Simple Guide to Computer Screen Shots

By Tim Priebe on October 2, 2008

By Tim Priebe on October 2, 2008

Screen captures are extremely helpful in our line of work. We test websites extensively in mutliple browsers and operating systems, but sometimes a problem will still show up on a client’s computer that we don’t see. In those cases, a screen shot is invaluable.

Screen captures are relatively easy in both Windows and Mac’s OS X. Here’s a quick guide to each.


In Windows, pressing Ctrl and the Print Screen key takes a screen capture and copies it into the clipboard. This means you can then go into your email program and paste it directly into an email for sending to someone, or even open a graphics program, paste it in there, and save the image file.

Windows Vista also includes a utility called Snipping Tool. While I don’t personally have experience with Vista’s Snipping Tool, my understanding is that it is a much more robust tool than the built in options prior to Vista.

Personally, on the rare occasions I need to do a screen capture in Windows, I use a screen capture utility called Cropper. It makes it very easy to capture only the area of the screen you want to, and saves in several different formats.

Mac’s OS X

Unlike most versions of Windows, Mac’s operating system, OS X, comes with a fairly robust screen capture tool. Pressing Command-Shift-3 takes a screen shot of the entire screen. Pressing Command-Shift-4 lets you capture only a specific area. And pressing space after you’ve pressed Command-Shift-4 lets you take a screen shot of a specific window.

The Mac saves the screen shots to the desktop in a lossless PNG format. However, if you also hold down the control button when performing any of the above mentioned screenshots, it will send the screen capture to the desktop instead.

If the Mac’s built-in tool isn’t enough for you, you might consider trying SnapNDrag. It saves in multiple formats, makes it much easier to email the screen shot, and doesn’t make you remember a keyboard combination.

Hopefully this will help if you ever need to show someone else exactly what’s on your screen.


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  1. Avatar Lynn Dye on November 26, 2008 at 4:19 pm

    I use snipping tool frequently – it’s easy and free. It gives you the option to save your snips as .jpgs for future use.

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