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Effective Screenshots

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When asking a question in a forum or creating documentation, screenshots are vital tools that can convey a lot more information and save you and your reader a lot of time

A picture is worth a thousand words.  It really is.  It saves you time in typing, it tells your reader verbatim what you see, and it helps ensure information is presented clearly and accurately, often providing context.


But there's a right way and a wrong way to create them.


Most commonly, the wrong way is to press the Print Screen (often PrtScrn) key and paste the results into a Word document, posting that document for people to read.


This method forces people to trust that your word document is not infected with a virus of some kind and it makes viewing the screenshot a laborious task as often, the image will be shrunken to fit on a typical page size in word. 


This is not user friendly.


Instead, here are some methods you can use to create effective screenshots for use in documentation and posting in questions such as on Experts Exchange:


1. Use the Windows Snipping Tool

The Windows Snipping tool has been available since Windows Vista.  Bring up your Start Menu and type "snipping" to find it quickly (I have pinned it to the taskbar). The snipping tool, once an image is captured, allows you to email the image, use a colored "pen" to write on the image, or use a colored highlighter to highlight areas of the image.  (The eraser only allows you to erase the pen and highlighter changes).  It also allows you to print or save the images. (If you do any markup, you do need to recopy the image using CTRL-C or the Edit menu to replace the original image in the Windows clipboard with your edited one). In Windows 10 and Server 2016, Microsoft added a delay option, great if you're trying to grab a screenshot of something in a menu that goes away when the application loses focus! 


Note: it's NOT available on server operating systems unless the Windows Desktop Experience is loaded.


2. Use Print Screen and Alt+Print Screen

Since Windows came into existence (or at least for as long as I can remember), Windows has allowed you to take a complete screenshot of the screen simply by pressing the Print Screen (often abbreviated PrtScrn) key on your keyboard.  This is great and often enough is what people use, but at least since XP and I'm fairly certain well before that, you can modify the Print Screen key functionality by pressing (and holding) the Alt key when you press print screen.  This will capture ONLY the active window.  (Tip: that's how I captured the image of the Snipping tool so perfectly).


Once you've captured the screen, make Microsoft Paint your friend.  The basic graphics program included with Windows quite possibly since Windows was first released, Paint is a fast, simple tool to save your Print Screen captured screenshots.  To ensure I don't have any whitespace, my first step is to set the canvas to 32 pixels by 32 pixels (roughly the size of an icon) and then paste into it - Paint will enlarge the canvas to exactly the size of your screenshot.  If you want, you can further narrow the size of your screen capture to only relevant information by selecting an area of the image and copying and pasting it into a new Paint image.  Microsoft Paint allows multiple instances making this a fairly easy thing to do.


As a shortcut for launching paint, remember that the executable name is mspaint.exe - so simply typing mspaint from the Start Menu, will start the program.


If you need one, Jim Horn has a more step-by-step tutorial using this method:

https://www.experts-exchange.com/articles/18439/Custom-Image-from-a-Screenshot.html


3. Use a third party application such as Gadwin Print Screen

There are many free and paid third party products.  Though I don't use it myself, one I learned of and have some experience with is Gadwin Print Screen.  It has options to automatically save screenshots for you, assign hotkeys, and select the format of the image when saving (among other features).  If you routinely use one computer and don't bounce around from station to station/computer to computer, a third party program may offer features you find useful.  


4. Your phone's camera

And of course, if you're not in Windows - let's say you have a question on a hardware error or other want to include something you can't easily screenshot, very few of us these days don't have phones with cameras.  Take a picture with it.  Email that picture to yourself and you have your screenshot!


A Recommendation

When posting screenshots on Experts Exchange, note the "embed" feature.  Embedding puts the image in-line with your text and displays it automatically.  When you simply attach it, those wishing to see what you are talking about have to click the image to open it.  It's much more convenient to simply have it displayed like a picture in a magazine article.


When asking for help you are asking people to work with you - and in forums, often for free.  Don't make others trying to help you expend additional effort or expose themselves to potential security issues in helping you.  If you're creating documentation on a web site or in a document to be printed, care about your reader and your work and make your screenshots clear, easily accessible, and professional looking, even when it may not be absolutely required.  Create and post your screenshots using methods that make it easy for your reader to view them; don't make them a challenge!


Lastly, this is clearly Windows focused and while I don't mean to exclude other platforms, I don't have deep knowledge on them either.  Please consider writing a how-to article for other platforms and leave a link to it here in the comments.

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Author:Lee W, MVP
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10 Comments
 
LVL 66

Expert Comment

by:Jim Horn
Amen  brother ... Custom Image from a Screenshot  Everybody sing...
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LVL 49

Expert Comment

by:Martin Liss
Here's a non-Windows suggestion, I run Windows XP (yes XP:) as a virtual machine seamlessly with OS X on an iMac and I use Skitch which can be downloaded from the Apple store of from the web at Skitch by EverNote.
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LVL 7

Expert Comment

by:Brian Matis
@Martin, Skitch sounds interesting... But the link you added got me a 404 error. Could you double-check that please?
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LVL 49

Expert Comment

by:Martin Liss
0
 
LVL 7

Expert Comment

by:Brian Matis
skitch 404
1
 
LVL 49

Expert Comment

by:Martin Liss
I don't know why it doesn't work for you, but it does for me. In any case you can get it from the Apple store.
Taken by Skitch
0
 
LVL 18

Expert Comment

by:Lucas Bishop
@Martin, the link for Skitch (for me at least) is: https://evernote.com/skitch/?

@Lee, one of the things I love about OSX is that to launch the screenshot tool, all you need to input is "Command + Shift + 4". One thing that could help Windows users to use the Snipping tool more effectively is to setup a keyboard shortcut key to launch it, like "Ctrl + F12". That could be a nice addition to the article.
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LVL 96

Author Comment

by:Lee W, MVP
Brian,

Excellent use of a screenshot!  :-)
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LVL 66

Expert Comment

by:Jim Horn
^^^ Looks to me like Martin should write an Apple and Skitch specific article on how to make custom screenshots.
1
 
LVL 49

Expert Comment

by:Martin Liss
Good idea:.
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