I don’t do as many screen captures as I used to, but when I need to do a screen capture, I need to do one badly. Snagit is the most common program for this, but its cost can be hard to justify. What’s better than a Snagit alternative? How about a Snagit free alternative?
I’ve got you covered.
Windows Snipping Tool
First and least, there’s the Windows snipping tool. I had to do screen captures when I was working for the tightest Fortune 20 company on earth, but they weren’t willing to pony up $50 for Snagit. Instead, they told me to use the Snipping Tool, which comes with Windows 7 and Windows 10.
Sometimes the Snipping Tool is better than hitting Alt-Print Screen, which captures the current window to the clipboard. And for rudimentary screen captures, the Snipping Tool is fine. It will indeed capture a region of the screen for you and give you a chance to save it.
What I don’t like about the Snipping Tool is the inability to assign a hotkey to the image capture. I have to load it, change context, then hit another button to capture. If the screen is changing, I’m likely to lose it while I do all that. It also doesn’t provide a lot in the way of tools for annotating the image afterwards.
There was a time in my career when I didn’t need any of that functionality, and at that point in my career I rolled my eyes at my then-coworkers who worked Snagit into every conversation. If that sounds like you, the Snipping Tool may be just what you were looking for. Since few people talk about it, you may not have even known that was available.
Alt-Print Screen on Windows
OK, I lied. Second, and really least, is Alt-Print Screen. This screenshot tool has been built into Windows since at least Windows 3.1. Hitting that key combination captures the current active window to the clipboard. So you can just hit Alt-Print Screen, switch to your word processor or paint program, and hit CTRL-V.
Rudimentary? Absolutely. But if all you need is a capture of the current window, without any need to crop or annotate, it’s right there, and you don’t need to load any additional software to do it.
Command-Shift-4 on Mac OS X
On a Mac, the key combination Command-Shift-4 will let you capture a region of your screen to the clipboard, and then you can paste it wherever you want. This is functionally equivalent to the Snipping Tool but without having to load anything. It’s a rudimentary screen capture tool, but it’s convenient, and always there. For many people, it’s a good enough Snagit alternative.
Greenshot is my favorite Snagit alternative. There are versions for Windows and Mac OS X, which is nice. It’s free and open source on Windows, and $2.99 for the Mac OS X version. You’ll find the way it works similar to Snagit. Hit Print Screen, then you can grab the region of the screen you want and send it to the clipboard or its built-in image editor for annotating and drawing arrows and other simple image work. It makes drawing arrows and adding text very fast and simple. It’s also easy to export the image to another editor to finish it up.
It may not look exactly like Snagit, but it’s awfully close. If you’ve used Snagit, you can use Greenshot and you’ll feel at home with it pretty much right away.
It can also capture the full screen or the active window, so you don’t lose the built-in Windows functionality that it gives you via the print screen key. It just makes the functionality you’ll probably use most more accessible.
Why capturing part of the screen matters
Capturing just portions of the screen is helpful for the same reason cropping a photo is helpful. It lets you emphasize the part of the image that’s important and worthy of your reader’s attention, while removing busy elements that might just be distracting. It helps make the image helpful and useful, rather than just having an image for the sake of having an image.
Why annotations matter
I’m also a big proponent of annotations. Sometimes you lose context if you crop too tightly, but you want to call attention to something in the middle of the image. A red arrow with a drop shadow really helps. It says, boldy, here’s what’s important, and here’s where you can find it. I can show the relevant part of, say, the Excel ribbon, yet point the arrow right at the part where the functionality the reader is after hides.
Most paint programs don’t give the ability to very quickly add an arrow with a drop shadow. The drop shadow helps separate the arrow from the rest of the image.
It saves a lot of time. If I can grab part of the screen, annotate it, and then drop it into my word processing or blogging software in a matter of seconds, I’ll do it more often than if it’s an ordeal. Then my readers will understand what they need to understand much more quickly.