Why Do We Push Shift+Command+3 to Take a Screenshot on Mac?


Every time you take a screenshot on a Mac, you press Shift+Command+3, Shift+Command+4, or Shift+Command+5. But what happened to Shift+Command+1 and Shift+Command+2? It’s a trivial question, but the answer reaches back into early Mac history. Let’s find out.

The Answer Goes Way Back to 1984

Recently on Twitter, tech historian Marcin Wichary posed an open question: Why does the Mac screenshot shortcut, Shift+Command+3, start with 3? Why not start with 1 or 2?

As it turns out, as far back as 1984 with the release of the original Mac, Shift+Command+1 ejected the internal (first) floppy disk, and Shift+Command+2 ejected what was then the second (external) floppy disk if one was attached. Here’s a selection from the original Macintosh manual describing it.

Shift+Command+1 explained in the original 1984 Apple manual.
Apple / Marcin Wichary

Originally, the Macintosh keyboard did not include distinct function keys (such as F1-F12 on an IBM PC), so Apple included a way to simulate them by pressing Command+Shift+1 through Command+Shift+9. Using a system called “FKEYS,” it was possible for people to install custom actions linked to these function shortcuts using the System software folder.

So where did Shift+Command+3 come in? At some point—possibly around System 2.0 in 1985—Apple added a few special FKEY shortcuts to Mac OS that allowed users to capture screenshots as MacPaint files. Wichary discovered Shift+Command+3 described in the Macintosh II manual, released in 1987. Here’s a description of how it works from that manual:

The original Mac keyboard shortcut explained in the Macintosh II manual from 1987.
Apple / Marcin Wichary

You’ll notice that Apple calls the Command key the “Apple” key here since older Mac keyboards included both a Command symbol and an Apple symbol on that particular key as a holdover from earlier Apple computers. Interestingly, at the same time, Shift+Command+4 output the contents of the active window to a connected printer, sort of like a Mac version of Print Screen.

RELATED: Macintosh System 1: What Was Apple’s Mac OS 1.0 Like?

What Does Shift+Command+1 Do Today?

At some point, Apple changed Mac OS so that Shift+Command+1 no longer ejected disks (if we had to guess, probably around the time Macs got rid of floppy drives in the late 1990s).

Since then, a number of different Mac programs stepped in and began using the Shift+Command+1 shortcut, such as showing the “Photos and Audio” sidebar in Final Cut Pro or selecting all layers in Corel Painter. But it no longer has an official function in macOS.

Instead, if you want to eject a mounted disk, select it in Finder and press Command+E or select File > Eject in the menu bar. And if you need to take a screenshot, press Shift+Command+3 on your keyboard, and you’re all set. Happy snapping!

RELATED: How to Screenshot on a Mac





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