Choosing a Screen Capture Tool

Checklist of key criteria for selecting a tool to take screen captures (screenshots / screen dumps). Screen captures are used within all forms of software documentation, such as user manuals, online help files, interactive demos and tutorials, but also for web sites and brochures.

If you frequently need to create screen captures, a small investment in a specialized screen capture tool will soon pay off. A professional screen capture tool enables you to “shoot,” save, and edit the images quickly and efficiently. Effects often needed for technical documentation, such as drop shadow or torn edges, cropping of menus, etc., can be added with a click of the mouse. With a general purpose image editor, this would be much more cumbersome.

However, not all the functions offered by many screen capture tools are equally relevant for technical documentation purposes. The following checklist can help you decide which screen capture tool is best suited for your specific needs.

Note: You can find a list of tools under Screen Capture Tools.

Can you capture selective areas such as the entire desktop, individual windows, menus, buttons, etc.?
Can you also select any area manually? Is it possible to select it up to the pixel level? Can you create several images with uniform dimensions?
Are captured windows with rounded edges reproduced correctly or do parts of the background remain visible?
Is it possible to capture menus, multilevel menus, and context menus? Are the menus in the images automatically cropped?
Can you decide whether or not to show the mouse cursor?
Can you set the desired resolution (dpi)?
Can you set the number of colors?
Can you modify the shortcut keys so that you can even create a screen capture if another program is using the default shortcut key already? Can you also create screen captures via the capture tool menu without having to remember a shortcut key?
Can you make screen captures with a time delay so that you have ample time, if necessary, to set the recorded application to a particular state?
Is there an auto scroll function that enables you to record the contents that extend beyond the visible screen area?
Can you combine several isolated interface elements, such as overlapping windows, into one single image? Or is it necessary to remove the background manually in this case?
Can you efficiently create a large number of images and save them efficiently using automatically generated file names?
Can you apply effects and settings automatically without having to edit each image manually?
Can you save the settings used for a certain sequence of actions as a profile?
Is it possible to integrate the screen capture tool with your authoring tool?
Can you rename several files automatically and convert them into another format through batch conversion?
Does the application have browsing capability so you can quickly search for previously created screen captures?
Can you perform the following basic editing actions on the images created?
crop
reduce/enlarge
edit on the pixel level
What are the useful effects offered by the software, especially for illustrations in technical documentation? Do they include:
drop shadow edge
torn edge
cutout images with fading edges
semi-transparent highlighting
magnification of partial areas
blurring out of irrelevant areas
callouts, arrows, lines, and comments
What’s your overall visual impression of the output?
Can you directly open the created images in another graphics program such as Photoshop, for example, to further edit the images?
Can the text of added callouts still be edited after saving the image? This is especially important when you want to update or translate a text. Or do you have to create a fresh screen capture and repeat the actions all over again when you find a typo?
Can you update the screen captures in such a way that manually inserted effects, elements, and comments are retained? This is especially important when the GUI of the software has changed, but your comments, arrows, callouts, etc., are still valid.
How long does it take to learn how to use the tool?
How simple and efficient is its operation?
How good is the documentation?

In most cases, additional functions such as sending the image via email, uploading via FTP, or other gimmicks are truly secondary.

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This page was last updated 11/2014

 

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