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Screenshot Tools, Tips and Shortcuts: How to Capture Anything on Your Screen

Matthew Guay
Matthew Guay / March 17, 2016

Screenshots are the simplest way to show off your new program, point out a bug, and save that picture on Facebook to your camera roll. They're the versatile solution for your on-screen needs. And they're so integral to the way we work that every operating system comes equipped screenshot-snapping tool.

But screenshots aren't always simple. If you aren't careful, they can accidentally expose private information or obscure the part of a website you need to share. Built-in screen-capture tools are often hidden behind cryptic keyboard shortcuts. And when a picture alone won't cut it, you'll need to make a video or GIF to show what's actually happening on your screen.

Don't worry about hunting down the perfect app, or fumbling with shortcuts—we have you covered. This guide shows you how to do a screen capture on just about any device, either with the native, built-in tool or a downloaded app. You can use them to make top-notch tutorials, straightforward bug reports, and quick snaps of your Candy Crush high scores.



Why Take Screenshots?

Happy Mac Screenshot Graphic

Why should you care about taking high-quality screenshots? Because now, more than ever, we speak through pictures. You want to be understood. You want to get your message across. And you don't want anything to get lost in translation.

Photography used to be a time-consuming endeavor. You'd try hard to make each picture count, but wouldn't know how it turned out until you got the film developed.

No one ever took photos of their parking spot to keep from losing their car, or of a price tag in a store just to comparison shop.

Smartphones changed that: now everyone carries a camera in their pocket, and pictures are for more than special occasions. Sure, we take pictures of sunsets and babies, but also of receipts, our refrigerators, street signs, and ourselves (lots of pictures of ourselves).

Screenshots are the perfect way to save a picture of anything on your screen.

We've become visual communicators. And just like your writing, your visual communication needs to be clear, concise, and to-the-point. Thanks to these screenshot tools, it's simple to share the exact contents of your screen with anyone across the globe. Whether it's a cute Facebook photo, a tricky bug, or a quickly-deleted Tweet from a politician, you're sure to have a use-case for screenshots.

But you still need to take quality ones—especially if you're using them at work, or for your customers. Here are some quick tips on grabbing superior screenshots. Then, we'll dive into the nuts and bolts.


How to Take High-Quality Screenshots

Screenshots are more than just pictures of software—they're pictures of your workspace, with all the info you might see right now. That's why you shouldn't just snap a random screenshot: Think carefully about what's on your screen and why you're shooting it, to make sure your screenshots are perfect for their intended purpose.

Here are a few pointers:

  • Consider what the screenshot is for. Making a tutorial about a program? You'll want to show the entire app, and perhaps add an arrow to point out features and guide your readers. Bug reports might just need to show the broken part of the app. And just-for-fun screenshots should be double-checked to make sure they only have info you want to share.
  • Never share private info. Our devices are filled with private info, from basic things like phone numbers and email addresses to more sensitive data like ID and credit card numbers. They're usually saved on your device, but if you take a screenshot and share it, anyone can see whatever was on your device when the screenshot was taken. Be sure the app you're capturing doesn't show private data—and if it does, either crop or blur that part out.
  • Be careful with auto-upload. Some third-party screenshot tools like Droplr can automatically upload screenshots. That's handy for quickly showing a Google Analytics graph to team members, but be careful about sharing sensitive items. When it comes to your privacy, the convenience might not be worth the risk.
  • Don't show too much. Trying to point out a bug in an app? Don't share a full-screen screenshot. Instead, crop it to show just the app—then perhaps add an arrow to point out the problem.
  • Don't show too little, either. A screenshot of just the bug might not give enough context, though. Typically, it's best to share a screenshot of the full app or at least the main parts of the app.
Screenshot editing example

Say I'm writing a blog post about how we edit documents in Google Docs. I'd take a screenshot of my full browser, with an article I'm editing open in Google Docs. Then, I'd open it in Apple Preview, delete the email address from the top corner if I hadn't already removed it via Inspect Element, and perhaps add an arrow to point out the New Changes button to show readers how to see previous versions of their work. I'd finally crop the image to show just what needs to be shown, before adding it to our blog post.

There's a reason for everyone to take screenshots today—and tools to take them on almost every device. Here are steps for taking screenshots on most modern computers, smartphones, and more.

How to Take Screenshots on Windows

Windows Print Screen

Windows PCs make it so easy to capture screenshots, there's a dedicated key on your keyboard for it: PrtScn (or Print Screen or PrtSc, depending on your keyboard). Tap that key, and Windows will copy a screenshot of your entire screen to your clipboard, which you can then paste into a document or blank Paint canvas to save.

For more specific screenshots, Windows has built-in keyboard shortcuts for screenshots:

  • Copy full screen screenshot to clipboard: PrtScn
  • Save full-screen screenshot: Windows Key + PrtScn (or Windows Key + Volume Down on a tablet)
  • Copy screenshot of single window: Alt + PrtScn
  • Save screenshot of single window: Windows Key + Alt + PrtScn
Windows Snipping Tool

Windows also comes packaged with two screenshot apps. For more detailed screenshots, try the Snipping Tool, which lets you capture a full-screen, window, rectangle, or free-form screenshot—a way to capture a screenshot of any area you want with a Paint-style scissors tool. Then, you can add quick annotations to your image before copying or saving it.

If you want to capture a video of your screen—perhaps to show how an app works—use the Xbox app in Windows 10. Designed to record game clips, the Xbox app can save screencasts of any app in Windows, with settings to tweak the video quality, length, audio capture, and more. Just open the app and click the record button to start making a screencast, or press Windows Key + Alt + R to stop or start recording.

Microsoft Edge Web Note

Or, if you want to take a screenshot of a webpage, perhaps with some quick annotations, try the new Microsoft Edge browser's Web Note tool. Just click the note icon in your toolbar, then highlight or draw on the page as you'd like, type in any notes, then save the screenshot to your OneNote notebook or share it directly on social networks.

How to Take Screenshots on Mac

OS X Screenshot

Macs offer built-in keyboard shortcuts for taking any type of screenshot you want, but they're not exactly obvious. Unlike a PC, Macs don't have a dedicated screenshot button. Instead, you'll need to memorize a few button combinations.

Here are the default Mac screenshot keyboard shortcuts:

  • Save fullscreen screenshot: Command + Shift + 3
  • Save screenshot of single window: Command + Shift + 4, press the Space key, then click on the window you want to capture
  • Save screenshot of single window without shadow: Command + Shift + 4, press the Space key, then hold the Alt key and click on the window you want to capture
  • Save screenshot of selection: Command + Shift + 4, then select the area you want to capture with your mouse cursor.
OS X Grab

Want to capture your mouse with your screenshots—or to capture a screenshot after a delay? The built-in Grab app is designed for that, and you'll find it in the Other folder in Launchpad. Just open Grab, then open its preferences to select the mouse cursor you want. Then, open the Capture menu, and select a screen, window, selection, or timed screenshot. The latter option will give you a 10 second countdown before capturing the screenshot, so you can open a menu or click anything you want in time to show up in the screenshot.

To add annotations, just open your screenshots in Preview, then click the toolbox icon to show the extra tools. You can add arrows, shapes, text and more to screenshots before sharing them.

QuickTime Screencast

OS X also includes a screencast tool in QuickTime. Just open QuickTime, then click File -> New Screen Recording and press the red record button to start recording your screen. Then, you can save the screencast as a video, or trim it to show just the section you want if needed.

How to Take Screenshots on Ubuntu

Print screen button

Taking screenshots in Ubuntu—one of the most popular Linux desktop distributions—works almost the exact same as on a Windows PC. You'll likely use a standard Windows keyboard with Ubuntu, so the PrtScn key is still the easiest way to take a screenshot. The only difference is, on Ubuntu, PrtScn will capture a screenshot, then show a dialog where you can choose to copy the screenshot to the clipboard or save it to your computer.

Here are the default Ubuntu screenshot keyboard shortcuts:

  • Full screen screenshot: PrtScn
  • Screenshot of current window: Alt + PrtScn
  • Screenshot of selection: Shift + PrtScn

The selection tool will change your mouse cursor to a crosshair, which you can use to select a rectangle of your screen to capture.

Screenshot tool Ubuntu

Ubuntu also includes the Screenshot app, which works much like the Snipping Tool in Windows. It can capture a specific window or just a section of the screen—and can also show or hide the mouse cursor and window interface.

How to Take Screenshots on Chrome OS

Chrome OS screenshot

When you only need web apps, Chromebooks are a great—and cheap—alternative to traditional laptops. And they, too, let you take keyboard shortcuts, using the window switcher key like the one in the icon above or the F5 key on traditional keyboards.

Here are the default Chrome OS screenshot keyboard shortcuts:

  • Full screen screenshot: Ctrl + Window Switcher Key
  • Screenshot of selection: Ctrl + Shift + Window Switcher Key, then click and drag over the area you want to capture

Chrome OS saves the screenshot to your download folder by default. Also, it shows a notification after you've captured a screenshot—click it to copy the screenshot to your clipboard.

How to Take Screenshots on iOS

One of the reasons screenshots are so popular today is that they're easy to capture and share your phone. On an iPhone or iPad, just press the home button and the power button at the same time, and iOS will save a full-screen screenshot to your Photos app. In iOS 9, it'll also add the captures to a Screenshots album, so you can see all screenshots in the same place.

If you have a Mac, you can also record a screencast from your iPhone or iPad with QuickTime. Just connect your phone to your Mac with the USB cable, select New Movie Recording in QuickTime on your Mac, then click the down arrow beside the record button and select your iPhone or iPad. Now click record, use your device to showcase what you want, then save the video in QuickTime.

How to Take Screenshots on Android

In the realm of screenshots, at least, Android and iPhone are actually pretty similar. On Android, just press the power and volume down button at the same time for a moment, and it'll save a screenshot to your Photos app under Screenshots.

That's the default on Android, and should work on any Nexus device and many others. But since there are many Android variations out there, your specific device may have customized shortcuts for screenshots; Samsung Galaxy devices, for example, have you press the home and power button to capture screenshots, as on an iPhone.

To capture a screencast on Android, use the YouTube Gaming app—much like you'd use the Xbox app on PCs. Install YouTube Gaming, click the Go Live button, tweak the video settings, then use your device as normal and it'll capture a screencast in the background and let you share it on YouTube or save it to your Photos app.


How to Take Better Web Screenshots

Inspect Element

Need to take a screenshot of a webpage? The default screenshot tools on your computer should be plenty in most cases. The only problem is, most web apps show your name or email address in the top right corner, along with other private info you might not like to share.

You could blur the sensitive info in Photoshop, but a cleaner, more professional option is to use Inspect Element. Just right-click on a webpage, click Inspect, then click the selector tool and click on the part of the webpage you want to change. You can then change the text on the web page, perhaps with a generic email address instead of your real address. It's a simple way to hack the web, for a good cause.

Evernote Extension

Or, if you'd like to annotate a screenshot with arrows and highlights, the Evernote Web Clipper is a handy tool. Click it, then select Screenshot and drag your mouse over the part of the page you want to save. You can then add annotations, and save or share your tweaked screenshot.


How to Take Screenshots on Other Devices

TV

Want to take a screenshot on your eReader, gaming device, watch, or car? Here are some tips on how grabbing the display from almost any smart device you can imagine:

  • Kindle: Tap the upper left and lower right corners of the screen at the same time, and Kindle will save an image of the screen. Connect the Kindle to your computer via USB to copy the image from the Kindle.
  • Nook: Press Nook button and volume down at the same time.
  • Kobo: Press volume down and power buttons at the same time.
  • Apple Watch: Press and hold the side button, then press the crown button, and Apple Watch will save a screenshot to your iPhone's Photos app.
  • Samsung Galaxy Gear: Press home key, and swipe right on screen at the same time. Screenshots will be saved to the watch's Gallery app.
  • Android Wear: Open settings, select About, then tap Build Number seven times to enable developer tools. Then, to capture screenshots, tap the 3 dots in the right corner, and select Take wearable screenshot.
  • Pebble: Enable Developer Connection in the Pebble iOS or Android app, then enter the IP address in the Pebble Command Line Tools to capture a screenshot.
  • Raspberry Pi: Install the Scrot app via Terminal, then to take a screenshot just type scrot in Terminal and it'll save an image to your /home/pi folder.
  • TI-83/89 Calculators: Install the TI-Navigator app, connect the calculator to your computer, then use the Screen Capture tool to save a screenshot.
  • Google Glass: Tap touchpad, then say Make Vignette to take a photo of what you currently see overlaid with a screenshot of the Google Glass UI.
  • Wii U: Open the game you want to screenshot, press the home button on the controller, open the web browser, then connect to the social network you want to use and the Wii will let you choose a current screenshot from an active game.
  • Xbox One: Either say "Xbox, take a screenshot", or double-tap the Xbox button then press the Y button. Screenshots are saved to to the Game DVR app.
  • Playstation 4: Press Share button for a second, and a screenshot will be saved to the Capture Gallery app. Or, press Share button, then select Share to save a screenshot and share it directly.
  • Apple TV: Connect Apple TV to Mac with a USB-C cable, open QuickTime on your Mac, then take a screenshot or record a screencast with QuickTime's Capture Video tool.
  • PlayStation Vita: Press PS and Start button at the same time, and the screenshot will be saved to the Photos app.
  • Nintendo 3DS: Open the game you want to screenshot, then open the Miiverse community for the game you wish to screenshot, and you can share the current image from the game there.
  • Tesla Model S: Press both bottom steering wheel buttons for a moment to save a screenshot. Unfortunately, only Tesla service centers can access the screenshots, though you can send them to Tesla by saying Report to report an issue.

For everything else—smart fridges, thermostats, TVs and more—you'll likely need to use the old take a photo of the screen trick.


Apps to Take Screenshots

Want more from your screenshots—perhaps a quick way to share screenshots instantly or add annotations? Here are some of the best tools to take great screenshots on your computer.

App Icon:  Best for: Price Supports:
Lightscreen Lightscreen For quickly sharing screenshots, Lightscreen is a great option. Press its shortcut to snap a customizable area, and Lightscreen will instantly upload your shot to Imgur for quick sharing. Just make sure you don't snap anything private. Free Windows, Linux
Skitch Skitch Skitch makes it simple to grab a timed screenshot on your Mac, add quick annotations to the shot on your Mac or iOS device, and share the file just by dragging-and-dropping it. And, with its web sidekick in the Evernote Web Clipper, you can use the same tools to annotate webpages, too. Free Mac, iOS, Web (via Evernote Web Clipper)
CloudApp CloudApp Designed for quick file sharing from your system tray, CloudApp also includes screenshot tools. Press Shift+Command+5, or a customized shortcut of your choice, and you can snap a screenshot, record a video, or make a GIF of anything on your screen and share it instantly with a private link. Free for 10 files/mo.; from $10/mo. for unlimited sharing Web, iOS, Android, Mac, Windows
Jing Jing Snap screenshots or screencasts of up to 5 minutes with Jing, then annotate them with arrows, text, or captions and share them immediately. It's a quick way to point out problems or create tutorials. Free Windows, Mac
Snagit Snagit The original professional screenshot tool, Snagit lets you capture anything on your screen easily. Make profiles of the areas you want to snap, capture full-length scrolling screenshots, make detailed screencasts and tutorials, and more. Then annotate screenshots, manage them all in one library, and share them to Google Drive. $49.95 Windows, Mac
PicPick PicPick If you're taking screenshots for development work, PicPick includes a screen ruler, color picker, protractor and more to measure anything on your screen. It can also take any screenshot you need—including scrolling shots—and save them to popular cloud storage services. $21.99 Windows
Tailor Tailor You can't snap full-length webpages and chat conversations on your iPhone by default, but you could snap pictures of each section. Then, open them in Tailor, and it'll stitch them together into a seamless full-length screenshot in seconds. Free; $2.99 without ads iOS
Blipshot Blipshot Back on your computer, Blipshot is a simple way to snap a full page screenshot of any website. Tap its button, and Blipshot opens a preview image of your screenshot over the page, which you can then drag-and-drop to any other app to quickly share the screenshot. Free Chrome (Windows, Mac, Linux)
Pinpoint Pinpoint A new version of the Bugshot tool, Pinpoint imports your iOS screenshots and lets you mark them up with arrows, boxes, and text to show exactly what you're talking about—with a blur tool to get rid of sensitive info, too. Free; from $0.99 for markup tools iOS
Napkin Napkin Making a tutorial with your screenshots? Napkin lets you pull screenshots together on a virtual sheet of paper, blur sensitive info, add callouts, and export images in a variety of formats. $39.99 Mac
Licecap Licecap Want to make a quick GIF of your screen? Licecap is a simple, free way to whip one up. Just run Licecap, select the area to record, pause or stop recording, and share the finished GIF. Free Windows, Mac

How to Edit Screenshots

There are a few tools in common photo editing apps you should keep handy when editing screenshots:

  • Crop: Screenshots can be rather large—especially if you have a device with a retina display, or a 29" 4K monitor. Crop images to show just what needs shown, and perhaps resize the image to save space.
  • Blur or Delete: Does your screenshot contain sensitive info that you couldn't remove with Inspect Element? Use the Blur tool to make that text unreadable, or just delete it entirely. If you then fill the area with the same color as the app's background, the removed text may not even be noticeable.
  • Annotations: Need to point stuff out in your screenshot? Add an arrow, circle, or other shapes to highlight important areas. And perhaps add text to describe what your screenshot shows—though make sure the text is a different color or size from the text in the app, to make it stand out.
  • Export: Mac screenshots are saved in .png format by default, which makes them clear and readable, but also takes up more space. You might want to save them in .jpg format before adding them to your blog, or use a tool like ImgOptim to compress them.

Put Your Screenshots to Work

Now that you can capture professional-grade screenshots, it's time to use them for more than just saving funny images from Facebook. Here are some ideas for putting your screenshots to work, inspired by how we use them at Zapier.

  • Want to show your work-in-progress to a team member? No need to export a full copy; just snap a screenshot, then share it in your team chat app.
  • Keep up with your screenshots in a notes app to reference important data, or to see how an app or site changes over time.
  • Write tutorial blog posts in Markdown, using your screenshots to showcase parts of your app
  • Turn those blog posts into books, using LeanPub and the other tools Zapier uses to publish books.
  • Write effective documentation for your products, using screenshots to show steps and point out specific parts of your tools.
  • Need help using an app? Before you email a support team, take a screenshot and add annotations to point out exactly where you're having trouble. Chances are, you'll get much more effective help—and you won't have to email back and forth to explain your problems.

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Nir Eyal, bestselling author

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