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Getting Started

Once you actually figure out which method for screen capturing works best for your computer, taking a screencap is really easy. The tricky parts are:

  1. Figuring out what screencapping method works best with the kind of video or image you’re viewing.
  2. Getting a nice and clear image to work with.

These two things get easier with practice, but mostly the trick is to be patient. It can take several tries to get the perfect screencap. It also helps to be flexible. Different computers and different image/video formats work better with different screencapping software/methods. has a ton of fantastic tutorials for screencapping on all sorts of computers and programs. Most of my advice below is also repeated there. If you’re in a pinch, check out this URL:


Screencapping a Video: Using VLC Player

This is my recommended method for getting images from a video. VLC is a free media player that works on PCs & Macs. It also plays DVDs as well as nearly every kind of video file you can imagine. If you don’t have it already, you can download VLC here.

If you have a DVD or a video file that plays in VLC (and most everything will) you can use VLC’s built in screencapping function. To take a snapshot of the video displayed by VLC, you just need to press VLC’s predefined snapshot hotkey:

Windows: Ctrl+Alt+S
Mac OS X: Command+Alt+s

If it gets annoying hitting all these keys, you can change it to something shorter. Just go to Preferences -> Interface -> Hotkeys settings, check Advanced options, and set “Take video snapshot” to a different keystroke. You can also take a snapshot via the menu Video -> Snapshot.

By default, your image files will be saved to these folders:

Windows: My Documents\My Pictures\
Mac OS X: Pictures

To change the screencap’s file format or where the files are saved, go to Preferences -> Video.

Screencapping For Anyone Using a Mac

There are basic screen capture functions built into Mac computers, you just need to know the right keys to hit. For grabbing an image or a piece of your screen, these are awesome. With video, the problem with these is that they are slower. This delay means that it’s easier to use these on a paused video.

  • To copy the entire screen, press Command-Shift-3. The screenshot will be automatically saved to your desktop.
  • To capture a specific window, press Command-Shift-4 and then immediately press the spacebar. The mouse pointer will change to an image of a camera, and you can move it around the screen. As you move the cursor over an application window, the window will be highlighted. When you have the cursor over a window you want to capture, just click the mouse button and the screenshot will be saved as a PNG file on your desktop. (The file is saved as PDF in Mac OS 10.3 and earlier.)
  • To capture a portion of the screen, press Command-Shift-4. The mouse pointer will change to an image of a cross-hair cursor that you can click and drag to select the area you wish to capture. When you release the mouse button, the screenshot will be automatically saved as a PNG file on your desktop. (The file is saved as PDF in Mac OS 10.3 and earlier.)

Screencapping For Anyone Using Windows

I am not using Windows much these days, so I am relying on others for this information. I’ll walk you through the basics, but there is also an extensive Windows-specific tutorial here on LifeWire.

  • To copy the entire screen: On more recent versions of Windows try hitting the Windows Key and PrtScn at the same time. On Windows 7 and earlier, try simply hitting PrtScr.
  • To capture a specific window, press Alt and PrtScr. This will capture the top/active window.

One important note. When you do these things in Windows, the image is not permanently saved somewhere. Instead, it is temporarily saved to your clipboard. Essentially, you’ve created a copy and now you need to paste it into something to save it. The simplest thing to do is to open MS Paint and hit control-V. This will paste the image into Paint. Now, you can save the file wherever you want to. (If you have other image editing software you prefer, you can open that and paste into that program instead.)

  • To capture a portion of the screen, you’ll need to move beyond the PrtScr key. Most current versions of Windows come with something called the “snipping” tool. Find and open the snipping tool by typing “snipping tool” into the Window’s search feature (typically accessed via the Windows taskbar). This will open the program and show you a toolbar with a various options. You may need to play with it a little to understand all the features.


Using TechSmith Capture to Grab An Image

If you have Windows, things get a bit tricker. If you run into problems, you can also try using TechSmith Capture (formerly called Jing). This is free software that you can be installed on Macs and PCs. They make you register, which is annoying, but it’ll work and it’s free.

Download TechSmith Capture here:

After you TechSmith Capture, the program will appear as a small (very small) yellow circle at the side of your screen. When you hover the mouse over this, the yellow circle will get bigger and options will appear. Play with the capture options a little to get the hang of selecting an area of the screen and saving an image.

Other Screencapping Options for PDF and Image Files

If, for some reason, you can’t use the basic key combinations built into Macs and PCs, here’s another way to do it when working with a PDF or an image.

Most of the default image/pdf viewers on your computer have copy functions built into them. The trick is to just find the options you need for the program you have.

  • First, make sure you have the file saved on your computer. Then, open the pdf file and go to the page you want. Or, if you’re looking at an image, open that and find the section you need.
  • Next, you need to find the option to select an area of the page/image. Typically there are buttons at the top of the screen which let you select between using your mouse as a text selector (it’ll look like a cursor), an area selector (it’ll look like a crosshair) and a icon of a hand which lets you drag/move through pages. You want to find that area selector, then you want to select the parts of the image you need, to copy, and to save that as a new file.

    In Preview for Macs, you can find these options in the taskbar under “Tools.” I’m not sure where it is on the default viewer for PCs, but its definitely in there. If you can open your files in Paint (Windows), it also has easy copy/save options.
  • Some programs will make you select, copy, paste into new file and then save. Some programs will let you select and immediately save as a new file. You’ll need to test it out and see what yours does.

Another option?  Look and see if your image/pdf view has a cropping option. That’ll usually let you select an area of the image, crop the rest of the image/file out, and then save the newly cropped image under a new file name.


Do you have another tool or service you like? Let me know and I’ll add it to the list!