The maxim that a picture is worth a thousand words is perhaps a tired phrase, but it sure seems more accurate today than ever.
Images as a means to share an idea, whether it is an artistic photo, your computer screen, or a meme (screenshots, quite often, edited for humor), are efficient, at minimum. It could be that the screenshot programs created the meme format, actually. I have found recently that quite a few consumers do not realize they can take a “screenshot” of their own computer screens – from their computer.
3 Ways To Screenshot
There are three basic options to capture a screen.
- Use Windows Snip and Sketch tool. It is built-in and robust. If you do not need a ton of options, this is your tool and the reason for this post. More on the how-to, pros and cons, explained below.
- Download an external app or screen capture software tool. My two favorites are TechSmith’s Snagit ($63 with 30-day free trial. I have written many times about their video editing tool, Camtasia, which is excellent) and FastStone Capture (free or $20 for lifetime license). Both let you capture in a wide variety of ways, including video screenshots.
- Not specifically a Windows function — but you can use your smartphone to take a photo of the screen. It is far from ideal. Occasionally, a computer program will not allow you to screenshot (think: financial institutions), for good reasons, to keep your account numbers safe. But sometimes you still need the data in an image; in that case, be super careful where and how it gets saved.
Snip and Sketch is free and available on most Windows machines by default. I have found that it sometimes is not always as accessible as one might expect. I think the developers believed most people already know about the Windows screenshot tool, and know that by simply pressing “Print Screen” it will be found. As you can see in the screenshot below, my machine configuration has that button turned off.
If your “Prt Sc” button (often the F-series buttons on the very top row of the keyboard) is not working, click the Windows key, then the little “gear” icon in the lower corner which opens up the Settings window. From there, click Ease of Access, then Keyboard (you may have to scroll down in the left navigation area – below Vision and Hearing sections in newer Windows 10 or 11 machines). The Print Screen toggle button is highlighted.
You can also get to it by pressing the Windows Home key, then Shift key, then the letter S. It should automatically open the Snip and Sketch program.
Once you have Snip and Sketch open, it will show you four options to grab the screen (basically this is different shapes and sizes of capturing the screen – from rectangle to free-form drawing with a pencil, then full screen, or full window that shows everything you see).
The next screenshot showcases all of the options you will find in this screenshot tool. Some of the menu items, such as the marker or highlighter have additional menus where you can pick the color or shape or size of the tool. You can see a ruler on the screen here and that allows me to draw a straight line with whatever marker I have selected. Rather useful if you have consumed too much caffeine.
Why You Should Take Screenshots
This may seem slightly redundant based on all of my explanations above, but in this era of video calls, you often need to share your screen. My extra explaining here is to remind you that sometimes you want to provide a “snapshot” versus granting access to your entire screen and other things that might inadvertently be visible (such as all of those open tabs or another program that is running simultaneously). The solution is to have static, screenshot image, available or to be ready to create them. I planned to name this section: Do NOT Share Your Entire Screen Live in Video Calls, but it seemed over the top. But I generally never do it.
The main uses and reasons where I use or see others using other screenshot programs:
- Crop: Back to my earlier point, you can (and should) trim images (called Cropping) to show exactly what you want to share, and often resizing the image can save valuable space. Snip and Sketch does this.
- Blur (or Delete): This is a big use of screenshots. Is your email or other personal information visible on the screen? Taking a quick snapshot lets you scan more carefully. The blur tool will make the text unreadable, or you can select an area, hit delete and it removes the item entirely, leaving a white box behind (that may not be aesthetically pleasing, however). You can edit further and replace the white with another color. In Snip and Sketch, you will have to turn your marker color to gray to have the same effect.
- Captions and Annotations: One of the best features of all the screenshot tools is the draw function where you can select a pencil or highlighter tool and draw an arrow or circle to call out your most important areas. I also like to add a caption-like text box to add additional commentary. Unfortunately, Windows screenshot tools do not have the add text option, which if you need it, check out my two favorites above. Maybe the next Windows Snip and Sketch version will have this useful function.
Snip and Sketch is terrific if you have only the occasional need to capture a screen image. If you have more customization needs, then the small downsides might bother you. It has limited graphic formats to save the image as – PNG, JPG, and BMP only. It also does not allow the annotation or captions or even a text box where you can neatly type your thoughts. But it is free and built-in, so it works for that last-minute effort to share an image or screen. I use it, but I also use other tools to fine-tune my screenshots.
P.S. You might also be interested in my Free Microsoft Word Is A Real Thing post that shares two ways to get Microsoft Word (or Excel, or Powerpoint) for free.