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How To Take Screen Captures From Windows Or Mac PCs

Both Windows and Mac PCs are equipped with some basic screen capture software right out of the box:

  • In Windows, pressing the Print Screen key will capture a screenshot of the entire desktop area and place it in the clipboard, while pressing Alt-Print Screen will capture only the current active window. And if you press the Alt key and then the hotkey of a dropdown menu, you can capture the dropdown menu contents. However, to process these stored clipboard images you'll then need to open a graphics program, paste the image (using Ctrl+V) and then process it.
  • In Mac OS X, pressing Command-Shift-3 will take a screenshot of the entire screen and Command-Shift-4 will take a screenshot of a chosen area of the screen (or if you press Space afterwards, you can choose a particular window on the screen). These images are saved to the desktop by default, but if you hold down the control key with the rest of the keyboard shortcut the pictures will be copied to the clipboard instead. Again, though, you'll need to open them in a graphics program to edit them

Other Screen Capture Resources

Screen Capture Programs
Background: A screen capture program is software that will allow you to take a picture of your computer screen (or part of your computer screen) and save it as a graphic file - generally as a BMP, JPG or GIF.

Screen capture programs are different from video capture programs, which allow you to make a movie of your actions on a computer screen and save it in a video file format like AVI.

These days nearly all of us need to take a screen capture at some point in time.

Common reasons for doing this include:
  • Putting screen clips into a PowerPoint presentation
  • Putting screen clips into some type of document or report that you'll be printing out
  • Sending screen clips to anyone from tech support to your friends via email (to demonstrate anything from a software glitch to showing off your latest wallpaper)
  • Making copies of common screen layouts or settings to jog your memory in the future, or even...
  • Keeping image copies of online orders (or similar things) that you've transacted over the Net, either for accounting purposes or just for your own peace of mind

Both Windows and Mac PCs come with some basic screen capture software built in (and if you don't know about these and/or how to use them, see our sidebar story).

However, both the Windows and Mac screen capture programs are very limited. So ever since the development of the PC inventive programmers have built lots of dedicated screen capture programs to get around these limits and provide more advanced screen capture capabilities.

As a result, there are now hundreds of free screen capture programs out there, as well as a number of full-blown commercial ones.

But here's six that we think are the best:


Popular Screen Capture Programs
ScreenHunter Free
Wisdom Software's ScreenHunter is a commercial screen capture program that comes in a free basic version, a more fully-featured commercial version (US$19.95) and a fully-blown Pro version (US$29.95). The free basic version runs on all versions of Windows from Windows 95 through to XP and if your screen capture needs are fairly simple it will do the job for you without any difficulty at all. ScreenHunter will let you to capture pictures of the entire screen, rectangular areas of the screen or the active window including the mouse pointer (the mouse pointer usually isn't captured by Windows Print Screen). ScreenHunter will allow you to name and save the files as you capture them (as BMPs, JPGs or GIFs) but it can also be set to save screen capture files to the clipboard if you prefer to process them in your own graphics program. In addition, you can specify F1...F12 or the Print Screen key as the hotkey you want to use to invoke the program, and it will sit quietly in your system tray at all other times when it's idling on stand-by. ScreenHunter is a very popular screen capture program and we think its popularity is well deserved. Get ScreenHunter Free.


Gadwin PrintScreen
Gadwin Systems' Gadwin PrintScreen is very similar to ScreenHunter (above) but it has five extra features that are worth noting: it runs on all versions of Windows from Win98 to Vista (and also on Windows NT 4.0SP6); it will save screen captures in PNG and TIFF formats as well as BMP, JPG and GIF; it will allow you to automatically call up your own favourite graphics editor to edit the screen clip rather than force you to copy a screen capture from the clipboard into your graphics program; it will let you specify a directory to save your screen captures to, or keep them in a default directory; and it will let you output your screen captures to email or a printer as well as to a graphics file (a great time-saver if you do screen captures frequently). We were impressed by this program's ease of use, near-zero learning curve and time-saving focus, and if your own free time is a scarce commodity we think you will be too. Gadwin PrintScreen is freeware, and if you have more advanced screen capture needs a Pro version is also available for US$25. Get Gadwin PrintScreen.


DPI Productions' SimplyCapture is a unique screen capture program that will not only let you capture screen clips, but will also let you capture video clips (not make them, just capture them). The software runs on all versions of Windows from Win98 to XP and it's simple and easy to use with lots of features including the ability to rotate images and add inbuilt image effects. SimplyCapture allows you to clip exactly what you want on a screen (either the full screen, active window or a selected area). And to capture a video, all you need to do is play the video in the SimplyCapture Video Player (which is part of the software) and then start capturing screenshots with a lot more precision than you'd have trying to do it with an ordinary screen capture program. At present SimplyCapture will only output to JPG format - which is lossy, unlike the lossless BMP and PNG graphics formats - but the software offers a full spread of JPG manipulation functions to allow you to set the quality of the end result. And if you need to capture video images but don't have hair-trigger reflexes other screen capture programs would require to do the same thing, then this terrific freeware is pretty hard to go past.
Get SimplyCapture.


The Mac OS X screen capture utility is much better than the one supplied with Windows, but it can still be improved on. And Chimoosoft's CaptureMe is a very worthwhile download if you use OS X. Capture Me features a floating capture window, several saving options, and a resize ability. To use the program you simply drag and resize the floating window to cover the area you want to capture, then click in the window to capture the screenshot. You can then resize your screen clip, copy it to the clipboard, and save it in a variety of formats and locations. A newly added movie recording mode now also allows you to record a QuickTime movie up to a one minute-long (without sound). What advantage does Capture Me hold over the OS X screen capture facility? Well, for some tasks the answer is none at all. But on those occasions where you'd like to choose what file format your capture saves in; copy it to the clipboard without holding down up to four keys at once; resize it on the fly; take successive shots of the same position on the screen without moving the capture region at all; or make all your captures the same size it's just perfect. Best of all, the software is open source and completely free.
Get CaptureMe for Mac.


Webpage Capture
If you need to take screenshots of web pages and use Internet Explorer (as roughly 75% to 80% of the world does at the moment), Endicosoft's Webpage Capture may be the answer you're looking for. The software works as an add-on to Internet Explorer 6 or 7 and allows you to capture an entire web page as a single BMP (including those parts of the page that may scroll below your browser's viewing window) by simply clicking an icon on your IE toolbar (you can also just capture the viewable area of the screen by using the Print Screen key). Because the images are lossless BMP's they're clean and sharp, but also bulky. Unfortunately the current version simply names the BMP files by the date and time of the capture and the page URL isn't captured or displayed at all. And while Endicosoft say that other graphics file formats are supported, they aren't at the present time either. The software works on all versions of Windows from Win95 to XP and 2003 Server and the free version stamps a small logo on each image (the commercial version which doesn't do this is US$15). We expect Webpage Capture will continue to improve, though. And if you need to capture long screens in a single click with a zero learning curve this is certainly the software to do it. Get Webpage Capture.


Finally, Mirek Wojtowicz's MWSnap was last updated in 2002 and at first glance his web site may make you wonder just how good it really is. But if you're looking for a terrific freeware screen capture tool that runs on all 32-bit versions of Windows (including XP) and offers many of the facilities you'll only find in fully commercial screen capture programs, you'll discover that first impressions are not necessarily correct (and also that the old maxim that the best programmers have the worst looking web sites really is true). MWSnap provides all the screen capture features that most programs on this page offer, but it also has a ruler tool for measuring the length of screen objects; a colour picker; a fast picture viewer; a desktop magnifier; the ability to add frames and mouse pointer images; multilevel configurable undo and redo; and comes in 18 language versions as well. MWSnap has won several awards, is simple to use and very well designed. And if you need the extra tools it provides, it's also irreplaceable. Get MWSnap.
This page last updated: 15-Aug-2008


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