Create a screenshot on Windows: How it works

Screenshots are a helpful way to quickly clarify for friends or colleagues what you have just seen on your screen. They can come in handy if you’ve just found something funny, if you would like to quickly make a comment on a presentation, or if you want to show a support team exactly what is going wrong with your system. Luckily, you no longer have to get a camera and point it at the screen. Instead, both Apple systems and Windows PCs have resources already on board. We explain to you how to quickly take a screenshot on Windows and how these can be edited.

Screenshots on Windows 7, 8, and 10

The creation of screenshots on the Microsoft operating system is extremely simple: By pressing the [Print] key on your keyboard, you copy the current screen display to the clipboard. If you use two monitors at the same time, both screens are captured. You’d prefer not to capture the entire screen, but just one window instead? First, select the window in question. Then, with the Windows screenshot key combination - [Alt] + [Print] - create a screenshot.

Fact

The print button has been located on computer keyboards for a very long time. Back in the days of MS-DOS, it spoke directly with the connected printer: Using the print key, users could send the screen content directly to the device and print it out. Modern systems almost exclusively create digital copies with this key and don’t actually print anymore.

Your mouse pointer will not appear on the screenshot. That can be both an advantage and a disadvantage. But it does mean that you don’t need to worry about whether the cursor could potentially be covering up important information. If you want to use the screenshot to point out something specific, though, the cursor could be helpful to have. For this, you need to install an external tool.

Note

Your keyboard may be labeled differently: Usually, the labels [Print], [Prnt], or [Prnt Scrn] (for “Print Screen”) are used. With laptops, keys are often assigned to two functions in order to save space. Making a screenshot should be possible by pressing the function key: [Fn] + [Print].

After pressing the print key, your screenshot will be located on your clipboard. This is temporary storage that Windows uses to set aside elements that you’ve copied or cut (e.g. text sections that you’ve cut out and pasted in Word). From the clipboard, you can add your screen capture into a program, for example, Paint. Open the minimalistic photo editing program and add the image from the clipboard. This can be done either using the menu list or with the key combination [Ctrl] + [V].

Now simply save the image and you’ll have then the screenshot as an image file that can be archived or transferred. You can also use a different graphics program like Gimp or Paint.NET. These usually give you a lot more possibilities for customizing your screenshot. Paint already has the basic functions, though, like cropping or inserting arrows, colored markings, and so on.

Other Windows applications can also work with the screenshot that you’ve got saved on the clipboard: If you need to place it into a document, it can be pasted directly into Word. This allows you to avoid taking the detour of saving a file that you may not need later anyway. In Microsoft Word, simply move the cursor to where you want the screenshot to appear and paste it from the clipboard. In similar word processing programs, the method is the same as in the other Office programs.

If you want to create a screenshot with Windows 8 or 10, there’s another available key combination: Press the [Win] + [Print] keys at the same time to create a screenshot that’s saved directly as a new file. Windows saves the file in PNG format and places it in an extra Screenshot folder. The files are numbered in ascending order.

Snipping tool: Creating screenshot photos on Windows

The print button function is useful, quick, and uncomplicated but it’s also very simplistic. So Microsoft introduced an additional method for the creation of screenshots in Windows. The snipping tool is preinstalled on the operating system and offers more options for customizing the screenshot to fit your needs. If you have the program open, you can select between various snipping types:

  • Full-screen snip: This setting has the same function as the print button. Create a complete copy of the screen (or screens) with just one click.
  • Window snip: If you select this type of snip, first decide on a window that you want to create a copy of. If you move over it with your mouse, it becomes clearly visible, while all other content receives a fog filter. Clicking on the window of your choice takes the screenshot.
  • Rectangular snip: With this snipping type, you can select a free, rectangular area for the screenshot. If for example, you already know before you take the screenshot that only a certain part of the screen is important, then you only need to save this part. With this, the viewer knows immediately which part is important to you. It’s also a good way to keep personal information out of the screenshot. With the mouse button pressed down, you can draw a frame. As soon as you release the mouse, the image is captured.
  • Free-form snip: Even more freedom is given with this snipping type. With it, you can select a form freehand, and only take a screenshot of this area. The quality of the form depends on how well you can draw with the mouse. With this type, the program also creates the screenshot as soon as you let go of the mouse. If you haven’t looped entirely back to the starting point with the dragged frame, then the snipping tool automatically completes the connection between the starting and ending points using the shortest path.

Unlike screenshots created with the print button, the snipping tool shows you the screenshot right away. This way, you can immediately check whether it all looks as intended. If not: Simply click on “New” and try again. As soon as you’re satisfied with the result, you can add markings directly to the screenshot. Underline important parts with a pen, cross things out, or point something out with an arrow. With the text marker, you can draw attention directly to an important sentence or number. In the last step, decide what should be done with your screenshot:

  • Save: Click on “Save” to open a window in which you can define the save location, file name, and file format. The available formats are PNG, GIF, JPEG, or MHTML, the format used to archive websites.
  • Copy: The snipping tool also gives you the option to copy captured images to the clipboard. Just like with the print key, you can then paste your screenshot into various applications, such as a Word document.
  • Send: You can also send your screenshot as an email. For this, either paste the selection directly into a new email or send it as an attachment. You need to use a specific program for your email instead of the web application of your email provider.

If you create a screenshot in Windows 10 with the snipping tool, you also have a time delay option. Like the self-timer of a camera, you can set a timer to delay the trigger of a screenshot. You can use this time to change settings that are only visible for a short period of time, for example, or that require a key to be held.

Problems creating screenshots

Errors often occur, especially when creating screenshots from other programs. If you’re trying to take a screenshot of a video or a game, it often results in a completely black screen. The reason for this, in many cases, is a conflict in the graphic card. Most of the time, though, the problem can be avoided: Sometimes it’s enough just to reduce the game from full screen to a windowed mode. Games or video playback programs frequently have their own screenshot function that you can activate with a hotkey.

But sometimes it occurs, for example with Netflix, that the provider of the software intentionally prevents the creation of screenshots. In such cases, this has to do with copyright. The built-in copy protection technology, or digital rights management (DRM), prevents copying of the image to protect the rights of the owner. If this is the cause of your problem when trying to take a screenshot in Windows, then you simply will have to accept it.

Other tools: External tools for screenshots on Windows

While the snipping tool already offers more features than the simple key combination for creating screenshots on Windows, it can still be worthwhile trying out some other software options. Programs from external providers are especially recommendable for users who use screenshots professionally, or at least on a daily basis. These screenshot programs sometimes offer more editing options and additional functions, such as automatic scrolling to display long websites in one picture or so-called screencasts—the programs record a video of your desktop. This function is most popular for use in tutorials, since in such videos the creator can easily show their viewers what they need to do instead of trying to painstakingly explain it.

  • ShareX: With the free open source software, you can also create screencasts and GIF files.
  • Screenshot Captor: The slim tool can take pictures of auto-scroll as well as more than one monitor independently.
  • Grabilla: The manufacturer of this screenshot tool has made the software available on various platforms and also offers its own file hosting service.
  • Monosnap: The software is quick and easy to use, yet still offers all of the important features.
  • DuckCapture: In addition to the usual screenshot functions, this tool also offers the possibility to easily assemble multiple screenshots into one big image.