Screen captures have become part of our computer culture… “I’ll send you a screen shot of the window so you can see what I’m talking about”. Now it’s just part of the necessary pace of computer use. If you need to take a quick picture of your desktop or a single open window, this is easy enough to do by pressing PrtScr or Alt-PrtScr and then pasting into an email or document. However, if you produce any kind of documentation, learning manuals or publications; this aint gonna cut it. Since Vista, Windows even offers a simple screen snipping tool in the Accessories group of the Start menu but it’s not industrial-strength. I’m a book author and have been writing computer training material for several years. Screen captures are a fundamental part of authoring and if they’re not done right, even good written work can look sloppy and unprofessional.
I’ve been using TechSmith SnagIt for at least ten years and I will not use another tool. I know that sounds like a commercial but I’m not on their payroll. I’ve paid for the software licensing for years. As a Microsoft MVP, I do get NFR copies of this and other software – whether I say good things about their products or not. I’m continually impressed at just how much this simple application can do. I’m not aware of another software development shop that updates their software as often nor as effectively as the folks at TechSmith.
You’d be hard pressed to find a program as intuitive and elegant as SnagIt Pro. Once I get rolling, I find myself taking screenshots just for the sheer enjoyment. If I’m documenting a series of steps in a process, I can crank through the screen captures as I do the work with little thought about how to crop windows, where to save the files or how to name them. Multi-window composites and fly-out menus are easy as pie. I can include the mouse pointer, add drop shadows, separate the background, create torn page effects, add arrows, shapes, stamps and call-outs easily and with professional polish. The new dynamic window selection interface rocks. You just wave your mouse around the screen and SnagIt magically highlights different windows and objects for selection. With a fully-evolved UI, many if the core features are accessible without fishing through menus and dialogs. I love the auto-scroll targets that capture off-screen content – and one of my long-time favorite features is the ability to convert a block of on-screen bitmapped characters to text.
Having a software development background, I’m pretty critical about UI design and functionality. Over the years as I’ve used older versions of SnagIt and have thought “it’s cool that it has this feature but I wish it worked a little differently”. To my delight and amazement, in a subsequent release, that feature was improved. I haven’t yet figured out where their mind-reading feedback feature is in the software but I’m not complaining. Here’s one example: If I need to capture a small portion of a window, in the past I had to place the little cross-hair pointer in the right location and as I clicked the mouse button to grab it, I might end up moving a pixel or two before the selection was made. I thought “it sure would it be nice of there was some kind of zoom window or magnifying glass so I could work with more precision.” Low and behold, guess what shows up in version 10? I’m sure there’s a checkbox on a configuration screen somewhere labeled “read my mind and send feedback to TechSmith.”
Cleaning up goofs is easy as well. Forgot to include the pointer? Just add one. Forgot to move the pointer off of a window? Just remove it. Aside from working with screen captures, the SnagIt Editor has become my tool of choice for basic bitmap editing. It’s not PhotoShop but it’s a heck of a lot easier to use for quick fixes, composite image work and bitmap manipulation. I haven’t opened MS Paint on my machine for years. Now with transparency support, the editor really does have the whole enchilada for basic bitmap work. When I start work on a new book or training manual, one of the first directions I give all the members of my writing team is to download and install the latest version of SnagIt Pro. If you can get your work done within 30 days, it’s free but plan on shelling out the $50. It’s well worth the investment.