How to Take a Picture of Your Screen

Sometimes it's very useful to be able to capture an image of whatever is on your screen. I'll introduce you to some tools for taking screenshots quickly and easily.
Published: Apr 26, 2007
Author: Jordan Running
Related OS: Windows

Sometimes it's very useful to be able to capture an image of whatever is on your screen. For example, if you encounter an error or a web site is displaying unusually, it can be a lot easier to take a picture of what's going on than trying to describe it. A picture of what's on your screen is commonly called a "screen capture" or just "screenshot." I'll refer to it as the latter in this article.

Print Screen, but not really

In Windows, the simplest way to take a screenshot is to press the Print Screen (often abbreviated to "Prt Scr") key on your keyboard. You'll find it on the right side of your keyboard, above the Insert/Home/Page Up keys. Despite the label, in Windows this key doesn't actually print anything. It simply copies the contents of your screen to the clipboard, the invisible area in your computer's memory that holds things�like text, files, and pictures�while you Copy and Paste them. Once you've got a screenshot in the clipboard, you can now paste it into an image. You can use any image-editing program for this, but the obvious choice is Paint, Windows' built-in drawing program. You can usually find Paint in the Start menu under Programs > Accessories.


Once you've pasted the screenshot into Paint you can edit, crop, or resize it there or you can go ahead and save it like you would any document. And that's pretty much it.

Oh, but here's one more tip: If you want to take a screenshot of just the window you're working on, instead of everything on your screen, all you have to do is hold down the Alt key when you press Print Screen.

Something more advanced

Print Screen and Paint will take you a long way, but if you're making a lot of screenshots or want a few more options, I recommend kicking it up a notch with FastStone Capture. FastStone Capture is a great freeware utility that's a quick download and uses very little memory. When you run it it just sits in your system tray (on the taskbar next to the clock) and waits for you to call it. While FastStone Capture is running, you can still use the Print Screen key, but instead of copying a screenshot to the clipboard, FastStone will launch its own image editor. Its editor works a lot like Paint�click on the Draw button if you want to add lines or text to your screenshot�but it also has a few features that are especially useful for screenshots. The Comment button lets you quickly add a caption to the screenshot with the date and time (this is configurable, as are the font and colors), and the Edge button lets you add a decorative border and drop shadow, and even a watermark. You can also crop and resize your image here, which is good if you're putting the screenshot online or want to crop out unnecessary information. When you've got the image you want you can click on the Email button to email it directly to a friend or colleague, or Save As to save it to your hard drive for later use.

FastStone Capture Editor

But those aren't all the tricks FastStone Capture has up its sleeve. Let's get back to capturing. Right-clicking on the FastStone Capture icon in your system tray (it looks like red and green triangles), or left-clicking on it to show the floating toolbar, gives you a lot more options. The Output menu (it looks like a painter's easel on the toolbar) lets you choose whether you want to launch the editor when you take a screenshot or copy it to the clipboard, automatically save it to a file, or send it straight to your printer.

FastStone Capture Toolbar

The other options allow you to start different kinds of captures. You can capture the entire screen, the contents of a particular window, a specific region in a program, or an arbitrary rectangle (just click and drag). You can also do a freehand capture which lets you capture an irregularly-shaped area that you draw with the mouse, and finally you can capture the entire contents of a scrolling window (like a web page that's too tall to fit on one screen), though I've had unpredictable results with this option.

Those are the basics of using FastStone Capture. It has a lot more features but I'll let you poke around and figure them out for yourself. Though there are many other screen capture programs out there, I love FastStone because it's free, lightweight, and very fast.

Now what?

Just one more thing. FastStone Capture has a built-in email button, but what if you want to share your screenshot with a lot of people, or post it on your web site? For that, there are free image-sharing sites. If you want to get up and running with minimal fuss, I recommend ImageShack or All You Can Upload. Both sites allow free, unlimited uploads of images with no email address or registration required. Once you upload your screenshot, they'll give you a URL as well as HTML or forum code for posting the image online.

About Jordan Running

Blogger since 1999, Jordan Running went pro in 2005 and never looked back. Sometimes programmer, occasional photographer, and serial tinkerer, he decided to to switch to Linux in 2001 but just hasn't quite gotten around to it yet.

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