Review of Screen Capture Tools

By Matthew Ellison

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This article describes the general process of capturing screens and reviews some of the leading capture tools available. I revise it annually to take account of new releases, and the current update was completed in January 2010. Since the previous update in February 2009, I have added a description of the Snipping Tool built into Windows Vista and Windows 7, and reviews of two other interesting tools, FastStone Capture and Jing. This latest version of the article also contains updates on seven other popular tools that I have reviewed previously.

Contents

Click a link below to jump to a particular section; click any "CONTENTS" image following a section heading to jump back here.

Introduction    Link to the review contents

Almost all of us need to include screen captures in our user assistance from time to time. It can be very useful, for example, to include an annotated capture of the entire window in order to familiarize users with the layout of an application screen or dialog. Even if it's not your policy to include captures of entire windows, you may still find it useful to include images of specific drop-down menus, toolbars, individual buttons, or cropped regions that highlight key elements of an application interface.

Of course, it's possible to do almost all of this by pressing <Alt>+<Print Screen> to copy the active window to the clipboard, and then pasting it into your favorite image-editing application. However, for each screen capture this requires you to go through the same set of actions in order to crop, set the color depth, add borders or edge effects, and finally save it. If you only take the occasional screen capture, then this is fine. But it can become extremely tedious and time-consuming if you have a large number of screens to capture.

This is where screen capture tools come into their own—they are designed to speed up the process by automating the tasks that you would otherwise have to complete using your regular imaging editing application.

In this article, I look at seven of the leading screen capture tools for Windows. There is a short review of each, including my view of each tool's three key strengths and weaknesses. Finally, I have provided a table that compares the most important features of all seven of the tools side by side.

Note: although an extensive list of features is attractive, the workflow, ease of use, and ability to select and refine capture regions with precision may well be more important criteria on which to base your tool selection.

What You Should Look For in a Screen Capture Tool    Link to the review contents

In order to consider which features of a screen capture tool are the most important, it's worth thinking about the procedure you would go through if you were not using a tool, and had to rely on <Alt>+<Print Screen> and your regular image-editing application.

Let's look at the typical process of capturing a specific region of the screen. Here are the steps that you might go through:

  1. Press <Alt>+<Print Screen> to copy the entire window to the clipboard.
  2. Paste the contents of the clipboard into your image-editing application as a new image.
  3. Use the cropping tool to crop the image to the required region.
  4. If required, use the appropriate features of the image-editing application to add a border, feathered edge, or torn paper edge effect.
  5. Reduce the color depth to 8 bits per pixel (256 colors) using the required palette and dithering method (you will want to ensure that all your captures use the same palette).
  6. Save the image to the required file format.

To make this process quicker and easier, it would be useful if the screen capture tool would do the following for you:

  • Enable you to select and adjust the required region with precision at the time of capture.
  • Automatically add a predefined border or edge effect.
  • Automatically set the required color depth and palette.
  • Automatically default to the required file format during Save As.

If you weren't too concerned about the final file name of the captured image, you might even be happy for the tool to handle all these tasks for you without your intervention. This would effectively give you instant automatic screen captures.

In addition to these basic requirements, I'd also ideally like a screen capture tool to do the following:

  • Provide the option to show or hide the cursor in the capture (all the tools reviewed in this article except MadCap Capture enable you to do this — MadCap Capture gives you the option of inserting a cursor image post-capture).
  • Support the capture of multiple cascaded menus in a single operation. This would otherwise require very detailed and time-consuming image-editing to isolate the menus from the window background.
  • Enable me to annotate the captured images with text captions, highlights, shapes, and arrows. Ideally I would like to be able to maintain and update these annotations, so it would be useful if the screen capture tool was able to store the annotated image in its own vector-based format for future editing.
  • Support the capture of non-rectangular regions, such as ellipses and polygons. Although I usually take rectangular screen captures, it is nice occasionally to have the flexibility of being able to capture different shapes. All the tools in this article provide an option for capturing rectangular regions, but the support for non-rectangular shapes varies greatly.
  • Support single-sourcing by providing medium-specific settings (for resolution, color depth, size, etc.). These would enable me to produce both print and onscreen versions of the captured screen from the same source capture file.

The following reviews discuss each of the tools with particular reference to the key requirements identified above. If you'd like to check which of the tools support a specific feature, then refer to the Comparative Feature Table at the end of the article.

Snipping Tool (included within Microsoft Windows Vista and Windows 7)    Link to the review contents

The Snipping Tool is a very basic screen capture utility that is built into the Windows Vista and Windows 7 operating systems. Although lacking many of the refinements boasted by the third-party products reviewed in this article, it does enable you to capture either entire windows or regions of the screen, add simple annotations, and save to four common file formats. If you have only the occasional need to capture screens, this may well be perfectly adequate. However, serious screen capturers will be frustrated by the lack of screen magnifier and keyboard support, both of which are essential for defining rectangular screen regions with precision.

When you open the Snipping Tool, it initially looks like this:

Snipping Tool window

Snipping Tool window

There are four types of capture (or "snip", the tool's preferred term): Free-form, Rectangular, Window, and Full-screen. Unfortunately, even with such a simple user interface, there are some usability issues, in my opinion: it is not obvious (without reading the instructional text) which snip type is currently active. This means that I frequently find myself wasting an additional mouse click to reveal the menu of snips (shown below) in order to check which one is selected. I also find it rather odd that the New button acts as a toggle, and can be used instead of the Cancel button for canceling a snip that is in progress.

Menu of snip types

Menu of snip types

After completing the snip (without the aid of a screen magnifier as previously noted), the resulting image is displayed within a larger window (known as the mark-up window).

Snipping Tool mark-up window

Snipping Tool mark-up window

You now have the option of highlighting areas of the screen or adding hand-written notes using the rudimentary Highlighter and Pen tools provided. Please don't rely on these for creating the kind of polished captions that you would normally include within end-user documentation — the following rather clumsy annotations (painstakingly added using the TrackPoint Stick on my laptop PC) may serve to lower your expectations:

Snipping Tool mark-up window with annotations

Snipping Tool mark-up window with annotations

If you need to, you can easily remove individual annotations by clicking them with the eraser tool.

One nice little touch is that your Windows clipboard is continuously updated with the current state of the captured image, so at any point you can switch to another application (such as Microsoft Word) and paste in the annotated snip.

While the Snipping Tool remains open, <Ctrl+PrtSc> initiates the screen capture using the last used snip type — if required, you can change the snip type before making a selection.

Strengths

  • Already included within Windows Vista and Windows 7
  • Simple interface
  • Automatically copies images to clipboard

Weaknesses

  • Difficult to capture screen regions precisely
  • Very limited annotation tools
  • Can't be minimized to system tray

Summary of Snipping Tool

A very basic screen capture utility that almost certainly won't satisfy the requirements of professional technical communicators.

For further information or purchase, see windows.microsoft.com/en-US/windows-vista/Use-Snipping-Tool-to-capture-screen-shots.External link


FastStone Capture 6.5 (FastStone Soft)    Link to the review contents

FastStone Capture 6.5 provides a relatively low budget option with an impressive range of features. You have the option of downloading it as a portable application that can be stored on a USB drive and then used on any PC into which the drive is inserted. This could be useful if you are a freelance author who needs to capture screens from a range of different applications and computers. Comparing it with full-featured tools such as SnagIt and MadCap Capture, its main disadvantage is that it has no native file format of its own. So, although you are able to add and adjust captions and highlights within a very nice vector-based editing environment, the images are inevitably flattened when you save them to a file. This means that it is not possible to re-open previously saved captures in order to update or adjust their annotations. This could be a serious drawback for many technical authors who need to be able to revise or update their documentation easily.

Floating FastStone Capture control panel

Floating FastStone Capture control panel

The capture process is initiated either from the small Capture Panel (shown above) or by keyboard shortcut. The keyboard shortcut is available even when FastStone Capture is minimized to the system tray, so FastStone Capture can be constantly available without being obtrusive. There is a wide range of capture types available including window/object, rectangular region, and freeform region. FastStone Capture handles vertical and horizontal scrolling windows quite well, and even offers the option of video capture (with or without audio) of a window or rectangular area to the Windows Media Video (.wmv) file format.

FastStone Capture"s magnified view for region captureThe controls for capturing a rectangular region are very similar to those available in SnagIt. You can use either the mouse or the arrow keys to move the cross-hairs to the required locations for the top-left and bottom-right corners of the region, with the help of the magnified view of the screen (see the image on the right). The advantage of using the arrow keys is that they move the cross-hairs pixel by pixel, which enables you to select the required region with great precision.

The panel below the magnified view provides basic instructions and tips on how to define the region. Although these tips are useful (and unlike SnagIt provide a reference to the arrow keys), I feel that with better organization they could have been made a little clearer .

After capture, the resulting image is displayed within a basic editor (see screenshot below). This enables you to resize the image, crop it, and add a variety of different edge effects (including a fairly well implemented, though somewhat regular, torn edge effect).

Interface of basic FastStone Editor

Interface of basic FastStone Editor

If you need to add annotations to the image, then you are switched to a more advanced vector-based editor that offers a wide range of tools for inserting text boxes, shapes, arrows, highlights, and watermark images. You can control the opacity and drop shadow of each of these objects. It is just a pity that the annotated image can only be saved to a raster-based format, as this means that the annotations can't be subsequently edited.

The FastStone Capture 6.5 package includes two other useful little utilities: a color picker (which enables you to discover the RGB values of any color displayed on your screen) and a screen ruler (which you can use to measure the distance in pixels between any two points on your screen).

Strengths

  • Ability to select rectangular capture regions with precision
  • Good range of vector-based annotation tools and edge effects
  • Option for portable installation

Weaknesses

  • No vector-based storage format available
  • Can't easily resize images to specific percentage (except 50% and 200%)
  • No circular or ellipse capture

Summary of FastStone Capture 6.5

FastStone Capture 6.5 is a well designed tool with a surprisingly wide range of features. Although it lacks a vector-based storage format, it offers good value for its price point.

For further information or purchase, see www.faststone.org/FSCaptureDetail.htm.External link


FullShot 9.5 (Inbit Inc.)    Link to the review contents

FullShot has not changed significantly during the ten month period prior to this most recent update of my review.

As indicated by its relatively high version number, FullShot is a well-established capture tool. It was introduced in 1991, and has been widely used within the documentation industry since then. Version 9.x has a more contemporary-looking user interface than earlier versions, and apparently contains a redesigned screen capture engine under the hood.

FullShot 9.5 user interface

FullShot 9.5 user interface

FullShot is available in three different editions: Standard, Professional, and Enterprise. Since the average pricing of the other screen capture tools reviewed in this article is matched most closely by FullShot's Standard Edition, this is the edition on which I will base most of my comments.

FullShot takes a rather different approach to the capture mechanism from the other tools reviewed in this article—when you open it, a set of special capture buttons is added to the active window of all your applications. Here is an example:

Buttons added by FullShot to the active window

Buttons added by FullShot to the active window

Each button represents a different type of capture: S is the entire screen, W is window, O is object, R is region, etc. These buttons persist even when FullShot is minimized as a taskbar button or hidden in the system tray.

You start a capture by clicking on the appropriate button for the required capture type, or by using the appropriate keyboard shortcut. Using the buttons means that it's impossible to capture the cursor unless you set FullShot's countdown delay option. For this reason, it's usually easier to use the keyboard shortcuts—however, since there is a different key combination for each of the different capture types, these can be quite difficult to remember.

If you select the O button for capturing a specific object, FullShot highlights the region, toolbar, or control that will be captured as you move the pointer around the screen—this ability to capture objects was introduced in version 8.5 and brought FullShot into line with all the other tools reviewed in this article.

When you select the R button for capturing a region, you must then click and drag the mouse pointer in order to define the region. FullShot gives you the option to display the coordinates (in pixels) of the pointer as you move it around the screen, but it does not provide a magnified view of the screen area around the pointer as all of the other tools do. Neither does it enable you to adjust the selection before the region is captured. As a result, it can be difficult to select the required screen area with absolute precision.

A nice feature of FullShot is the ability to take multiple screen captures, and have each captured image represented within a separate window in the FullShot workspace (in the same way as you can have multiple documents open in Microsoft Word). This means that you can capture all your required screens outside of FullShot (you have the option to prevent FullShot coming to the top after each capture) before switching to FullShot in order to annotate and save the images. You can even take advantage of the "Save All Images" command, which enables you to save all your captured images in a single operation. The combination of these features makes for a highly streamlined and efficient process for capturing and working with large numbers of screens.

FullShot has a fairly complex interface with a number of different menus, depending on which edition you have installed. The majority of the most fundamental options are available from a multi-function Capture Settings dialog. You select the category of settings that you want to change from the list on the left, and then the controls for that category are displayed. The following image shows the controls for the Capture category of settings:

Capture Settings dialog

Capture Settings dialog

Most of the categories contain options for a specific capture type (such as region) but the capture category contains general settings that affect all captures. This takes a little bit of getting used to, and altogether I initially found the operation of FullShot to be a little less intuitive than some of the other tools. However, I know that many FullShot users enjoy being able to initiate a screen capture by clicking a button within the actual window to be captured—they find this method to be direct and simple.

FullShot enables you to minimize the size of the image by reducing colors in the FullShot window, or during the Save process (by setting the Automatic Color Reduction option within the "FullShot Save As" dialog). However, it does not enable to you set a specific color depth or palette explicitly.

Through the appropriate combination of settings, FullShot enables you to automate fully the process of optimizing and saving each image to a specific file type. In this way it can be a real time-saver. However, the Standard Edition does not allow you to specify a resolution for the captured image—for this feature, you need to upgrade to the Professional Edition. This is not a major issue since most users will be happy to accept the default of 96 dpi.

FullShot 9 supports a range of special effects that can be added to captured images at capture time. These include a useful 3D drop-shadow that can be applied in any one of four directions. There is also a tear effect that is comparable to the torn edge effect in SnagIt, TNT Screen Capture, and MadCap Capture. This tear effect can be added to any combination of the top, bottom, left, and right edges of the captured image.

There are several post-capture image-editing functions available in FullShot. For example: you can crop the captured image, and blur selected regions of the image. There are also annotation toolbars for adding vector-based text and graphics to screen captures. In the Standard Edition, the toolbars enable you to add lines, basic shapes, and text—the Professional and Enterprise Editions supplement these features with a range of tools for callouts and numeric labels.

Strengths

  • Easy capture using buttons on the window title bar, even when FullShot itself is hidden
  • Supports concurrent editing of multiple screen captures
  • Minimizes file sizes by optimizing the color palette

Weaknesses

  • Difficult to capture screen regions precisely
  • Won't enable you to set the color depth of a captured image to a specific value
  • No support for capturing buttons in the Standard Edition

Summary of FullShot 9

A popular tool with a good track record, FullShot Standard Edition automates the screen capture process very successfully. The tool uses a different capture mechanism and workflow from most of its competitors, and it is a matter of personal preference as to whether it is any more or less easy to use than the other tools. The interface is fairly complex, and it is difficult to capture screen regions precisely.

For further information or purchase, see www.inbit.com/fullshot.html.External link


HyperSnap 6.7 (Hyperionics Technology)    Link to the review contents

Since I reviewed this tool in February 2009, Hyperionics has added support for Windows 7 and an optional portable setup (which enables you to transport and use the application with all its settings on a USB storage device).

HyperSnap 6.7 is a mature and popular screen capture tool. It contains an impressive array of features, matching many of the most useful options available in the other tools reviewed in this article. HyperSnap 6.7 provides a high level of control over the final image file in terms of color depth, palette, and compression. A highlight of the tool, in my view, is its mechanism for defining the target area of the screen for "region" captures—this seems to be rather more intuitive and to offer more precise control than the methods used by some of the other tools reviewed in this article.

Generally I found HyperSnap 6.7 to be a fairly intuitive product—the user interface is well organized, and it has a useful and comprehensive Help system.

HyperSnap 6.7 user interface

HyperSnap 6.7 user interface

HyperSnap 6.7 provides a wide range of different types of screen capture, including entire screen, window or control, region, button (very useful), and Free Hand (added since the last version of this article). There is also a TextSnapTM feature that enables you to capture editable text from most windows and dialogs. There is a keyboard shortcut for each of these capture types, and useful keyboard shortcut (F11) for repeating the last screen capture.

When you start a screen capture (either by using a keyboard shortcut, or by choosing one of the options from the Capture menu), HyperSnap 6.7 minimizes and enables you to select the required target for the capture. If you are selecting a window, control, or button, HyperSnap 6.7 highlights each screen element as you pass your mouse over it. If you are selecting a region, then HyperSnap 6.7 requires you to click the left mouse button once to indicate the top-left corner and then again for the bottom-right corner. Whichever type of capture you are making, HyperSnap 6.7 overlays a useful Help panel on the screen that provides information on the available mouse and keyboard actions for making the selection. It also enables you to control the selection region pixel-by-pixel using the left and right arrow keys, which makes it possible to select a region with great precision.

HyperSnap 6.7 contains a comprehensive set of options and settings for standardizing the color depth, color palette, resolution, and file type of each capture automatically. Uniquely, it also gives you the option of setting parameters for automatically cropping each capture to a specific width and height, which can be very useful for creating a series of captures with identical dimensions.

A nice little refinement for button capture is a setting that enables you to specify a fixed number of extra pixels to be included around the captured button, and I also appreciate the option that enables me to clear the transparent areas of windows under Vista.

HyperSnap 6.7 enables you to save your options and settings to a named external file—this can be read in again when the same configuration of settings is required. I was pleased to see this new feature (added in version 5.60), but did not find it quite as "user-friendly" as the profiles that are provided by MadCap Capture, SnagIt, and TNT.

HyperSnap 6.7 has a number of built-in image editing controls that enable you to crop, resize, annotate, or highlight areas of the captured image. These raster-based editing actions are available from a floating Drawing Tools toolbar that, by default, is docked on the left-hand side of main HyperSnap 6.7 window. So all the pre-and post-capture operations can be completed within a single window.

Strengths

  • Wide range of capture options
  • Well-organized and easy to use interface
  • Support for precise selection of capture region using arrow keys

Weaknesses

  • Limited support for edge effects such as torn paper
  • No built-in vector-based image editor
  • Ability to save configuration settings is not as elegant and intuitive as the capture profiles used by other tools

Summary of HyperSnap 6.7

Overall HyperSnap 6.7 offers a well-designed package that enables easy and very precise capture of regions, buttons, and other screen elements.

For further information or purchase, see www.hyperionics.com/.External link


Jing 2.2 (TechSmith Corporation)    Link to the review contents

Although only a very basic screen capture tool, Jing is free and its real strength is in easily sharing captured images. This enables them to be referenced from emails, blogs, Twitter posts, and IM conversations. The user interface is simple and fun to use, and most of the help and support is provided in the form of short web-based video tutorials. In order to take advantage of its sharing capabilities, you can set up a (free) account on Screencast.com, a media-sharing website hosted by TechSmith.

After capturing an image, you have the option of annotating it using any of the five available drawing tools (see the vertical toolbar in the screenshot below). You can then use the Sharing command (the button on the far left of the horizontal toolbar) to share the image either to Screencast.com, or in fact to any other content-sharing site such as Flickr or YouTube. After the image has been posted, the URL is placed on your computer's clipboard so that it is easy to paste into a message or blog.

Jing toolbar showing Sharing button (far left)

Jing 2.2 toolbar showing Sharing button (far left)

Strengths

  • Support for sharing screen captures quickly and easy through a hosted website
  • Ease of use
  • Web-based support materials including video tutorials

Weaknesses

  • No window or object capture
  • Difficult to capture screen regions precisely
  • No edge effects available

Summary of Jing 2.2

Jing 2.2 is a simple and fun to use utility that enables you quickly to capture and share regions of your computer screen. It is available for both the Windows and Mac OS.

For further information or download, see www.jingproject.com//.External link


MadCap Capture 5 (MadCap Software)    Link to the review contents

There have been two new versions of MadCap Capture since the previous update of this review. The most recent release (v5) has added, amongst other enhancements, a range of new drawing objects and the ability to minimize MadCap Capture to the system tray.

MadCap Capture was first released in October 2006 as a companion product to MadCap's Flare authoring tool, and it has a very similar interface to that of Flare. As well as being capable of capturing screens, it also provides a very powerful image editing environment. One of its most striking features is a tight and seamless integration with Flare; for example, screen captures can be initiated quickly and easily from the Flare interface, and it is possible to use make use of both variables and conditions that have been defined in a Flare project when you are working in Capture.

MadCap Capture is heavily based on "profiles" (named collections of capture settings). To specify your required capture settings, you must use the Profile Editor to create or edit a profile and then ensure that the required profile is selected as the "Current Profile" at capture time. By switching profiles, you can quickly and easily change to different collections of capture settings.

Screenshot of MadCap Capture interface

MadCap Capture interface showing Profiles Editor

MadCap Capture 5 provides an excellent mechanism for precise capture of screen regions. After dragging your mouse to form the required region you are then able to adjust the resulting rectangle by dragging its handles before confirming the capture. A magnified view of the area surrounding the mouse pointer is shown throughout this process.

MadCap Capture 5 also excels at annotating and editing captured images. It provides a comprehensive range of vector-based drawing tools and objects, and even enables you to combine two different bitmap images while keeping each of them on a separate layer so that they can be independently edited or replaced. Although MadCap Capture 5 does now provide an option to include the mouse pointer at capture time, it also has an editing mode that enables you to add a mouse pointer (in a wide range of designs and highlighted in a variety of possible ways) post-capture. As well as choosing from the wide range of cursor images provided by MadCap, you can insert any of the cursor (.cur) files installed on your system.

My favorite feature that distinguishes MadCap Capture from other products is its support for "recapturing" regions using precisely the same screen coordinates as used by the original capture. This is not the same as the "Repeat Last Capture" option available within HyperSnap 6.7 and RoboScreen Capture because MadCap Capture enables you to recapture a region that was originally captured perhaps days or months earlier. It does this by saving an additional file (that has a .props extension) with each captured screen—this file contains the coordinates of the original region capture.

Another capability of this tool is that, if used in conjunction with MadCap's Flare authoring tool, it enables you to "single-source" different two different image files (one suited to onscreen presentation and the other optimized for print) from the same capture. You optionally specify a Print Format (including file format, color depth and DPI) within your capture profile, and this information is stored alongside each captured image in the same .props file mentioned in the previous paragraph. But what if you happened to require a higher resolution or greater color depth in your printed version than you had stored in your captured image file? MadCap Capture caters for this by creating at capture time a lossless version of the captured image as TIFF code. It embeds this TIFF code within, yes you've guessed it, the .props file. MadCap Flare can then use this to generate the required print file format when building print-oriented output (such as a FrameMaker document).

A final consideration is that, to get the most from this tool you will need to purchase its companion product, MadCap Flare.

Strengths

  • Integration with MadCap Flare, and support for "single-sourcing" screen- and print-oriented image formats
  • Ability to reproduce the position and dimensions of previous region captures
  • Powerful and multi-layered vector-based image editor

Weaknesses

  • Reliance on Flare to exploit certain features fully
  • Steeper learning curve than some of the other tools
  • Edge effects (such as torn edge) perhaps not quite as well implemented as some of the other tools in this review

Summary of MadCap Capture 5

A very interesting and innovative screen capture tool that has focused on streamlining the screen capture workflow rather than necessarily competing on feature-count. A compelling option for users of MadCap Flare.

For further information or purchase, see www.madcapsoftware.com/products/capture/.External link

RoboScreen Capture 2 (Adobe)    Link to the review contents

RoboScreen Capture 2 is based on the code for version 5 of HyperSnap, which was licensed in 2003 to eHelp Corporation. RoboScreen Capture 2 is now included by Adobe in its RoboHelp 8 authoring tool and is not available to buy separately.

RoboScreen Capture user interface

RoboScreen Capture user interface

RoboScreen Capture 2 is therefore very similar to HyperSnap 6.7, and provides an impressive array of useful features. These include the ability to add raster-based captions and "stamps" to a capture image. However, RoboScreen Capture 2 lacks the enhancements that have been added to HyperSnap since 2003. For example, RoboScreen Capture 2 does not enable you to save capture settings for future use.

If you are a user of either version 7 or 8 of Adobe RoboHelp, then RoboScreen Capture's tight integration with RoboHelp makes it a compelling option. You can initiate the screen capture process and enter the required name for the capture file from right within RoboHelp's own interface. Then, after completing the screen capture, the captured image is automatically saved within the RoboHelp project directory and inserted into the current topic. This can potentially save a number of steps that would otherwise need to be completed manually if another capture tool was being used.

Strengths

  • Wide range of capture options
  • Support for precise selection of capture region using arrow keys
  • Tight integration with Adobe RoboHelp versions 7 and 8

Weaknesses

  • No support for edge effects such as fade or torn paper
  • No built-in vector-based image editor
  • Doesn't enable you to save capture settings for future use

Summary of RoboScreen Capture 2

Overall RoboScreen Capture 2 offers a well-designed package that enables easy and very precise capture of regions, buttons, and other screen elements. It is bundled with Adobe RoboHelp versions 7 and 8 and has been well integrated with these products. RoboScreen Capture 2 is not available to buy separately.

For further information or purchase, see www.adobe.com/products/robohelp/.External link


ScreenHunter 5.1 Free (Wisdom Software)    Link to the review contents

If you're looking for a basic screen capture utility and don't have any budget available, then you might want to consider one of the many tools that can be downloaded for free. Of these, ScreenHunter Free is one of the most popular, but note that TNT Screen Capture (included in this article) is also available at no cost for non-commercial use.

ScreenHunter Free has not changed significantly during the ten month period prior to this most recent update of my review.

ScreenHunter 5 Free user interface

ScreenHunter 5.1 Free user interface

ScreenHunter 5.1 Free is a stripped down version of ScreenHunter 5 Pro. The Pro version (for which you will need to pay a license fee) has a feature set similar to that of the other tools reviewed in this article. I have chosen to review the Free version because it represents an option for those users who don't want to spend any money.

ScreenHunter 5.1 Free enables you to capture rectangular areas, active windows, or the entire desktop. When you capture rectangular areas by dragging your mouse, it provides a magnified view of the area around the mouse pointer. However, it does not enable you to adjust the selected region before confirming the capture (one of my key wishlist items for a useful capture tool).

You can capture either to the clipboard or to a file, but only .bmp, .gif, and .jpg formats are supported. The files are saved automatically using a set of user-definable file-naming options—although this has the advantage that no user intervention is required, the downside is that there is no option in the Free version to supply a specific name for individual captures. Nor are you able to add annotations or any form of effects before saving.

I like the fact that ScreenHunter can be easily hidden to the system tray by clicking the prominent Stand By button. While in the system tray, ScreenHunter will still respond to the capture hotkey thus providing a very simple and unobtrusive way of doing basic screen captures.

Strengths

  • Zero cost
  • Simplicity of interface
  • Stand By mode that hides the application in the system tray

Weaknesses

  • No .png output format in the Free version
  • Very restricted capture options in the Free version
  • No ability to adjust the capture region before confirmation of capture

Summary of ScreenHunter 5.1 Free

A basic capture tool that is free to download but lacks some important advanced features. A more feature-rich version of the product is available at a cost.

For further information or download, see www.wisdom-soft.com/sh/index.htm.External link


SnagIt 9.1 (TechSmith Corporation)    Link to the review contents

SnagIt has not changed during the ten month period prior to this most recent update of my review.

SnagIt is, in my view, probably the most full-featured of the capture tools reviewed in this article. Though a complex product, it's also easy to use thanks to a well-designed interface and workflow.

The workflow at the heart of the tool supports the author's needs at every stage of the capture process. It enables you to select capture settings (including a wide-range of standardization options and effects) capture the image, preview it, and optionally use a range of vector-based editing tools to add callouts, arrows, stamps, etc.

The capture settings over which you have control are logically organized into four groups: Input (screen, window, region, etc.); Output (file, email, catalog, etc.); Effects for standardizing on image resolution, adding edge effects, etc.; and Options. The current status of each of these settings is displayed graphically in the SnagIt window, which is a really nice touch—you can quickly check the current settings without needing to use any menu options or dialogs.

SnagIt user interface showing current settings

SnagIt user interface showing current settings

SnagIt supports almost all the capture options available in the other tools in this article. Of all the tools, it has the widest selection of options for the shape of the capture region, and its Effects options enable the automatic creation of a variety of edge effects including drop shadow, fade, and torn paper. Like TNT and MadCap Capture, SnagIt provides profiles that enable you to save and reuse specific combinations of capture settings.

Among its other impressive features are the following:

  • Library: this storage system makes the management and retrieval of captured images easier. SnagIT stores a range of useful metadata with each captured image, including the name of the application or website that it was captured from; you can also apply your own keywords and flags. It is then possible to filter the list of images in the Library using any of these criteria.
  • Text capture: this enables you to capture editable text from screens such as file listings, error messages, and status pane information.
  • Printer capture: this enables you to capture an image of what is sent to the printer, and is activated by printing to the SnagIt printer from any application that can print.
  • Batch Conversion: in a single operation you can convert multiple image files to a specific file format, at the same time applying a range of optional modifications such as a reduction in color depth and new edge effects.
  • Links/Hotspots feature: this feature, introduced in version 8, enables you to add interactivity to your captured images easily.
  • Auto-Save: new in version 9, SnagIt automatically preserves each captured image in its Library even if you forget to save it.

You activate a capture by clicking the Capture button within the SnagIt interface, or by pressing <PrintScreen> (the default hotkey). This keyboard shortcut can be used even when SnagIt is minimized, at which time it resides in the system tray.

SnagIt"s magnified view for region captureTo specify a capture region, you click and drag the left-hand mouse button to form the region—a magnified view of a small area of the screen surrounding the cursor is displayed for greater precision (see the image beside this text). As soon as you release the left mouse button, the capture is complete.

As an alternative to using the mouse, you can press the arrow keys to move the cross-hairs pixel by pixel, or five pixels at a time by simultaneously pressing <Ctrl>. This method enables you to define the capture region with great precision. However, because it is not mentioned within the onscreen instructions provided by SnagIt (at the time of writing), I suspect that the majority of users will not discover it.


After capturing a screen, you have the option of displaying the resulting image in the SnagIt Editor, a sophisticated ribbon-based application that contains a wide range of vector-based editing and annotation tools. Amongst these is Resize Image, which supports smooth scaling and previews immediately the effect of the resize as you change the percentage values for width and height.

SnagIt Editor

SnagIt Editor

The final captured image can be sent automatically to one or more from a wide range of possible outputs including file, printer, clipboard, email, Word, PowerPoint, FTP server, Instant Messenger, or any external graphics editor.

Capturing files from the Internet

You can use SnagIt 9.1 to capture automatically from a web site a range of file types (including images, audio, and video), specifying a limit for the number of links that it will traverse from the home page while searching for these files. In addition, you have the option of capturing a Web page and having all of the links remain clickable.

Strengths

  • Exceptionally well-designed interface and workflow
  • Comprehensive options for capturing, standardizing, and adding effects to images
  • Bundled tools include powerful vector-based image editor and file management utility

Weaknesses

  • The ability to select capture regions with precision using the arrow keys is not documented, and is therefore not easily discoverable
  • Rather lame capture sound effect
  • Ribbon-based interface of SnagIt Editor may be unfamiliar to some users

Summary of SnagIt 9.1

A full-featured package with a logical workflow that is likely to address the needs of even the most demanding of user assistance developers.

For further information or purchase, see www.techsmith.com/snagit.asp.External link


TNT Screen Capture 2 (EC Software)    Link to the review contents

TNT has not changed during the ten month period prior to this most recent update of my review.

TNT has the least extensive and simplest interface of all the tools reviewed in this article, apart from ScreenHunter Free. However, it is very well designed and, despite its simplicity, offers a range of features and options that will satisfy the needs of most authors. Development of TNT is currently on hold, and the application has recently been made free for private use. This makes it a very attractive option for casual users who are on a tight budget.

TNT Screen Capture 2 user interface

TNT Screen Capture 2 user interface

When it was first released to the screen capture market, TNT introduced some unique and innovative new features. For example, it was the first screen capture tool to offer a torn paper edge option, although this option is now also available in other tools. Another very nice feature is the capture wizard, which is implemented using WinHelp 4's Training Card functionality. This enables you to set the capture options and make the capture from the Help itself—it's a very effective demonstration of how online Help can actually be used as an extension of the user interface, and incidentally is the only implementation of Microsoft's Training Card Help that I ever remember seeing (outside of its token usage within the UA for Microsoft Help Workshop). Note that the capture wizard will not run on Windows Vista.

TNT's capture options are all presented within the main screen. These options, although relatively small in number, are well chosen. They enable a high degree of capture flexibility and they automate all the tasks of a typical screen capture. In addition to the standard options for capturing windows and rectangular regions, TNT supports the capture of fixed-size regions (useful for making a series of screen captures that all have the same size). It also enables you to set the capture region to a variety of different shapes—these include rounded rectangle, ellipse, and a selection of predefined shapes with "torn paper" edges, such as in the example below:

Example of torn paper capture

Example of torn paper capture

When you minimize TNT, it is not displayed on the Taskbar like a regular minimized application, but instead becomes an icon in the system tray. When TNT is present in the system tray, pressing the <Print Screen> button activates a TNT capture using the current settings.

Each time you initiate a capture, an information window appears that tells you how to select the required capture region—there is an option to prevent this window appearing again. To specify a capture region, you click and drag the left-hand mouse button to form the region—a small window appears showing the coordinates of the current cursor position, and a magnified view of a small area of the screen surrounding the cursor. This enables greater precision in defining the region. You complete the capture by clicking inside of the rectangle. This method is intuitive, and has the benefit of enabling you to redefine the region until it's correct before confirming the capture.

There is an option for applying an automatic zoom factor at capture, and this includes a number of different smooth-scaling algorithms from which you can select. In practice, however, it's always best to make screen captures without resizing (i.e., using a zoom factor of 100%). TNT 2's main screen incorporates a toolbar for adding raster-based images and annotations to your screens after capturing them.

A useful time-saving feature of TNT is the ability to save a set of capture settings as a named profile. You can set this profile to load automatically when you start TNT in the future, and it is also possible to load a specific profile at any time while using the product.

Strengths

  • Ease of use
  • Wide range of capture types and settings
  • Online Help that uses Training Card functionality to operate as a wizard

Weaknesses

  • No support for capturing individual buttons
  • No support for capturing multiple cascading menus
  • No direct support for capturing the desktop—instead you must drag the selection frame to include the entire desktop

Summary of TNT Screen Capture 2

An innovative and streamlined capture tool that is exceptionally simple and easy to use.

For further information or purchase, see www.ec-software.com/tnt.htm.External link


Comparative Feature Table    Link to the review contents

This table is not intended to contain a comprehensive listing of each of the tool's features. It is, instead, a side-by-side comparison of the tools' support for some of the features that I have identified as being of highest priority.

  Snipping Tool FastStone Capture 6.5 FullShot 9.5 HyperSnap 6.7 Jing 2.2 MadCap Capture 5 RoboScreen
Capture 2
ScreenHunter 5.1 Free SnagIt 9.1 TNT 2.1
Supports capturing non-rectangular regions Yes
(Free-form only)
Yes
(Freehand only)
Yes
(Rounded rectangle, ellipse)
Yes
(Rounded rectangle, ellipse, polygon)
No Yes
(Three stage process)
Yes
(Rounded rectangle, ellipse, polygon)
No Yes
(Rounded rectangle, ellipse, triangle, polygon)
Yes
(Rounded rectangle, ellipse, various paper edge shapes)
Supports capturing freehand regions Yes Yes Yes Yes No No Yes No Yes No
Supports capturing objects/controls No Yes Yes Yes No Yes Yes No Yes Yes
Supports capturing individual buttons No No Only in Professional and Enterprise Editions Yes No Yes Yes No Yes No
Supports optional capture of cursor No Yes Yes Yes No Yes
(and cursor object can be added in the Capture Editor)
Yes Yes Yes Yes
Magnifies area surrounding cursor during region selection No Yes No Yes No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Enables selected region to be adjusted before capture No Yes No Yes No Yes Yes No Yes No
  Snipping Tool FastStone Capture 6.5 FullShot 9.5 HyperSnap 6.7 Jing 2.2 MadCap Capture 5 RoboScreen
Capture 2
ScreenHunter 5.1 Free SnagIt 9.1 TNT 2.1
Optional timer delay No Yes Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes Yes No
Supports capture of single drop-down menu Yes Yes Yes Yes No No Yes No Yes Yes
Supports capture of multiple cascading menus No No Yes Yes
(through multi-region capture)
No No Yes
(through multi-region capture)
No Yes No
Supports capturing editable text No No No Yes No No No No Yes No
Supports recapture of screen regions from previous capture session No No No No No Yes No No No No
Supports capturing DirectX windows No Yes No Yes No No Yes No Yes No
Supports auto scroll of long windows No Yes Only in Professional and Enterprise Editions Yes No Yes Yes No Yes No
  Snipping Tool FastStone Capture 6.5 FullShot 9.5 HyperSnap 6.7 Jing 2.2 MadCap Capture 5 RoboScreen
Capture 2
ScreenHunter 5.1 Free SnagIt 9.1 TNT 2.1
Option to set resolution automatically No Yes Only in Professional and Enterprise Editions Yes No Yes Yes No Yes No
Option to set color depth automatically No Yes Yes
(Automatic Color Reduction option)
Yes No Yes
(16-bit, 24-bit, or 32-bit)
Yes No Yes Yes
Option to set output file type automatically No Yes Yes Yes No
Only .png supported
Yes Yes No Yes Yes
Option to crop to standard size automatically No No
Image can be cropped as an extra step
No Yes No Yes Yes No No No
Option to resize with smooth scaling automatically No No
Image can be resized as an extra step
No Yes No Yes Yes No Yes Yes
Option to save capture to a file without user intervention No Yes Yes Yes No No Yes Yes Yes Yes
Option to add special edge effects automatically No No
Edge effects can be added as an extra step
Yes No No Yes No No Yes Yes
Option to share capture through hosted website No No No No Yes No No No No No
  Snipping Tool FastStone Capture 6.5 FullShot 9.5 HyperSnap 6.7 Jing 2.2 MadCap Capture 5 RoboScreen
Capture 2
ScreenHunter 5.1 Free SnagIt 9.1 TNT 2.1
Supports post-capture batch processing No No No No No No No No Yes No
Raster-based image editor Yes No Yes Yes No No Yes No Yes Yes
Vector-based image editor No Yes Yes No Yes Yes No No Yes No
Vector-based file format for storage No No Yes No No Yes No No Yes No
Independent settings for print output No No No No No Yes No No No No
Sound effect for capture No Yes Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes
Wizard-driven capture option No No No No No No No No Yes Yes
  


Matthew Ellison

Matthew Ellison is an independent user assistance professional with more than 20 years of experience in the software industry. He is a certified instructor and consultantExternal link for a range of Help Authoring Tools (HATs) and also organizes the annual UA Europe conferenceExternal link. Matthew is based in the UK and can be contacted at matthew@ellisonconsulting.com.


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Posted on January 17, 2010