Russ Harvey Consulting - Computer and Internet Services

How to Do a Screen Capture

Windows | Mac | Linux | About Screen Captures

There are several programs that will allow you to capture an image (screenshot) of your desktop, dialogue box or any other item on your computer screen.

Operating System Differences

The process is fairly similar between operating systems but there are variations so I'll cover the default processes for each.

How to Do a Screen Capture in Windows

Recommended Programs

I'd recommend either MW Snap or Microsoft's Snipping Tool. There are advantages to each and I use both.

Snipping Tool

Snipping Tool offers several options in capturing the image when you click on the New button.

  • Free-form Snip allows you to capture an irregular shape.
  • Rectangular Snip allows you to capture a custom section of the screen.
  • Window selection allows you to capture a dialogue box or similar defined Windows element.
  • Full-screen capture is most useful for capturing the desktop or if you're unable to otherwise capture elements.

Microsoft Snipping Tool showing the “New” menu extended.   Microsoft Snipping Tool showing the pen options menu extended.

After the selection you can mark up the captured image using various colours of pens as well as a highlighter. If you make a mistake, the eraser removes the markup (it removes the entire markup but doesn't allow minor edits like trimming the edges around your markup).

Snipping Tool comes free with Windows 10, Windows 8.1, Windows 7 and Vista. It can be found in the Windows Accessories folder but I suggest you pin it to the Start menu or desktop if you use it frequently.

MW Snap

MW Snap is a free 32-bit program that allows you to capture:

  • a fixed rectangle (defined before the capture);
  • any rectangle (you click on the top left corner of your intended capture and drag it to the bottom right corner);
  • window/menu (selected by focussing on it with your mouse); or
  • the full desktop.

MW Snap showing the Window/menu option selected.

Even though it was released in 2002, it works fine in currently supported 32- and 64-bit versions of Windows — including Windows 10.

While it doesn't have Snipping Tool's native ability to mark up and notate captured images, I find it easier to use and prefer it unless I'm doing a quick capture for an email that requires that feature.

Most of the captures on this site were accomplished with MW Snap although many were later edited in Photoshop.

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How to Do a Screen Shot on a Mac

Mac Built-in Capabilities

Most people will find the built-in capture capability on a Mac works well for them.

In every option below, the screen shot is saved as a .PNG file on your desktop using the name “Screen Shot” with the date and time appended.

Experiment with the setting to find out what works best for you.

Capturing the Full Desktop

To capture the entire desktop click on Shift+Command+3.

Capturing a Section of the Desktop

To capture a portion of the desktop, the process is similar except that you click on Shift+Command+4 and a crosshair cursor appears on the desktop to define the area you wish to capture.

  • Releasing the mouse finalizes the selection and the screen shot is generated.
  • Hitting the Escape key (ESC) abandons the selection without saving anything.

Modifying Your Selection

Holding various keys after Shift+Command+4 but before releasing the mouse allows you to modify the selection:

  • Pressing Option allows you to create a square or rectangular selection when dragging from a corner or from a side of the selection respectively.
  • Pressing the Space Bar after you've created a selection allows you to move around the selected area to capture an area within the shape and size you've pre-defined.
  • Pressing the Space Bar+Shift after you've created a selection allows you to move the existing selection, but only horizontally.

Capturing a Window or Menu

To capture a window of the desktop, click on Shift+Command+4 then press the Space Bar after the crosshair cursor appears.

Once the cursor changes to a camera it highlights various windows, folders and toolbars to show what will be captured when you release the mouse.

I found that I could even select individual icons on the Apple menu bar and that selecting the Dock captured it intact even though a window was covering a portion.

Learning More

The apple documentation provides more details including how to capture the Touch Bar with macOS Sierra.

Screen Recorder

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How to Do a Screen Capture in Linux

I primarily use and support Linux Mint. Other Linux distributions may capturing screenshots differently.

Linux Mint's Screenshot

Linux Mint provides a built-in Screenshot program (click on Menu ⇒ All Applications ⇒ Accessories then choose Screenshot):

Linux Mint's Screenshot program.

You may choose to capture

  • the whole screen; or
  • the current window; or
  • custom select an area to grab.

There is also a time delay option that can help if capturing a menu or similar target that requires you to prepare the area to be captured.

Current Window Options

If you choose the current window option, you can apply

  • a drop shadow;
  • a border; or
  • a vintage effect

and can elect to have the window border appear.

Mouse Pointer Option

You can also elect to have the mouse pointer included in the capture (useful when the presence of the mouse is an important feature of a captured image).

Saving the Image

The screen shot is saved as a .PNG file with the name “Screenshot from” followed by the date and time (e.g. Screenshot from 2017-02-16 17-28-34.png). The save location defaults to Pictures but you can save it in any of the default folders or navigate to a custom location.

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www.russharvey.bc.ca/resources/screencaptures.html
Updated: February 16, 2017

A screen capture can preserve settings for reference later.

About Screen Captures

Screen captures is a generic term for images taken of your desktop or portion of your desktop. The terms used in various programs, documentation and operating systems, but they all refer to the same process.

Why Would I Want to Do That?

You may wish to record the settings in a program or capture an error message for later reference, particularly if it is lengthy or contains complex error codes.

Naming the Image

Be sure to give the document a name that is meaningful so you understand what it is and why you captured the image. Appending a date and/or time may help if you take a series of screenshots. Both the Mac and Linux Mint programs do that automatically.

If you aren't given the option to name the resulting image (such as the Mac's default screen shot capturing capabilities) you can rename it after the process is complete.

Getting Ready

Before proceeding with any capture, ensure that the desktop is laid out as you want. You'll want to close any unnecessary programs and move windows and programs that are visible so that they don't interfere with the area of the screen you're capturing.

When doing a full desktop capture, you might want to consider what is showing in the Windows taskbar or Mac Dock.

Saving the Screen Capture

When storing a screen capture (screen shot) for later reference, you'll not only wish to name it (or rename it) so that you'll recognize its significance later but also select a location that is logical.

Default Locations

The Mac stores files on the desktop. Both Windows and Linux Mint store images in Pictures by default. Your system my have other defaults.

However, screen captures are a different sort of image than the photos from your vacation or family gatherings and should have their own location.

Other Options

Clients screen captures are saved in a Backups folder so they're easy to find.

I've organized over 325 images into 54 nested sub-folders in my Screen Captures folder.

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Related Resources

Related resources on this site:

or check the resources index.

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