Saturday, June 27, 2009

Favorite tools: Snagit screen capture utility

I don't intend to make a habit of endorsing products, but I do have a few favorites. Remember how Douglas Adams described the Babel Fish as "mindbogglingly useful"? Well, Snagit is like that for me. It does a simple thing better than any other utility I've tried: take a screen capture. (If you haven't heard the term before, it just means taking a picture of what's on your computer screen.)

Yes, I know that my computer comes with that inscrutable PrtSc key (Print Screen), which I can use to copy a picture of my entire desktop onto the Clipboard (more info here). But Snagit is better.
  1. Snagit has a simple interface, even after countless versions (please heed this, Techsmith!)
  2. You can easily choose what you want to take a picture of (the whole screen, just one window, a region that you draw with your mouse)
  3. You can do the things you're most likely to want to do with the image you've captured: paste it into an email, save it as a file, print it.
  4. You can even add stuff to your snapshot, like highlighter yellow or big fat red circles and the words "click THIS BIT RIGHT HERE"
  5. There are some nice bells and whistles, too:
    - capture a scrolling window all at once, rather than screenful by screenful;
    - magnify or shrink what you're capturing
    - choose what file format you want to save the image as
    - automatically name a series of captures
Although I don't use it every day, it is exactly the right tool for some things.
  • Illustrating instructions for some process on the computer (e.g. saving Word documents without the prior edits available in them)
  • Documenting problems (error messages) or odd behavior of my computer ("See? My monitor has this line of schmutz running across it. That's not right!")
  • Printing a web page exactly as it appears, so that I can do a paper-based usability test) or mark it up with edits
  • Putting a picture of your website or software in a newsletter or promotional materials
There are just enough post-production editing tools that you could get away without a fancier image editor. I've used Snagit for maybe ten years. The colleagues I've recommended it to are now acolytes.

As of this writing, it costs $50, with discounts for education, nonprofit, and government. There's a free trial (fully functional, 30 days), so you can see if it becomes one of your favorite tools, too.

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