Tip: Quick and efficient screenshots without special software

I’ve noticed many people use programs like TechSmith SnagIt to get screenshots. While SnagIt is a fine program, I think in many cases it’s overkill. Here’s a really simple way to get screenshots without needing any special software.

  1. Grab screenshot using Print Screen.
  2. Paste screenshot into Paint.
  3. Save in your preferred format (TIF, BMP, GIF, JPG, PNG, etc.).
Note: Apple Macintoshes come with the utility “Grab”, which is pretty nice and easy to use.

Print Screen

In the old days, pressing the keyboard key “Print Screen” literally meant “make a printout of screen.” Nowadays, it means “take a snapshot of the screen and place the snapshot on the clipboard.” Once it’s on the clipboard, you can paste it into any program that accepts images, such as Microsoft Word, an email program like Outlook, image editors like Photoshop, and even specialized production software such as Flash or Illustrator.

The biggest headache people usually face is editing the screenshot once they’ve pasted it into their program of choice; many times you only want a portion of the screen, not the contents of the entire monitor. Tip: Holding “Alt” on your keyboard while pressing “Print Screen” will only capture the active window. See the illustration below. This can save you a ton of time if you’re taking a lot of screenshots.

Illustration of the difference between using Print Screen and ALT + Print Screen
Use the ALT key to limit the screenshot to the active window instead of the entire monitor.

Pasting into Microsoft Office Documents — Beware!

Microsoft Office’s default document resolution is 96 pixels per inch (ppi). However, all major operating systems (Windows 200/XP/Vista, Mac OS X, Linux) and all major web browsers (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, and Opera) use a default of 72ppi. When pasting a 72ppi screenshot into a 96ppi Microsoft Office document, MS Office automatically scales/stretches your image to match the document’s resolution, often rendering the image blurry or distorted.

Sample image illustrating how Word makes screenshots look blurryScreenshot pasted directly into Word. Notice how blurry it is.

What does this mean for you? It means you should never paste your image into Word or PowerPoint unless that’s the image’s final destination.

If you need to send someone a screenshot for them to use in whatever program they use (InDesign, Illustrator, Dreamweaver, Photoshop, Fireworks, etc.), you should send it as an image file, such as a TIFF, JPG or PNG. DO NOT paste the image into Word or any other MS Office application.

How Do I Make the Screenshot Look Crisp in Word?

If you intend to use your screenshot in Word, you should prep the screenshot by changing its resolution to 96ppi without resampling the image, then import the image into Word (don’t use ‘paste’).

Changing the image’s resolution will require an image editing application such as Photoshop or Fireworks. Trust me, it’s easier than it sounds. Here are the steps:

  1. Paste the screenshot into the image editor (in this example, Photoshop)
  2. Go to the image’s properties and change the resolution from 72 to 96. (In Photoshop, go to Image > Image Size, and be sure to UNcheck “Resample image”)

    Photoshop's Image Size settings

  3. Save the image in a Word-friendly format. I find BMPs work the best.
  4. Go to Word, and select Insert > Picture > From File
  5. Choose the image you just created and click OK.

Your result will look something like this:

Comparing the two different images in WordTwo screenshots: one edited to be 96ppi then ‘inserted’ into Word (left), and one pasted directly into Word (right).

Big difference, eh?

3 Replies to “Tip: Quick and efficient screenshots without special software”

  1. Thanks for a good explanation on how to get the screenshot good in MS Word.

    Although I have to beg to differ about Snagit. If you call Snagit an overkill you should check out all the great features that simplifies the work of both grabbing the image and then working with it.

  2. Nice post. I didn’t know the 96 dpi issue in Word.

    Since I hate using Paint and I often want to crop my screen captures without opening another application I still needed a screen capture software for my new home computer. I didn’t want to buy SnagIt so I found a free software on the web called MW Snap3. One thing that SnagIt does well is the custom scroll where it captures the below the fold stuff of a web page.

  3. @ peter
    As I mentioned, SnagIt is a fine program. I just know a lot of people who need to get a screenshot of an alert box to forward to tech support, and don’t need to capture the entire screen.

    @ ani
    I hate using Paint, too, it’s just that it’s free and comes with every Windows PC. Personally I use Photoshop.

    FYI TechSmith is offering older versions of SnagIt (v7) and Camtasia Studio (v3) for free until Jan 7 2008, if you’re interested.

    SnagIt code: http://www.techsmith.com/snagit/ukdn.asp

    Camtasia code: http://www.techsmith.com/camtasia/pcpls.asp

    The biggest perk of getting a license for these old versions is that you will be eligible to buy the latest versions for the ‘upgrade’ price:

    “After installing SnagIt 7.2.5, you will be eligible to upgrade to the current version, SnagIt 8.2, for just 12 (New version is £ 23,99). Newly redesigned, SnagIt 8.2 makes it easier than ever to communicate with your audience.”

    “After installing Camtasia Studio 3.1.3, you will be eligible to upgrade to the current version, Camtasia Studio 5.0, for just 88 £ (New version is 176 £).”

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