Screen capture tools and image editors for technical documentation

Market overview of recommendable tools for creating screen captures (screenshots, screen dumps). Plus a market overview of recommendable image editors and graphics software in connection with the creation of technical documentation and user assistance.

For information on the indicated price levels , see Price levels.

Screen capture tools

SnagIt

Easy to use, nothing missing. Added texts can be updated and translated at any time. Several useful additional functions, such as basic video capture. Optional integration with Microsoft Word and some other programs. Also available in a version for the Mac.

Price level: low

HelpXplain

Essentially a tool for making slide-based screencasts, but can also be used for making and annotating static screen captures very efficiently and effectively.

Price level: low

MadCap Capture

Focuses especially on the requirements of technical documentation and single source publishing. Supports text variables. Users of the authoring system Flare (developed by the same company) can save images automatically in two versions: one version for online help, and one version for printed user manuals. The online version, for example, can be in color, the print version in gray. Also the resolution of both versions can be different. Images remain fully editable, irrespective of their format. Elements can be saved to palettes and reused. The design of the elements added to your screenshots, such as callouts, can be standardized conveniently. Only available in combination with MadCap Flare.

Ashampoo Snap

Price level: low

Screenpresso

Simple to use and with modern editing objects and effects.

Price level: low

PaintShop Pro

Although essentially a general purpose image editor, this application also comes with a number of powerful screen capturing functions. Compared to dedicated screen capture tools this gives you much more editing possibilities. However, on the other hand, editing may be more complex and lacks the option to add the elements are frequently needed with screenshots at a click of a button, such as callouts.

Price level: low

H@rdcopy

Especially powerful if you want to print screen captures directly on paper, but also has many advanced options to save as files.

Price level: low

Greenshot

Popular open source application that saves screenshots to files and also comes with some basic editing functions.

Price level: free (open source)

Flameshot

Open-source, cross-platform tool to take, edit, and annotate screenshots.

Price level: free (open source)

Screenphoto

Basic, uncomplicated screen capture tool.

Price level: low

Apowersoft Screen Capture Pro

Price level: low

HyperSnap

Price level: low

PicPick

Basic screen capture tool, combined with image editor, color picker, color palette, pixel ruler, protractor, cross hairs, and whiteboard.

Price level: low

Screenshot Captor

Price level: low

WinSnap

Price level: low

SPX Instant Screen Capture

Price level: low

FRAPS

Creates screen captures and movies from video games.

Price level: low

SnapDraw

Comes with many editing features.

Price level: free (freeware)

ShareX

Primarily built for easy sharing of screenshots, but can also be used for storing your screenshots locally. Comes with a number of editing features.

Price level: free (open source)

7capture

Simple screen capture tool that can automatically handle rounded corners and semi-transparent window backgrounds.

Price level: free (freeware)

TNT Screen Capture

Especially helpful if you’ve made individual color settings in Windows. You can reset your custom colors to the Windows default values on command, shoot your image, and finally restore your individual settings automatically. In addition, the tool can automatically save a copy of each screen capture as a thumbnail and has an option to render screen captures as 3-dimensional presentation images.

Price level: free (freeware)

GIMP

The popular image editor also comes with a built-in function to capture the entire screen, or individual windows or areas. You can then edit screenshots directly within GIMP.

Price level: free (open source)

PrtScr

Basic, straight-forward screen capture tool.

Price level: free (freeware)

Scenegrabber.NET

Specialized on creating screenshots from movies.

Price level: free (freeware)

Clicktrace

Automatically takes a screenshot whenever something changes on screen. Can be used, for example, for documenting test cases.

Price level: free (open source)

Capto

Full-featured screen capture tool especially for the Mac.

Price level: low

Spectacle

The screen capture tool of KDE.

Price level: free (open source)

Screen capture tools for web browsers

For taking screen captures of web pages and web applications, another option can be to use one of the many browser extensions that are available especially for this purpose. These applications can be particularly handy for capturing long pages that need some scrolling, which is something where standalone screen capture often have problems with.

A few of these browser extensions are:

Screen capture functions of the operating system

If you only need to take a limited number of screen captures, there’s also the option to capture them manually. On Windows: Using the Print Screen key, you can copy the currently displayed screen contents to the clipboard. Using the key-combination Alt+Print Screen, you can copy the contents of the active window. Windows key + Shift + S lets you select an area on the screen and copies it to the clipboard. Then, you can directly paste the clipboard contents into any document or graphics editor.

On Windows you can also use the Snipping Tool, which lets you instantly save basic screen captures as a file. However, if you want to apply any special effects or if you want to add callouts, you’ll have to use some general-purpose graphics software to do so manually.

On Windows with a touchscreen or pen, the built-in Screen Sketch application is another option..

On the Mac, the operating system also provides a number of build-in options to capture both entire screens and specific regions. Command key+Shift+3 saves the whole screen, Command key+Shift+4 saves a selected region, and Command key+Shift+4, and then immediately pressing the spacebar saves a selected item to the desktop. Note: If you also hold down the Ctrl key, this saves to the clipboard instead of saving to the desktop.

If you need more options, Command key+Shift+5 opens a screenshot toolbar.

Graphic programs for technical illustrations

SOLIDWORKS Composer

Price level: not published

Arbortext IsoDraw

Price level: not published

CorelDRAW Technical Suite

Price level: medium

Canvas

Price level: medium

XVL Technical Illustration Suite

Price level: not published

Some free CAD programs

Tools for creating interactive 3D images

In this field, some tools with a focus on technical communication are:

Pixel-based general image editors

Adobe Photoshop

Price level: medium

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom

Price level: medium

PaintShop Pro

Price level: low

Affinity Photo

Price level: low

Fotophire

Price level: low

GIMP

Price level: free (open source)

Photopea

Price level: free (web application)

ImageMagick

Price level: free (open source)

Paint.NET

Price level: free (open source)

Krita

Painting program designed for creating illustrations, line drawings, textures, comics, and animations.

Price level: free (open source)

RawTherapee

Price level: free (open source)

PIXLR Editor

Price level: diverse

fotor

Price level: diverse

MyPaint

Designed for pressure sensitive graphics tablets.

Price level: free (open source)

Vector-based general image editors

Microsoft Visio

Price level: medium

OmniGraffle

Diagramming and drawing application for the Mac.

Price level: low

SmartDraw

Price level: medium

ConceptDraw

Price level: medium

CorelDRAW Graphics Suite

Price level: medium

Affinity Designer

Price level: low

Xara Designer Pro (NEW ENTRY)

Price level: low

InkScape

Price level: free (open source)

diagrams.net / draw.io

Available both as a desktop program and as a web application.

Price level: free (freeware)

Lunacy

Price level: free (freeware)

yEd Graph Editor

Price level: free (freeware)

MyDraw

Specialized on drawing diagrams.

Price level: low

Boxy SVG

Price level: low

gliffy

Collaborative charts editor.

Price level: medium

Method Draw

Price level: free (open source)

Tools for choosing colors

Paletton

Color scheme generator that helps you to find harmonic color combinations.

Price level: free (web application)

Adobe Color CC

Web application that lets you browse and create color themes. Also provides access to a wide variety of community created color combinations.

Price level: free (web application)

Colormind

Suggests colors that can nicely be combined with a given color. Uses a built-in algorithm that learns from other people’s preferences.

Price level: free (web application)

iWantHue

Generates palettes of optimally distinct colors. Especially helpful for designing charts, diagrams, and infographics.

Price level: free (web application)

Picular

Color search engine. Provides a selection of colors based on a word that you enter.

Price level: free (web application)

ColorHexa

Versatile color tool with many functions.

Price level: free (web application)

Color Hex

Another great color tool.

Price level: free (web application)

Vischeck

Simulates colorblind vision. You can upload an image files or enter the URL of a web page.

Price level: free (web application)

Miscellaneous handy graphics utilities

Sizer

Resizes any window to a predefined size. Can be helpful when creating screen captures of windows that must have given dimensions.

Price level: free (freeware)

Magic eraser (NEW ENTRY)

AI-powered web application to remove unwanted items from photos.

Price level: low

JPEGmini

Significantly compresses JPEG images without affecting perceptual quality.

Price level: low

Squoosh

Image compressor that supports various file formats for input and output, many settings and a nice preview. Promises to work locally, so your images aren’t sent to an unknown place on the web.

Price level: free (web application)

PNGGauntlet

Compresses PNG files without losing image quality.

Price level: free (freeware)

pngquant

Command-line utility for lossy compression of PNG images. Preserves full alpha transparency.

Price level: free (open source)

TinyPNG

Image compressor for PNG and JPEG files.

Price level: free (web application)

Optimizilla

Shrinks JPEG and PNG images.

Price level: free (web application)

Potrace

Command line tool that converts bitmap images to vector drawings. On the project home page, there are also some links to free third-party GUIs for this tool.

Price level: free (open source)

Vector Magic

Commercial tool to convert bitmap images to vector images.

Price level: medium

FontForge

Allows you to edit outline and bitmap fonts. This can be a good alternative to using bitmap icons, for example, when you want to visualize specific keys from the keyboard or other user interface controls. The program an also convert between PostScript, TrueType, OpenType, CID, and SVG.

Price level: free (open source)

Pencil

GUI prototyping tool. Can also draw diagrams.

Price level: free (open source)

Iconion

Enables you to convert any icon font into png icons by adding color, shadow, gradient, etc.

Price level: low

Sign Builder

Specialized program for creating safety, industrial, and general-purpose signs.

Price level: medium

Mockup Generator by pixeltrue

Can put a screen capture into a mockup of various vendor-neutral monitors and mobile devices.

Price level: free (web application)

RAWGraphics

Calls itself the “missing link between spreadsheets and data visualization”. Can create advanced visualizations from spreadsheet data. The final images can be downloaded in SVG, PNG or JPG format. You can also save images in the tool’s own format for future editing.

Price level: free (web application)

Some free Favicon generators (NEW ENTRY)

Decision aids: Choosing a screen capture tool

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 meets your specific needs best.

Range of image capturing

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?

Screen capturing process

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?

Post-processing

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?

Later modification of 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.

Handling of the application

How long does it take to learn how to use the tool?

How simple and efficient is its operation?

How good is the documentation?

Additional functions

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 01/2023
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