Capture a screen shot

They say a picture is worth a thousand words; that’s particularly true when attempting to troubleshoot a problem with your computer. Sure you could describe the problem, but most of the time support personnel can gain a better understanding if you can show them what’s happening on your computer screen. Luckily, most versions of Windows provide several simple yet effective methods for capturing an image of a window or your entire desktop.

In this post, I’ll show you three tools that Windows provides to grab screen shots. And did I mention they’re all free?

Print Screen

Good ol' print screen Print Screen provides a simple way to capture a basic screen shot, and it’s supported by all recent versions of Windows. Captured screen shots are sent to the Clipboard, which can be pasted easily into an e-mail message or any editor that supports inline images (e.g., Paint, WordPad, Word or PowerPoint).

  1. To capture an image of the active window, press Print Screen. You won’t see a confirmation message, but an image of the entire desktop is copied to your Clipboard.

    Note: To capture only the active window, press Alt + Print Screen.

  2. Open any editor that supports inline images and click Paste Paste (or press Ctrl + V). The image is inserted into the document.

  3. To save the document, click Save Save (or press Ctrl + S). The Save As window is displayed.

  4. Select a location (such as the Documents folder or Desktop) and name for the file and click Save. The file containing your screen shot is saved.

The Snipping Tool

Cut it out For more advanced screen captures, Windows Vista and Windows 7 provide the Snipping Tool, an accessory that allows you to “snip” any area of the desktop, including free-form and rectangular shapes, as well as an individual window or the entire desktop. The Snipping Tool provides basic markup tools, including a pen and highlighter. Snips can be saved in a variety of common formats, copied to the Clipboard, or sent easily to your default e-mail program.

  1. Click Start > All Programs > Accessories > Snipping Tool. The Snipping Tool window is displayed as shown in and the desktop is covered with a translucent mask.

    The Snipping Tool

    Note: By default, the Snipping Tool captures rectangular snips. To select a different type of snip, click the drop-down arrow beside New.

  2. To create a snip:

    • For free-form and rectangular snips, click and drag the mouse around the area.

    • For window snips, click the window. If the window is not visible, then you can click the window’s button on the taskbar.

    • For full-screen snips, the snip is captured immediately.

    • The captured snip is displayed in the Snipping Tool window.

      A snip of a web page

    Once captured, snips can be marked up using the pen and highlighter tools.

    • To draw on the capture, click Pen Pen and drag the mouse.

    • To highlight on the capture, click Highlighter Highlighter and drag the mouse.

    • To delete the markup, click Eraser Eraser and drag the mouse.

    Snips can be saved in a number of common formats, including PNG, JPEG, GIF, and MHTML.

    1. Click Save Save. The Save As window is displayed.

    2. Select a location (such as the Documents folder or Desktop), name and format for the file and click Save. The file containing your screen shot is saved.

    To copy a snip to the Clipboard, click Copy Copy.

    Note: By default, all snips are immediately copied to the Clipboard. To change this behavior, click Tools > Options and click Always copy snips to the Clipboard.

    Snips can be sent to your default e-mail program as an inline image or as an attachment. To e-mail a snip, click Send Snip Send Snip. A new message is created and the snip is inserted.

    Note: To send the snip as a JPEG attachment to the message, click the drop-down arrow beside Send Snip, and select E-mail Recipient (as attachment).

    Problem Steps Recorder

    Problem Steps RecorderWhat if you need to capture a series of screen shots? The Problem Steps Recorder (PSR) in Windows 7 makes it easy. Just launch the program, start recording, then interact with the program and the PSR captures multiple key screen shots to document the complete process. When you’re finished, the PSR automatically packages the entire series of screen shots into a compressed MHTML that can be sent to technical support for analysis.

    1. Click Start, type PSR and press Enter. The search results are displayed.

      Launching the PSR

    2. In the search results, click PSR PSR. The Problem Steps Recorder is displayed.

    3. Click Start Record Start Record. The program records your mouse and keyboard as you interact with your programs.

      While recording:

      • To pause recording, click Pause Record Pause Record.

      • To add a comment, click Add Comment Add Comment. A comment prompt is displayed.

        Highlight an area on the screen, type your comments and click OK. The comments are added to the capture.

      • When you’re finished, click Stop Record Stop Record. The Save As window is displayed.

      • Select a location (such as the Documents folder or Desktop) and name for the file and click Save. The compressed file containing your screen shots is saved.

        Note: To quickly send the output file via e-mail, click the drop-down arrow beside Settings and click Send to E-mail recipient. A new message is created and the output file is attached.

      Other Resources

      For users with more advanced needs, a variety of third-party screen capture tools are also available.

      • TechSmith SnagIt. Capture anything you see on the screen. Edit and combine those captures. Share them via your favorite applications. Organize and find them again later. The more you use SnagIt, the more ways you’ll find to use it! Learn more at

      • FastStone Capture. This is a powerful, lightweight, yet full-featured screen capture tool that allows you to easily capture and annotate anything on the screen including windows, objects, menus, full screen, rectangular/freehand regions and even scrolling windows/web pages. Learn more at

      • Microsoft Office OneNote. OneNote is a digital notebook that provides people one place to gather their notes and information, powerful search to find what they are looking for quickly, and easy-to-use shared notebooks so that they can manage information overload and work together more effectively. Learn more at

      • Gadwin PrintScreen. This is a simple freeware tool that can replace the Print Screen function in Windows. Learn more at

      – Greg

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