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Screenshots, Captures, and Snapshots
Mike de Sousa, Director, AbleStable

A 'screenshot' or 'capture' is a still, digital image, or 'snapshot' of what appears on all or part of a computer screen. There is also software that can capture a sequence of mouse movements and screen activity in a movie to be played back with a Microsoft Media, Flash, or QuickTime Player, however, this article limits it's scope to single static screenshots.

Why take a screenshot?

If you work at a computer, having the knowledge and software that allows you to take a screenshot quickly and easily can be very useful.

Perhaps you've written an e-book. When you present that e-book on your website, you'll need a screenshot of how it looks. Perhaps the software you've just bought doesn't perform in the way it should. Being able to take a screenshot of the problem as it happens might not only help the developers of the software diagnose the problem, but also provide clear evidence something is not working as it should.

If you work with images on a computer, taking a quick screenshot can be more appropriate than simply saving an image. You may want to zoom in to a particular area of an image, or perhaps take a still picture of a video or web cam sequence. These are just a few of the many practical uses of being able to capture your screen at a particular moment.

Taking Screenshots with Windows XP

Creating a simple screenshot using Windows is very simple, follow the steps below:

• Open the window you wish to record (this may involve running a program).

• Hold down the Alt key and press the Prt Scr key (on most keyboards this is to the right of the F12 key and above the Insert key).

• Run Microsoft Paint (Start -> All Programs -> Accessories -> Paint).

• Select Edit -> Paste from the menu.

• Save that to a .gif or .jpg file.

Saving Screenshots

The best file formats to save screenshots are as a .jpg or .gif. Bitmaps (.bmp) are very large in comparison (often as much as twenty times as large) and are therefore not as convenient.

.jpgs are good for images with gradients of colours, like photos. .gifs produce very small files, but are far better suited to images with few colour variations. Make sure you review your saved images to ensure they provide the quality and level of detail you require. You'll also often be able to select a 'quality %' when saving to jpg. This allows you to reduce the file size further, but there's a pay off in loss of quality. Don't go below 80% as you'll loose detail. Try for 90% in general.

Freeware Screen Capture Programs

There are more flexible and powerful ways you can take screenshots. For example, MWSnap is a freeware program available as a download at AbleStable.

Screenshot of MWSnap MWSnap has five snapping modes. You can snap the full desktop, a window, a definable fixed size rectangle, or a particular area of the screen by using your mouse and guidelines. This can significantly shorten the time you require to tidy up the screenshot.

Whatever screen capture program you use, make sure as a minimum it supports the following file formats: BMP, JPG, TIFF, PNG and GIF formats, and if possible, with selected colour depth and quality settings. These are standard image formats that will be easily recognized when you want to import the images to other programs, show them on the Internet, or email them (again, you'll want to generally use .gifs and .jpgs).

Hotkeys will allow screenshots to be taken on an active window (the method of saving a screenshot using Windows that's described above uses 'hotkeys'), and you'll also want to be able to easily print your results.

Additional things you'll need to look out for in a reasonable freeware screen capture program is a zoom tool for magnifying selected parts of the screen, and a ruler for measuring screen objects lengths. A colour picker showing screen colours with separated RGB parts would also be useful. MWSnap has them all.

Snap Happy

There are more sophisticated commercial screenshot programs which allow you to take more complex screenshots.

Screenshot of a portion of Microsoft Paint with effects. The image on the left for example shows a paper tear, a fade to edge, and a shadow effect on a screenshot of the top left corner of Microsoft Paint.

All these effects and more can be achieved with a more sophisticated application.

The ability to take a simple screenshot should be part of everyone's basic computer skill-base. There's no doubt at some time in the not too distant future you'll need to click those keys to save that shot.

Mike de Sousa is the Director of AbleStable®. Mike has been commissioned as an artist, music composer, photographer, print and web site designer, and author.

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