What’s a screen shot and how do I make one?

A picture is worth a thousand words and a screen shot - an image of your computer screen saved as a picture - can eliminate a lot of frustration when trying to describe to someone what it is you're seeing on your computer.

A screen shot or screen capture is a way to “take a picture” of your computer screen or a portion thereof.


Well, let’s say that you’re trying to explain a computer problem to a technical friend of yours and you’re trying to describe what you see on the screen – the dialogs, the buttons, the messages, whatever. You’re not sure of the terms to use and your friend is having a difficult time understanding your description of what you see.

And of course, your friend insists that the exact wording of everything you see is incredibly important (for the record, he’s right.)

You know what they say: “A picture is worth a thousand words.” And it can go a long way to eliminating miscommunication.

Let’s take a picture of your screen you can email to your friend.

Windows Vista & Windows 7

Windows Vista and Windows 7 include the “Snipping Tool” for just this purpose (Windows 8 has it also, I’ll describe how to find it in a moment). You’ll find it on the Start menu, in All Programs, Accessories:
Windows 7 Snipping Tool in All Programs, Accessories
As soon as you run it, your screen dims somewhat and the following window
Snipping Tool
(If the screen doesn’t automatically dim for a screen capture, just click on New to begin one.)

As the instructions indicate, you can then click-hold-and-drag the mouse to specify a rectangle on the screen that should be captured:
Snipping tool while snipping
As soon as you release the mouse, the Snipping tool opens with the region you’ve selected as an image:
Snipping Tool after snip
At this point, you can use the editing tools to annotate your screen capture, if you like. Once you’re done, click on the disk icon or type CTRL+S to save the image in a common image file format such as .jpg or .png.

You now have a screen shot you can send your friend.

Windows 8

The Windows 7 Snipping tool is still present in Windows 8. At the new Windows 8-tiled desktop, simply start typing “snip” to begin a search:
Finding the snipping tool in Windows 8
As you can see, the Snipping tool is by default the only result.

Windows XP

Ever wonder what the PrtScn key is for? A long time ago, it did what you might think. Push it and your printer would print an image of whatever was on your screen.

But that’s not what it does in Windows today.

When you press the PrtScn key, an image of your entire screen is placed on your clipboard. Now, rather than printing it, you can do something with it.

First, we need to place it in a file. After you’ve pressed PrtScn, fire up your favorite image editor or use the Paint program that comes with Windows by pressing Start, All Programs, Accessories, and then Paint.

Now in Paint (or your equivalent), hit Edit, Paste, and you should now have an image of your screen within the image editing program.
Windows XP desktop screen capture displayed within Paint
Now, save this image to a file. Typically, that means File, Save As…, and selecting either a .jpg or .png file format.

A couple of additional notes:

  • PrtScn takes a picture of the entire current screen.
  • ALT+PrtScn takes a picture of the currently active window only.
  • PrtScn does not work on blue screens. The Windows operating system provides the PrtScn functionality and if the operating system has crashed, the function’s not there.

The PrtScn technique actually works in all versions of Windows, including Vista, 7, and 8. The Snipping tool is typically more convenient in those versions.

On a Mac?

Macintoshes have screen shot capability as well. Check out How to take a screen shot out at Mac Help For Mom.

Submitting screen shots with questions

By default, I don’t allow attachments to be submitted with questions. This is mostly for my safety as someone could easily attach malware.

However, should the need arise, screen shots can absolutely be a very helpful resource when diagnosing a problem. If that happens, we’ll make arrangements to get it to me.

What I do

The Snipping tool, or the paste-into-Paint method, provides a very basic yet powerful approach to getting screen captures. They’re free and included with every copy of Windows.

I use something else.

I use SnagIt.

When run, Snagit replaces the PrtScn functionality with its own. It allows for full screen, partial screen, and even full scrolling-window capture, along with a number of capture-time options. It also comes with a fairly powerful image editor that allows me to quickly add call-outs, arrows, and the fancy “torn edge” effect I use in many of my screen shots, including a couple of those shown above.

Most folks don’t need an additional screen capture utility, particularly if your version of Windows includes the Snipping tool.

That being said, if you take screen shots regularly (as I do), a more powerful tool with more options both in capture and annotation might very well be a valuable addition and SnagIt is an excellent choice.

A picture is worth…

Hopefully, you can see the value of screen shots by now.

You’re presented with a complex situation or a huge, long error message that you don’t want to re-type and just wish that you could show someone.

Run the Snipping tool or press PrtScn and you’re on your way to creating an image of the screen, with everything exactly as you see it.

This is an update to an article originally posted : June 22, 2004


  1. Kari

    hey, i did everything you said to do in your article but once i open paint or photoshop, you can’t click the paste button which means that it didn’t work. i don’t know what i’m doing wrong?

  2. Leo A. Notenboom

    The most common problem I see is that PrntScrn sometimes is on a key with another fnction as well. Often in those cases you need to also press shift, Fn or FLock key to get it to work. Exactly what depends on exactly what keyboard you have.

  3. Nancy

    RE: capturing a screen shot…
    When I open “Accessories” I do not have a “Paint” selection in the box. You mention “or equivalent” but I don’t know what program that might be. Can you set me straight? I have Windows XP Home Edition. Thanks.

  4. Ken Crook

    A great free program for doing screen captures is MWSnap from http://www.mirekw.com.
    It allows you to capture all or selected part of screen. You can then print it directly, save the picture to a file, or copy/paste it to your word processor or whatever.

  5. Fred

    For best, easiest results, try Screenshot Captor from the Donation Coder Website (www.donationcoder.com). It has built in editing designed specially for screenshots and is registerware.

  6. Brian

    it’s really a good article for biginners. this works in many conditions, but still some does not work. for example, if someone need tocapture a screenshot of streaming video or a series of screenshots. sometime a screen demo tells more, there are many tools there can make this, such as DemoBuilder(easy to use and powerful, but only have a 256 color depth output), DemoCreator (a fresh man in this field, but a really good potential competitor of demobuilder), Captivate (maybe the most powerful one, but costful and a little complicated for biginners), Camtasia (powerful, but takes too much system resource).
    DemoBuilder, http://www.demo-builder.com
    DemoCreator, http://www.sameshow.com/demo-creator.html
    Captivate, http://www.adobe.com/products/captivate/
    Camtasia: http://www.techsmith.com

  7. Richard Blenkinship

    Fantastic article as a senior citizen with no computer training I often make elementary errors or find tutorials over complicated.This one was great
    although I even managed to complicate by not opening a file in Photoshop and tried to paste it direct into the Programme.I hope this little aside helps other beginners

  8. Skittles

    I found you by way of a Google search.

    I have not been able to do a screen shot since I got my wireless keyboard. I was hoping to find an answer here. I used to be able to do it the way you explained.

    Now I feel stupid for having to ask this question because when I go to my paint program there is no “paste” option available. This makes me need to know where to find my clipboard. (Hanging my head in shame.)

  9. Victoria

    Such a basic function, and so easy to forget. Thanks for making it so easy to do, and for including so many details. I used Adobe PhotoShop to paste my screen shot into and got a perfect image. I was also able to paste it into a MS Photo Editor easily, but just as PhotoShop has easier to use functions in every other regard (like cropping, a basic), it is also easier for pasting a screen shot, since it automatically creates the canvas size in the same dimensions as the image. I have no idea how MS Photo Editor decides what size to make the canvas, but it is inconvenient if one does not know the exact size of the image to be pasted.
    Anyway, thanks, Leo, for making this an easy task.

  10. Sharlene Morgan

    Everything Leo says about your Print Screen Key is a fact, but….instead of saving it right off in a “program”, paste it in an email and save it from there…(Aol email can also resize) and will automatically be saved as a Jpeg file. If u paste in your programs such as Paintshop Pro etc first…u also can crop it cause we very seldom want to save our whole screen. Then can email cropped and resized results…

  11. Anonymous

    Hi there,
    PrtScn command is easy enough, but how about if you’re working on a program that works in DOS and covers the whole display? I PrtScn the display; hit the Windows key on the keyboard to go back to MsPaint, I hit ‘Ctrl+V’ and nothing happens, because there is nothing captured in the clipboard. Do you have a solution to this? Thanks by now.

  12. Leo A. Notenboom

    Hash: SHA1

    Try pressing ALT+Spacebar. For many DOS based programs that will actually
    switch them into Windows mode where your printscreen will work just fine.
    Doesn’t work for all, but does work for many.



    Version: GnuPG v1.4.7 (MingW32)


  13. Allard

    Great help!
    I often use these trics (PrtScn – Alt PrtScn) mixed up with the freeware Windows Snapshot Maker to explain ‘how to do things’ to all my ‘digilliterate’ friends (in Dutch we call these digibeets from analfabeet, illiterate)
    Works great, saves MUCH time!!!

  14. Leo

    Hash: SHA1

    Depends entirely on the forum. You’ll need to with the
    forum documenation to see how to upload pictures.


    Version: GnuPG v1.4.7 (MingW32)


  15. griff

    99% chance you will use Function button (Fn) + Prt Sc. “Prt Sc” will share space with something else (letter or number) on one key. This depends on model

  16. Tye

    hey everybody, i figured it out. try pressing f lock on your keyboard and then try it. it worked for me after fooling around with a few buttons. best wishes,


  17. Amber

    I tried all the tips above to make a screen shot. When I click on print or PrtSc all I get is a choice of printing it or exporting to MS Excel. I can’t even find a clipboard.
    I have use Microsoft Vista Home Premium, and IE7.
    Please help.

  18. totalscreenrecorder

    I like Total Screen Recorder,which could record webcam video,desktop video and upload the video to youtube freely.It could record the video as long as you wish. Not like the other screen recorder, which just let you record one minute or with large watermark on the video.http://www.totalscreenrecorder.com/

  19. Amely Johnson

    PrntScrn button is not the best way, especially if taking screenshots is a part of work =)
    There are dozens of good screen capture tools and web-sites in the net. As for me, I prefer programs, cause a site can lose a shot from the game and you’ll never restore it. My favourite one is SnapaShot, it’s small (no installation), quick and easy (you can work with only 2 buttons, if you hava Vista or Win 7). You can try a free version here: free screen capture software

  20. Imoni

    Thank you Leo, I think that the information that you provide on your site is very informative and helpful.
    I just wanted to say thank you and keep up the great work.



  21. Roger-Cyndy Wilber

    Another way to save a screen shot… open a Word window. After pressing “Print Screen”, go to your Word window and press Control-V and ta-da, your image appears there. The nice thing about this is you can then “re-size it by clicking on the image and extending the boarders. I often use this when the print in something is too small to see or if there is something too small to see clearly in an image. I can make it larger (not more clear, sadly) and more easy to decipher!

  22. Darlene

    Thanks, Leo, I learned something new today! I didn’t have a clue that any of this existed! I did what you said, and it worked like a charm. I’ll be bookmarking this page so I can refer to it when I need it in the future. Thanks again!

  23. Steve Capps

    An easy alternative is the Windows Snipping Tool. Easy to download and set up a shortcut key to invoke the program. Click-drag a rectangle anywhere on the screen and either save it as jpg or paste it into a document. Great for cleanly copying or saving any image from the screen.

  24. jackrbike

    On my keyboard prt sc was in a box and below “insert,” so I had to experiment, discovering that I had to hit and hold the f sub n key. The non experimental readers could be helped by telling them “in order to activate the prt sc key, you might have to tap and hold another key, like the f sub n key, while tapping the prt sc key.”

  25. Kevin

    There are just so many free screen captures out there. Almost all seem to work very well, so it must be an easy thing to do. I myself just usually use ScreenHunter. While not saying that this is necessarily the best, it certainly fulfills all my needs, quickly and easily. As to PrtSc it is cumbersome and a waste of time, not to mention no options.

  26. Ken B

    I’ve been using the PrtSc/mspaint method for so long, I didn’t realize that Microsoft had added a new tool for this purpose. Thank you for the tip.

  27. John O

    I don’t think the Windows Snipping Tool is in Vista. I believe it started in W7

    Actually I checked when I wrote the article because I wasn’t sure either. It’s in my copy of Vista.

  28. Ginger Miller

    My favorite (free) screen capture program is MWSnap. So easy to use and the picture you capture can be saved, printed, or copied and pasted into a document. I use it all the time for preparing project submittal drawings. Works great for crafting projects as well.

  29. Mark Jacobs

    I use a powerful free (donationware) program called ScreenShotCaptor. It runs when you press PrintScreen and allows you to edit and annotate the screen before saving it or placing it in the clipboard. I don’t know it it’s as good as SnagIt, but it does the job for me.

  30. Roy

    I use screenprint32 in XP. It allows pretty much the same features as Snipping in 7 and activates from the printscreen button or any other key you select in the options.
    In snipping you can’t use a shortcut key and is a hassle to go to programs or Start Menu for a quick capture.
    I have placed Snipping in the launch bar as a workaround for a shortcut.
    I have been using PrtScr in 7 and it defaults to the printscreen button as a shortcut.
    However you have use the control key to drag a rectangle.
    Wish I could meld all of them together.
    I will give SnagIt a try. Appreciate being made aware of it.

  31. Mark

    Love, love, love Snag It. From training documents to simple emails, it helps me tremendously both in the office and at home. The license even allows personal use for both a home and work PC. Highly recommended.

  32. Cathy

    If you need to send information about a problem you’re having, you can use the Problem Steps Recorder in Windows 7 and Windows 8.
    Type psr.exe in your search box and it will open the Problem Steps Recorder. Click Start Record at the top. Then you just do whatever you are having a problem with. It records every click you make as well as taking screen shots. When you’re finished, click Stop Record. You can then save the file or email it directly from the program.

  33. Richard

    I use the screen shot as a backup. I use screen shot to copy/paste my desktop, my add/remove programs, my program files, and I also go to start/programs and use screen shot to copy/paste all the programs that are on the desktop. I copy all of these in a backup folder with a word document in case I need to do a wipe and reinstall the operating system.

  34. Charles Heineke

    PicPick is a great, free graphics tool available from http://www.picpick.org/en/.

    It includes, all in one “resident” utility:
    – Screen Capture (portions, all, even scrolling)
    – Color Picker (eyedropper to capture colors)
    – Color Palette
    – Magnifier
    – Pixel Ruler (for measuring height/width)
    – Protractor (for measuring angles)
    – Crosshairs
    – Whiteboard (for illustrating a point)
    – Fairly sophisticated image editor

    I’ve kept it handy for years. It’s a TSR you can load at Windows startup, so it’s always at the ready.

  35. Bill Kingman

    [Leo]: “After you’ve pressed PrtScn, fire up your favorite image editor or use the Paint program that comes with Windows by pressing Start, All Programs, Accessories, and then Paint. This places an image of the screen into the system clipboard.”
    Or, START>ALL PGMS>ACCESSORIES>WORDPAD (not “Notepad”) then right-click and “Paste” at the cursor.

  36. Roger & Cyndy

    About Print Screen… On Windows 7 we always hit the FN button plus PRTSC button to capture the image. Then we open a Word document and hit Control-V to print the screen to a Word document where we can name and save it. Makes it easy to send it out in emails!

  37. Priscilla

    The one thing that annoys me about the Snipping Tool – tho’ I love it otherwise – is that I can’t paste directly into my AOL e-mail Compose page! Seems I have to paste it into Word, then make an attachment of the Word doc to send it to anyone. Any ideas, anyone, for an easier way?

    • Kaye

      Hmm…the copy & paste with snipping tool method works fine with Office Outlook email in Win 7. Can also drag the handles of the image to resize it in the email.

  38. Brad

    A Mac question…sort’a?

    I have looked for this on the web, see quite a few ‘How-to’s’..but have yet to find one that actually works.

    When using a Mac USB keyboard (used explicity because of touch preference by someone that types..FAST… for a living) on an XP machine..is there a key sequence that accomplishes a Windows ‘Prt Scrn’ function?

    Oh..and no F13.


  39. Brad

    @ connie

    An existing key sequence would be needed..no re-map program, script or other tool. The machine mentioned is on a secure network that will not allow users to ‘run’ anything.

    Thanks, though.

  40. Julian Adams

    Incidentally, I have found that Snipping Tool (Windows 8) will allow you to save an image when right-clicking on the picture and selecting “Save picture as…” won’t.

  41. Mark Jacobs

    If you find it cumbersome going through all those steps to get to the Windows Snipping Tool, there are a couple of ways of creating shortcuts to make it easier.
    1. Right click on Snipping Tool under Accessories in the Program Menu (If you’re using Windows 8 with Classic Shell, it’s under Windows Accessories), click on the shortcut tab, and choose a shortcut combination. (Ctrl+F12 or Alt+F12 might be good choices)
    2. Right click on the Snipping Tool under Accessories (or the Windows 8 tile menu after typing snip) and choose Pin to Task Bar.

  42. Connie Delaney

    Another life saver for helping someone with a computer issue is Skype screen share. If you can connect up with Skype you can both talk and see what’s going on with their screen as it happens.

  43. duane

    In Windows 8 hitting windows key + print scrn puts a dot png copy of the screen into a folder in your pictures library. Maybe this is off the subject.
    Is there a way to print something that is more than one screen full? I was trying to capture something that was spread across several screens. I just kept moving down the page taking screen shots. Kind of crude. Maybe that is a subject for another day.

    • James

      I think Leo mentioned it in his recommendation of SnagIt. He said it will capture a scrolling window. Correct me if I’m wrong Leo (because I’ve never used it), but that says to me that I could use SnagIt to get a screen capture of this entire Firefox window from the question at the top to the last comment at the bottom and it would all be in one image file.

  44. Old Man

    Softoria Capture works well for me, both on XP and 7. It’s free, and after I’ve finished with it, I can exit the program, while leaving it available.

  45. BAW30s

    The one I use is WinSnap: version 1 is still available and free, and has a variety of colouring and shadowing options. One of my browsers, Fastpeak SlimBrowser, has screenshot commands built-in to the File menu. I also often use PrtScrn with Paint; I have read that Alt + PrtScrn only copies the working area of the window, but in my experience the whole window is copied whether or not Alt, Shift or Ctrl are pressed.

  46. Tony

    You can also use Microsoft Word for screenshots. Open Word, click Insert, click the Screenshot option and choose from the list of shots in the pop up or click Screen Clipping to clip exactly what you want.

    For the screen clipping, first minimize all your windows except the one you want to clip, then go to Word as described above and select the Screen Clipping option. The screen will dim and allow you to clip the section you need, and it will appear in your Word document.

  47. Lester

    I suppose there are lots of different ways to do this. Personally, I often use the OneNote screen clip utility [hold down windows key and press s if you have OneNote running in the background]. Then copy it into one note and you can send it as a PDF attachment. You can also do annotations using the insert menu.

  48. Meegan

    There is no way to print iTunes receipts out of your purchase history. You often receive receipts in your email, but they come one at a time, and as I have dozens of purchases I need to submit to my administration for reimbursement, one-at-a-time seemed ridiculous, and Apple is not faithful about sending a receipt email every time either. The Snipping tool– making a screenshot and copying it into a word document–perfect. Thanks!

  49. James B

    I use Windows 7 and still prefer Print Screen and Alt+Print Screen. Maybe because it’s ingrained in me since Windows 3.1 or maybe because I don’t see the need of using another program to do something that is natively built into Windows. Of course I understand some people might not remember the key combination and so having a program might be helpful to those people.

    If I remember correctly, there used to be a key combination you could press when you got a dialog box with an error message. You could then paste the error message into an email or a text or Word document, instead of having to type out the error message, if you were asking for help. I don’t remember what the key combination is. I wonder if it still works?

  50. Kelly

    I’m using Windows Vista. When using the Snipping tool it will not allow me to put the rectangular shape around the entire word document. As I drag it down it just stops and won’t scroll down to bottom of document. PLEASE HELP!! :(


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