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How To Take A Screenshot

There are a couple of reasons you might want to take a screenshot (a.k.a., screen capture or screen grab) of your desktop or an application window. One of the most common is to send the image to tech support to show a problem you’re experiencing. Whatever your motive, here’s how to take a screenshot on both Windows and Mac.

Take a Screenshot on Windows

Look for the Print Screen key on your keyboard, which might be labelled PrtScn. Photo remixed from original by John Hall & Associates.

  • To capture the entire screen (everything you see on the screen, including all open windows), press the PrtScn button. This screenshot will be placed in your clipboard.
  • Alternatively, to capture just the active or foremost window, press Alt+PrtScn.
  • Next, open an image editing program like Microsoft Paint and either go to the Edit menu then select Paste or, for a faster method, hit Ctrl+V to paste the image into the program.
  • Go to the File menu then choose Save As and save the image to a folder so you can later attach it to an email.

Using the Snipping Tool

Both Windows Vista and Windows 7 come with a more robust screen capturing tool, the Snipping Tool. With the Snipping Tool, you can define areas of the screen to capture (an irregular shape, rectangle that you draw, selected window, or the entire screen), annotate the screen capture, and share via email. Since you can save the image directly from the program, the Snipping Tool also saves you the step of having to open Paint or a different program and pasting the image from the clipboard.

To use the Snipping Tool:

  • Click Start, then All Programs, then Accessories, and then Snipping Tool.
  • Click the down arrow next to the New button to select your snipping type.
  • Then use your mouse to select the area of your screen or window you want to capture.
  • You can also use the Snipping Tool to capture a menu option, such as a drop-down that normally disappears when your mouse button is released or the Start menu image you see at left. To do this, press ESC after opening the Snipping tool, then go to or activate the menu you want to capture. Finally, press Ctrl+PrtScn to capture the menu.
  • To draw over or highlight parts of the screenshot, click the pen or highlighter buttons in the menu.

Once you’ve got your screenshot you can save it, email or copy it for pasting into another application.

Take a Screenshot on Mac OS X

Mac OS X also has built-in screen-grabbing functionality. After pressing these key combinations to take your screenshot, you’ll hear a click and the screenshot will be saved as PNG file to your desktop.

  • To capture the entire screen, press Cmd+Shift+3 at the same time.
  • To capture a select area of your screen, press Cmd+Shift+4. Your cursor will turn into a crosshair and you can drag around the area you want to capture.
  • To capture a specific window or something like the Dock or menu bar, press Cmd+Shift+4 and then immediately after, hit the Spacebar. The crosshair will turn into a little camera and highlight the window or objects you can capture.

(There are more advanced screen capture settings you can tap using the Mac’s Terminal and entering in some commands. For example, you could change the default file image type or force the screen capture to go to the clipboard. You can find the manual and commands for Apple’s screencapture in Apple’s Mac OS X Developer Library.)

Using the Grab Tool

In the Utilities folder under Applications, OS X also has a tool for taking screenshots called Grab. To use it:

  • From the Capture menu, select the type of screenshot you want to take: a selection, one windows, the entire screen, or a timed screen which waits ten seconds then captures your screen.
  • Then follow prompts to select the area of your screen capture.
  • Go to File then Save to save the screenshot as a TIFF image.

More Screenshot Tools and Resources

These are Windows and Mac OS X’s built-in screen capturing tools, but there are plenty of other screenshot tools that are helpful if you need to make screen captures fairly regularly. For starters, you might want to take a look at five of Lifehacker readers’ favourite screen capture tools.


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