What Is a Screenshot?

How to take a screenshot

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"Screenshot" is the term used to describe the action of capturing your computer desktop or anything shown on your computer screen to a static image file. In other words, it's a way of taking a snapshot or picture of whatever is showing on your computer, mobile, or tablet screen at the time. Some people also call it a screen grab.

Screenshots can be very helpful when you want to demonstrate something that would be difficult to explain in words. Here are just a few examples of situations where a screenshot can be useful: 

  • In social media, to share screen images with friends
  • In software reviews, to show what the software looks like
  • In software tutorials, to demonstrate how to perform a function
  • In technical support troubleshooting, to show an error message or software issues

Screenshots are also useful to save snippets of anything you have on your screen that cannot be easily printed.

How to Take a Screenshot

You don't need special software to take a picture of your screen because screenshot functionality is built into all current operating systems. It's typically very easy to take a screenshot. For example, you can capture a screenshot in Windows by simply pressing the Windows key and the Print Screen key, which appears on some keyboards as a PrtScr key.

Here are some tips around using screenshots:

  • Many software applications give you the opportunity to define the area you need in the screenshot.
  • Full-screen screenshots should be cropped to remove any extraneous material.
  • If you are doing a screen recording make sure your monitor resolution is set to a common video size of 1280 x 720 before doing the recording.
  • Save a screenshot as either a jpg or png image.
  • Screen recordings should be saved as .mp4 files.
  • Screenshots are often referred to as "captures" or "screencaps."

Other options are available as well. You can take a screenshot on your iPhone by simultaneously pressing the Sleep/Wake button and the Home button. On an Android device, simultaneously press the Power and Volume Down buttons. You can take one on your Mac, and even on older operating systems like Windows 7 and Vista. Here's how to do it on the most common devices:

Screen Capture Programs

Many graphics programs also have built-in screen capture capabilities. For example, the Edit > Copy Merged command in Photoshop CC 2017 will take a screenshot. Dedicated screen capture software offers benefits such as:

  • the ability to automatically name and save your screenshots to a specific folder.
  • auto-scroll functions to capture long documents like web pages that don't fit on the screen.
  • timed captures to allow you to prepare the workspace before capturing.
  • markup tools for adding callouts, arrows, shapes, and text annotations to your screenshots.
  • options to include or exclude the mouse cursor.
  • most screenshot software lets you set a key combination to take a shot without having to launch the application. For example, Snagit on the Mac uses Control-Shift-3 to start the process.

There is even screen recording software available that will allow you to capture all of the activity on your computer monitor and turn it into a video file. These would include:

Once you start using screenshots on a regular basis, you will find them to be an invaluable communications tool. They can be used in slideshows, tutorials, instructional manuals, or any other situation where you need the user or viewer to focus on the subject or task at hand. Not to mention the fact, you can now answer that dreaded question: "Can you supply us with a screenshot?"