A technique for capturing screen images that work in printed materials.

Most of us have taken a screen shots, but when it comes to making these images for use in printed materials, things can get a little dicey. Actually muddy, grainy and blurry might be better terms. That is because most screen captures (in Windows) end up in Word or PowerPoint. Neither of these programs are very good at maintaining the sharpness and color of your screen iamge. There is a better way.

The first hurdle is knowing how saving the image.

Because Windows built-in screen capture only puts the image into the system clipboard, you need to first find a way to save the image once it is in the clipboard.

What you are looking for is a program that will not save the image in a JPEG or JFIF format. The JPEG process will damage the image in the quest for a smaller file size. (You can learn more here.) Instead you need a program that allows you to save these images in PNG, TIFF, BMP or some other non-destructive format.

BEST: If you have Photoshop, Fireworks, or another high end image editor you are in great shape. Use them and save the resulting files in PNG (24 bit) format.

BETTER: If you have Microsoft Office 2003, you have Microsoft Office Picture Manager which is part of the Microsoft Tools set of utilities. If so, you are also all set. Please do not use Microsoft Office Document Imaging.

STANDARD: For those falling back to the most basic Windows installation, you will need to use the image editing program known as Paint which is part of a standard Windows install. It is likely to be found in the Accessories menu (Start --> All Programs --> Accessories). If you do not see it, try starting it by selecting Run in the Start menu and typing "mspaint.

Let’s capture a screen.

The actual process of the screen capture is simple — press the Print Screen key. This is sometimes marked as PrtSc or some other abbreviation Print Screen. If you are using a laptop that makes some keys do triple and quadruple duty, you may need to press a special key at the same time. This special key is usually labeled Function or Fn. The label is usually in the same color as the PrntSc label. In the case of my laptop, the Function key is blue and all the special functions of various keys are also in blue.

There is a special variation of the basic screen capture. Adding the ALT key when making a screen capture captures only the top window. (Known as the active window.) This is handy if all you want to capture is a dialog box.

Now what to do with your image.

Let's assume that you are using the Paint program that comes with Windows. Once you have a screen capture in the clipboard open the Paint program (or bring it forward if it is already open) and simply paste (CTRL+V) the image into the blank file. If you are asked if you wish to enlarge the canvas to handle the pasted image, answer yes. Now save the file selecting the type of file from the lower drop down menu (Fig. 1) choosing PNG as the best format.

FIGURE 1: Choosing a file format when saving from MS Paint.
Save dialog box from MS Paint.

Now you can repeat the process of capturing screens, pasting into Paint, saving in PNG format.

Or, if you are using Microsoft Office Picture Manager, you can just keep pasting your screen captures into the open program. It saves the images as a BMP file in your "My Pictures" folder. After pasting into the Picture Manager, you can rename the file. When you are ready to send the file on, use the Export command from the File menu. The Export command brings up a column to the right of the image thumbnails. Here you can choose the format for the save. (Be sure to select PNG as the format.)

One more thing.

If you plan to edit the image there is one additional thing you may need to do. This only affects you if you plan to edit text in the screen captures. For instance, you plan on changing a user name in order to make the screen more anonymous. It will be much easier to edit if you insure that ClearType is disabled. The reason this is important is because the way ClearType modifies letters on screen. It is difficult and time consuming to duplicate the effect in Photoshop and does not add anything to the final use of the image.

To disable ClearType, find a spot on your desktop (the background in Windows) and right click on the background. Select "Properties" from the menu that drops out. Select the "Appearance" tab in the dialog box and then click the "Effects" button. Select the "Standard" method to smooth edges of screen fonts. See Figure 2.

FIGURE 2: Checking for ClearType.