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How to take a screenshot on a PC

Michael Passingham
13 Jan 2016
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Take screenshots the smart way with Windows' built-in screen capture tools

Taking a screenshot in Windows used to be as simple as pressing the Print Screen button, but there are now a wealth of tools, both built into Windows and via third-party applications, meaning that taking a screenshot and using it in project you're working on is now easier and more powerful than ever.

How to take a screenshot using Print Screen

The Print Screen button takes a copy of everything on screen and places it on your PC's Clipboard. The Clipboard only has room for one piece of copied information, so if you take another screenshot or copy a piece of text, the previous item on the Clipboard will be deleted.

If you want to see your screenshot, you can open Paint (press the Windows key and type 'paint' and hit return) and press Ctrl+V to paste your screenshot into Paint. From here you can edit the screenshot to your liking, adding annotations and scribbles. You can then save the screenshot as an image.

Keep in mind that if you have multiple monitors, pressing Print Screen will take a shot of all the screens, not just one.

If you want to take a screenshot of just one window, hold down the Alt key while pressing Print Screen. This will take a shot of the active window, meaning whichever window you currently have selected will be captured in full and everything else will be ignored.

Print screen captures all monitors

The first image above shows what happens if you press Print Screen on on a computer with three monitors attached. The second image shows what happened when we pressed Alt+Print Screen when the Paint window was selected.

Press alt and print screen at the same time

How to take a screenshot using Snipping Tool

Snipping Tool is pre-installed on all versions of Windows post-Vista and is an invaluable tool for taking better screenshots. With Windows 10, Snipping Tool received a much-needed update, adding handy new functions for taking screenshots.

Snipping tool

To open Snipping Tool, open the Start Menu again (Windows key) and type 'Snipping Tool'. To take a new screenshot, click the New button, at which point the screen will fade to white slightly. Now click and drag wherever you want your screenshot to go. By default you'll get a rectangular image, as you can see below. When you're done, you'll be presented with your screenshot. You can draw over your screenshot and save it from here. You can save it as a .png, .jpeg, .gif or an .MHT file.

Snipping tool select

If you're trying to capture something specific, such as a dialog box or menu that can only pop up when you click on it, you can delay your capture by between 1 and 5 seconds. This gives you time from the moment you take the screenshot to set up the thing you're trying to capture, such as this context menu in the screenshot below that would otherwise be impossible to capture.

Snipping Tool delayed capture

^ This shot would have been impossible without the delay function

You can also take other types of screenshots with Snipping Tool. When you press New, you can choose the following modes:

  • Freeform snip: this lets you draw freeform around the area you want to capture.
  • Rectangular snip: the default option that lets you take basic screenshots of multiple windows in a rectangular area
  • Window snip: This lets you pick a window you have open and take a screenshot of the full window, without having to painstakingly line up your snipping area. Just click on the window you want to capture to take a shot
  • Full screen snip: This takes a shot of exactly what you can see on all monitors, much like pressing the Print Screen button on your keyboard

Third-party tools

If you're as serious about screenshots as we are, you'll find Snipping Tool to be a limiting factor. Here are a couple of tools we use regularly here at Expert Reviews to bring you these tutorials.

Lightscreen screen capture software

Lightscreen: This free tool lets you customise your screenshots down to the smallest detail. Your shots can automatically be uploaded to Imgur.com if you wish, and you can pick custom naming conventions and save locations from within the program. You can also set up hotkeys to perform specific functions and types of screenshots, such as the area selection tool.

Snapper screenshot tool

Snapper: This easy-to-use screenshot tool saves every single screenshot you take when you press the Print Screen button. You can pick which monitor it captures from, the quality of the shots and even overlay text onto each screenshot as a sort of watermark. Great for quick snaps.


Fraps screenshots

Fraps: The free version of Fraps lets you automate screenshots, taking a screenshot every X seconds(you decide). In the free version you can only capture in BMP format, which will create some pretty big files. You can upgrade to the paid version of Fraps for around £27.

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