How to Capture a Screenshot in Windows

The Mystery of the PrtScn Key Revealed

Print Screen keyboard
solylunafamilia via Flickr [CC BY 2.0]

One method for taking a screenshot in Windows is hiding in plain sight. The PrtScn (print screen) key on your keyboard doesn't seem to do anything when you hit it, but that is your key to capturing whatever is on your computer screen at the moment.

The Print Screen button copies an image of your screen onto the "clipboard," making it ready to paste into any graphics program. These steps show you how to use it along with Windows' standard image editor, Microsoft Paint, to save an image of your screen.

How to Use the Print Screen Button

Depending on your keyboard, the Print Screen button may be labeled [PrtScn] or PRTSC. If you're using a laptop, you may need to press the Function key at the same time.

  1. Press the Windows key and the Print Screen key on your keyboard. 
  2. Open an image editing program, such as Microsoft Paint, Adobe Photoshop, or any of the free photo editors available.
  3. The screenshot is saved to your Windows clipboard and it will only save one screenshot at a time. This means that you need to open a new image file in the program. For most programs, this is done by choosing File in the menu, then New. 
  4. With the new image file open, use the paste command (Edit > Paste or Control + V) and your screenshot will appear in the file.
  5. You can then choose to crop the screenshot to show only the parts you need. You might also want to block out any personal details (like bookmarks in the internet browser bar) that you don't want other people to see.
  1. After any necessary edits are complete, save your image in the desired location using File > Save As in the main menu.
  2. Choose a name for your file, select a file type, and click the Save button

Print Screen Tips and Tricks

While the Print Screen function is very easy to use, there are a few tips that will help you understand how it works and get the most out of it.

Use the Alt key. Hold the Alt key down while pressing Print Screen to capture only the active window.

What is the file size? As long as you have already hit the Print Screen button, most image programs will create an image sized to match your screen resolution. For example, if your screen resolution is 1366x688, the new image will default to 1366x688 pixels at 72 dpi.

Which file type is best? In general, the PNG or GIF format works best when saving screenshots of application windows. The JPEG format usually makes screenshots blurry, blotchy and discolored. This is particularly annoying when it includes text.

What is the clipboard? The Windows "clipboard" is a term used to describe the temporary storage space where an item is placed when you copy or cut it. When you paste, the item is transferred to the program you're working in.

If you copy something else, the old item is replaced with the new one. You can't manipulate the clipboard directly because it's only used for copy and paste operations.

Use the Snipping Tool. If you have windows Vista or later, you'll find that the Snipping Tool is much easier to use and more flexible than the Print Screen option. With it, you can select the exact portion of the screen you wish to capture.

It also allows you to save the file.

The program is very compact and takes up very little RAM. Quite often, it's much faster than opening a separate program, so you might want to pin it to your taskbar for easy access.