Screen Capture

Keeping up with my series on productivity, I’ll talk a little about screen capture.

Not only developers, but many computer users need to take snapshots of their screens for many different reasons; in my case, I do it when I’m writing articles, blog posts, sending an image in an email to explain something to somebody or to report a bug, etc. I’ve seen people struggling when trying to do that just because they either don’t have the right tool for the job, or they don’t know a few helpful shortcuts.

Did you know about Alt+PrintScreen?

The Print Screen key in Windows is probably the one feature every user knows about; it takes a snapshot of the entire screen, spanning through any monitors connected to the computer. The snapshot goes to the clipboard, and the user can paste it anywhere. Of course, if the user has dual monitor, and all she wanted was to capture a little part of the screen, another tool, such as MS-Paint has to be used to crop the image. The same is true if the user wants to do some editing, like highlighting something on the image, or adding a little effect, etc.

What not a lot of people know, though, is that if all you want is a snapshot of the current (active) window, pressing Alt+PrintScreen will do just that.  🙂

Microsoft OneNote

OneNote is a great tool to keep, huh, notes. As part of notes, we usually need some screenshots, and OneNote has a feature for that. Hitting WindowsKey+S will activate OneNote’s "Screen Clipping" feature, which turns the screen into a "clipping" mode, where you can click and drag the mouse to select what portion of the screen you want to clip; the image will then go straight to a new note in OneNote.


SnagIt is my favorite tool for creating snapshots (I have been using it for over 4 or 5 years). It costs $39.95, which I think is a pretty decent price for what it gives me.

The tool can be set to take snapshots in a variety of ways, such as:

  • A region to file
  • A region to Clipboard
  • A window to file
  • A scrolling window (great to take snapshots of a web page, for instance)
  • An object on the screen
  • …and of course, the entire screen

It also has some more advanced options, such as a freehand region, a menu with time delay option, text from a window, all images from a web site, a DirectX application… and it can also record a video of the screen.

I also like the fact that we get a preview immediately after we took the snapshot, and on that preview we can do a lot of great quick edits on the image; we can highlight stuff, add "stamps", watermark, change the edges of the image, and a lot of other editing options are available. From the preview window, besides "finishing" the process and saving the image to disk, we can also do things like sending the image directly to an email message, or to somebody on IM (instant messaging), or send it to a specific program or catalog.

I can tell you SnagIt is one of the main tools I use to improve productivity; since I’m always doing a lot of screencapturing, when I do it, I want to do it as quickly as professionally as possible.

Oh, also, for those using Windows Live Writer to write their blogs, make sure you use Rick Strahl’s SnagIt Live Writer Plug-in; it allows you to take snapshots from within Live Writer using SnagIt, which will paste it right back in.

Do you know how to capture text on a MessageBox?

We’re always facing some nasty MessageBoxes that show us some error that has happened, and then we want to send that error message to somebody. What do we do? Well, we take a snapshot from it, since it’s not apparent how we could select only the text from within the MessageBox, copy it, and paste it somewhere.

So, what a LOT of people don’t know about, is that when the MessageBox is active, you can press Ctrl+C, and the text content of the MessageBox will go into the clipboard. For instance, if the following MessageBox is active and I press Ctrl+C and paste it somewhere, I get the text I’ve pasted right after the image:

Cannot find the aerasera.txt file.

Do you want to create a new file?
Yes No Cancel

C’mon, be honest, did you know that?  (Don’t feel bad if you did not know: it seems like 8 out of 10 Windows users don’t know it either).  🙂

  1. #1 by Phil Motuzko on November 23, 2010 - 4:24 pm

    Hello Claudio,

    On one of your presentations (2-3 yrs ago) in Houston you mentioned a tool that captured a screenshot every second or so. Then you were able to see what were you doing before you were interrupted. Lost a link to it – could you remind me what it was? Last time I checked it it was really cool – had OCR, you could capture only active apps, a lot of reports, also you could playback the recorded shots.

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