Personally I believe that screenshots are one of the best elements to any blog. We use screenshots all the time, and there is no way that I could have done it using the built-in Windows Print-Screen. There seems to be reassurance when you see someone else has installed the program or you are at least given an idea of what to expect before you go ahead and install it yourself, which makes screenshots a very valuable tool. Many blogs try to give text-only descriptions of software and trying to follow what they are saying could be like directing traffic with a blindfold on…it just doesn’t work well. I like a visual.
One thing that I’d like to get into is creating screencasts. I think that they are a step up from screenshots but I have had a hard time finding some good software that is completely compatible with Windows Vista. I’m sure the time will come where screencast software will work with it, but for right now the screenshots will have to do.
I’ve spent a lot of time playing with screenshot software and I think I have come up with the best 5 freeware applications that are available for taking screenshots. I’ll save my favorite for last but they all have a lot of really great features.
If your looking for simple then WinSnap is your solution. WinSnap replaces the Print-Screen button association so that the application is brought up, which is what all of the other screenshot utilities mentioned here. If you look at the screenshot below you can see that in a few seconds I made a professional looking picture that is ready to be displayed wherever I would like to put it. Many of the different aspects are fully customizable, such as the degree of rotation, watermark, and shadow but you should be aware that this does not include an image editor like some of the other applications do. However, you can’t really complain when the program weighs in at less than 100KB and a portable version is offered.
- Makes screenshots of windows with rounded corners
- WinSnap saves info about window form and adds real smoothing shadows!
- Unique “Application” mode allows you to capture all visible windows of the foreground application with one click.
- Basic coloring effects and canvas transformations.
- Advanced auto-save and auto-copy options.
- Usual keyboard and mouse control (Print Screen replacement).
- Make all this work with one 100-kb application – smaller than Paint!
–Gadwin PrintScreen (Homepage)–
This application is probably one of the least extensive screenshot utilities but it is great for anyone who wants just a little more oomph when making screenshots. Here are the features that you’ll find available after installing Gadwin PrintSscreen:
- Customizable hotkeys
- Choose the destination for the screenshot: printer, clipboard, folder, or email.
- Capture the full screen, a certain window, or a region.
- Adjust the quality of the resulting JPEG image or choose from one of the 5 other graphics formats (BMP, PNG, TIF, GIF, TGA).
- Add a shadow
- Make the image grayscale
- Resize the screenshot with the option to maintain the aspect ratio
Before using MWSnap you should know that it hasn’t been updated in over 4-years. With that being said, I don’t have any personal experience using it since I like applications that are updated a little more frequently. It does work with Windows XP which is probably important to most of you and the features should satisfy nearly everything that you need:
- Capable of capturing the whole desktop, a highlighted window, an active menu, a control, or a fixed or free rectangular part of the screen
- Support for BMP, JPG, TIFF, PNG and GIF formats, with selected color depth and quality settings.
- System-wide hotkeys.
- Clipboard copy/paste.
- Auto-saving, auto-printing.
- Auto-start with Windows.
- Minimizing to system tray.
- An auto-extending list of fixed sizes, perfect for snapping images for icons and glyphs.
- A zoom tool for magnifying selected parts of the screen.
- A ruler tool for measuring screen objects lengths.
- A color picker showing screen colors with separated RGB parts.
- Fast picture viewer.
- Adding frames and mouse pointer images.
- Multilevel configurable undo and redo.
- Multilingual versions.
- Configurable user interface.
–Screenshot Captor (Homepage)–
To be honest, this one was either a little advanced for me or it is just not laid out in a user-friendly way. It seems like the features are just bursting out of the seams which might be right up your alley, but I try to get things done in only a few clicks and I just couldn’t do it with this. I had to sit there and think about my every move instead of blindly clicking like I typically do. On a positive note, it does have a built-in screenshot editor.;)
There is one thing I’ll tell you in advance about this being free. There are no strings attached (as in no advertisements, spyware, or scams) but you need to have a license key in order to install it. The keys are free but there are two different keys available to encourage donations:
- If you become a member of their forum (for free) you’ll get a 6-month license key and after it expires you’ll need to return to the site to generate a key that lasts another 6-months. Then after you are a member for an entire year you’ll get a key that never expires.
- If you don’t want to signup to become a member you can get a 60-day license key but you’ll need to return to get a new license key every 60-days.
If that doesn’t sound like too much hassle, you can move on to the list of features to see if it is still right for you:
- Optimized for taking lots of screenshots with minimal intervention.
- Smart autonaming of files, and ability to embed textual comments in files.
- Good multi-monitor support.
- Highly configurable to make it work the way you want it to; stays out of your way in the system tray.
- Lots of capture modes: Multimon (multiple monitors), Desktop, Active Window, Region, Windows Object. Each mode has a hotkey for quick access.
- Unique Cool Effects, including automatic active window enhancement (see pictures below).
- Unsurpassed support for 3rd party user configurable tools, including file browsers and image editors; extend the program to do whatever you need by interfacing it with other programs.
- Slimline sidebar file browser provides full shell operations.
- Optional automatic image file versioning.
- Seamless integration with Unicode Image Maker tool.
- Autoscroll capture for windows too big for screen.
- Deluxe thumbnail maker.
- Quick PostCapture PopUp Dialog.
- Quick Screenshot Emailer Menu.
Okay, here is my personal favorite that I wouldn’t be able to survive without. FastStone can easily be summed up by saying “if a picture is worth a thousand words then FastStone is priceless!” That’s all there really is to it.
Currently I am using FastStone 5 Beta 1 which was just released 2-days ago which proves that this program continues to expand so you’ll never have to worry about using an outdated application. It also looks like minor versions of the program are released every few weeks and I found that to be really impressive.
What about features? Don’t get me started because I won’t stop talking about them! The built-in Editor (pictured below) is so incredibly easy to use yet it offers an extensive list of features:
- A small floating Capture Panel that can be dragged anywhere or minimized to the Windows tray area
- Resource friendly – uses a very small amount of memory, especially when minimized to the Windows tray area
- Global hotkeys to activate the program’s capture capabilities anytime, anywhere
- Efficient tools to capture windows, objects, full screen, rectangle/freehand-selected regions and scrolling areas
- Capture web pages in Microsoft Internet Explorer, FireFox and Opera
- Option to specify destination (internal editor, clipboard or file) where the captured image will be sent
- Screen color picker
- Text/Arrowed line/Highlight/Watermark annotation
- Resize, crop, brightness, contrast, gamma, sharpen, blur, gray, negative
- Zoom in/out
- Save as BMP, JPEG, JPEG2000, PNG, GIF, TIFF, TGA
- Send captured images in e-mails
- Screen Magnifier
- Divide it into multi-pages when printing long document
- Multi-monitor support
- Option to run when Windows starts
That’s my list of what I consider to be the top 5 freeware applications for taking screenshots in Windows. FastStone, in my opinion, blows all of the others away and I even prefer it to the commercial SnagIt software. I don’t know how the FastStone developer made it so easy to use and still make it feature rich, but he remarkably did it, and did it well.
If you happen to know of a better freeware application for taking screenshots make sure you let us know. For all of you that have your own blog…never underestimate the power of a screenshot.