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Wise Tech Tips

Capture Screen Images and Screen Videos

By James Wise
web posted September 8, 2009
TECH TIPS – Taking a picture of your computer screen or creating a video of something you do on your computer can be a great tool for documentation/demos or support requests. There are many different options available for this depending on your particular needs. These options range from built in features like a simple press of the “Print Screen” button on your keyboard to free or paid software for general capture tasks all the way up to advanced screen video recording/editing software for complex demos or eLearning. Today, we’ll cover some of the options available at each of these levels including some nice free software.

Basic/Built In Options
If you just need to take a quick screenshot and don’t need to do this very often, the “print screen” key might be all you need. Simply get to the screen you want to capture and press “print screen”. That key is normally located on the upper right hand side of your keyboard. This will copy the entire screen into the Windows Clipboard. If you just want the “active window” you can hold down the alt key while pressing print screen. Now, you can paste that image wherever you would like to use it. For example, you can open Microsoft Word and hit ctrl+v to paste that image into your document. If you want to just save the image as an image file, go to start, run, type mspaint, and then use ctrl+v to paste the image into a new file using the save button afterwards to save your file.

If you have Windows Vista, it includes a free tool with more advanced screenshot options including the ability to capture a selected portion of the screen. This tool also allows you to save the image without pasting it into a document or image file. It is called the Snipping Tool and you can access it by clicking on the start button, typing “snipping,” and pressing enter.

Free or Paid Software
Basic options like those above are normally fine for occasional use. However, if you are like me and need to take a lot of screenshots, there are some great software programs out there to make your life much easier. Some of these programs also allow you to record a video of your computer screen. Videos are a great way to show someone how to use a program for example.

Personally, I am a long time user of Snag-It. Snag-It allows you to capture images (full screen, window, region, etc…) and videos. Captured images can go to the clipboard AND to a file if you want (even automatically without the need to select a file name or location). You can read more about Snag-It and download it from: http://www.techsmith.com/screen-capture.asp. The only downside (that I know of) to this program is that it isn’t free. The program costs $50 but a trial is available.

There are also some other great capture programs out there. One totally free program I found is called Screen Capturer and it is available at:  http://www.extensoft.com/?p=free_screen_capturer. From a quick review of this program, it looks like it might be a good alternative to Snag-It for anyone looking to save some money. It can record both images and videos (including audio if you’d like).

Note that when you first run this, you will need a license key but it’s free (you will just need to provide your name and email address).

Do you use a lot of different computers? For example, if you support a number of different computers and find that you need to take screenshots from them, you might be interested in a “portable” screenshot application that you can place on a thumb drive and use WITHOUT having to install anything on the actual computer. If so, checkout FastStone Capture which has a portable option. The current version costs $20 and includes video recording. You can get it from: http://www.faststone.org/FSCaptureDetail.htm. An older portable version without video recording options is available for free from: http://www.portablefreeware.com/?id=775

Advance Video Capture
The programs above are great for screenshots and some of them offer pretty good video recording options. However, if you are recording a lot of videos for things like program demos or “eLearning”, you might need more advanced features. Two programs I like in this area are: Camtasia (also from the makers of Snag-In): http://www.techsmith.com/camtasia.asp and Captivate: http://www.adobe.com/products/captivate/.

Both of these programs offer advanced editing capabilities for use after recording a video. However, this and the other nice features they offer come with a price. Camtasia is $299 and Captivate is $799 (free trials are available). Because of the cost, these programs are really more for professionals who require them for their job.

Captivate has a helpful feature that will automatically insert captions within the video. For example, if you click an “OK” button in a program when recording a video, a caption is automatically inserted that says “Click OK”. This makes it easier for users to follow the steps to do something shown by a video while reducing the amount of work the author must do. An example of a Captivate video that I made can be found at: http://www.edgefielddaily.com/wisetechtips031609.html

Camtasia has an interesting feature called “Smart Focus” where the program automatically (or manually) “zooms in” on a smaller section of the screen to make it easier to see what is being done. This feature is also a nice effect to watch. A video showing this and other features of Camtasia is available on the Camtasia website: http://www.techsmith.com/camtasia.asp

If you don’t need all the features of Captivate or Camtasia and want a free option, you might checkout CamStudio which is available at: http://camstudio.org/. A video (made with CamStudio) showing some things about it is available from: http://camstudio.org/video/install/. CamStudio doesn’t have the features of the other programs in this category but it is free after all. It doesn’t come with an editor either but third party options including the free “Windows Movie Maker” that you probably have already can be used for that.

Since I covered a lot of different options here, I didn’t really go into detail on how to use any of them. I believe that as you use these programs, most things will be self explanatory. Feel free to email me at edgefieldtechhelp@gmail.com though if you need more detail or assistance with any of these.

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