshots on my Mac mini connected to a 28-inch 4K monitor. I grabbed the screenshot of my Mac’s desktop with the default macOS Ventura wallpaper and the SSD icon in the top right.

Mac desktop screenshot with macOS Ventura wallpaper

The resulting 3840 × 2160 pixel screenshots, seen above, yielded the following file sizes for each of the available image formats:

  • JPEG: 506 KB
  • HEIF: 509 KB
  • GIF: 2.2 MB (worst quality)
  • PDF: 7 MB
  • PNG: 11.8 MB
  • TIFF: 33.2 MB
Mac screenshot in various formats with their sizes
Mac screenshots in various formats with their sizes.

Again, your mileage may vary as the screenshot file size depends on the screen resolution, Retina or non-Retina, your desktop wallpaper, what’s displayed on the screen, and other factors affecting compression.

On the same note: