macOS screenshot: capture selected window but for dialogs
April 13, 2023
On macOS, you can take a screenshot of a specific window, by pressing Command + Shfit + 5 and selecting Capture Selected Window as explained here.
Alternatively, you can use Command + Shfit + 4 to bring the free selection tool, and press Space to go in window selection mode.
This is neat, because it captures the window with a nice shadow over a transparent background, so when embedded, it looks like this:
This is great, but sometimes you want to select just a dialog inside a window. For example, if I was to try to close this terminal:
Here, the screenshot tool only lets me capture the whole window, but I can’t have it capture just the dialog in the middle, and do so with the nice shadow.
In this case it’s not too bad because the parent window was small, but what if you’re capturing a small dialog inside a very large window?
You can always do a free selection or crop it yourself, but then you still won’t have the nice shadow with transparency:
Wouldn’t it be great if we could have the following instead?
Once installed, you can give it an image of your choice, and all it does is display it in a native macOS window, exposing to you the various styling options that macOS offers.
By default, if we gave it the earlier crop, it would display the following:
In our case, we need to use
windowify --minimal, which is really a
windowify -closable -miniaturizable -resizable +fullSizeContentView +titlebarAppearsTransparent +titleHidden. It will
show our image in a window with rounded corners but without any UI
element otherwise (like the title bar and close button).
We can now take a screenshot of this new window, this time using the native window selection, so we get the shadow and transparency!
To whoever may be interested, I’ll give some technical details on how this works.
Windowify is a Swift program, and uses it as a dynamic interpreter,
simply by using
#!/usr/bin/env swift as a shebang, which I had no clue
was possible prior to this.
While most Swift windowed apps are expected to be created as part of an Xcode project, it turns out the library is flexible enough to allow easily creating windows without a complex app boilerplate and an explicit compilation process!
This is made particularly easy using
which automatically creates the application instance if it doesn’t
The script looks at
CommandLine.arguments to parse the CLI arguments,
and uses a
NSImageView to display the image in a
The main logic is to translate the CLI arguments into the matching
styleMask and other properties of
NSWindow, to make the appearance
customizable by the user.
In the first place I had it working without even using a custom
NSApplicationDelegate, but the main application loop was then blocking
the thread and made the menu unresponsive (I use a menu to handle
Command + W to close the window). Moving the logic
inside an application delegate resolved that.
Take a look at the code if you want to know in more details how this all works!