We write a lot of stories here at PCMag meant to help you with your computers and smartphones. To do that, we have to show you what's on the screens of those devices—a lot. Capturing these images—interchangeably called screenshots, screen captures, or screen grabs—is just an everyday part of what we do.
But taking screenshots isn't the norm for everyone. In fact, there may be some of you out there who aren't even aware you can do it. But it's easy.
If you need to take a screenshot (or 10), this is the tutorial you need. We run down everything you need to know about capturing screenshots, no matter the platform—Windows, MacOS, iOS, Android, and other mobile operating systems.
Most of the tips require nothing more than the operating system itself—they've all got built-in methods of capturing a screen. However, there are a wealth of third-party software tools that will take your screen-grab game up a notch. We'll even show you some of the tools that make it simple to take an image within the Web browser, which is arguably the most used software on any desktop or laptop PC anyway.
Screenshots on Smartphones
You probably take a lot of pictures with your smartphone, but you can also take a picture of what's already on the screen. The tools to do so are built right in.
Google's smartphone operating system, Android, also has built-in screenshot options (if you've got Android 4.0 or later). Hold the power button and volume down for 1 or 2 seconds. The screen will flash white, and the image is saved to your photo gallery.
Except that doesn't always work. Since Google doesn't have strict control over Android like Apple does over iOS, things can get weird. Try the Home and power buttons at the same time. If that doesn't work, you've got to go with an app.
At least Android users have an app as an option—iOS users do not. The problem is, there are way too many screenshot apps to count. Some are free, some are paid. The top-rated app, with over 160,000 users, is Screenshot Easy (above). It uses the same basic triggers as Android itself, or you can customize it and take a screenshot just by shaking your phone, for example.
With Apple's iOS for iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch, there's only one option for taking a screenshot. Hold the Sleep/Wake button (on top or the right side of the device, depending on the model) then click the Home button. You'll hear a camera shutter and see a "flash." The screenshot appears in your Camera Roll. It's that simple.
You can try holding the buttons the other way around, but the devices with the Touch ID fingerprint scanner could mess things up, depending on what you want to capture—like your Lock Screen.
Windows Phone 8 and Windows 10 Mobile
Windows Phone makes it a simple process like the rest: press and hold the power and volume Up buttons (if you hold volume down, the phone will reboot). Screenshots go right into the Photo Hub, look for Pictures, then an album marked Screenshots, stored as PNG files.
You can't take a screenshot with Windows Phone 7 without unlocking it.
If you're using Windows 10 Continuum, doing this keystroke still only takes a shot of your mobile screen, not any external display; for that you still use the Windows desktop key-commands (see below).
With BlackBerry devices, press the volume up and volume down keys simultaneously. The camera noise should click and the image will be in your Camera folder (not on the SD card). Open the File Manager to find them. If that doesn't work, download CaptureIT OTA by visiting the link. It'll spell out how to change some permissions, but after that you should be set.
Screenshots on PCs
The absolute simplest way to take a screenshot in Windows is to use the PrtScn (PrintScreen) button. You'll find it on the upper right side of most keyboards. Click it once and…it'll seem like nothing happened. But Windows just copied an image of your entire screen to the clipboard. You can then hit Ctrl-V to paste it into a program, be it a Word document or an image-editing program.
The problem with PrtScn is, it's not discerning—it gets everything visible on your monitor or monitors (if you've got a multi-monitor setup, it'll grab all the displays as if they're one big screen).
To narrow things down, open a window, make it the focus of attention, and then tap Alt-PrtScn. That also appears to do nothing, but it's in fact taken a screen grab of just that window and copied it to the clipboard.
One more built-in helper is the Snipping Tool. It's been around since the days of Windows Vista, so you may have to search to find it (a breeze to do in Windows 10). Once launched, it provides a tiny window with menus that make it easy to capture multiple types of screenshots. Grab just the area you want (in rectangle or free-form; the latter is shown above), a select window, or the whole screen. Snipping Tool shows you the captured image instantly so you can choose what to do with it: save it, copy it, email it, annotate it, or highlight sections of it. It's an old workhorse program, though, and not up-to-date enough to offer sharing via social networks.
Windows has a spectacular array of great screen-capture utilities available. Top of the line is Snagit—it costs a whopping $50. Of course, it'll do it everything you can imagine, even take video of what's happening on your screen (that's called a "screencast").
You can find plenty of screenshot apps for free, though. Jing, by the makers of Snagit, also does screencast videos, and makes sharing what you capture easy. LightShot is a nifty and small utility that takes over the PrtScrn key and makes it easy to capture and share. Both are also available for Mac.
Like with iOS, Apple has a tight grip on its desktop/laptop operating system. With a MacOS-based PC, however, you get a few more screenshot options than you get with Windows (since Mac keyboards lack a PrtScn key).
Here are the easy steps: To capture the entire screen, tap Command+Shift+3 (all three keys at once). A .PNG image file of the screen will appear on your desktop. If you only want part of the screen, tap Command+Shift+4; it turns the cursor into a crosshair. Select the section of screen you want to capture. Or, press the space bar, and the cursor turns to a camera—click with it on any open window to highlight it. Click again and just the window itself is captured.
If you like the Windows method—where what you capture is saved to the clipboard instantly—just try Command+Control+Shift+3 for the whole screen, or Command+Control+Shift+4 for a section. Adding the Control key to the keystroke ensures the image isn't saved to your desktop, then use Control+V to paste it in to any app.
If you've got a Mac with Retina display, a screenshot of the entire screen can be huge in PNG format, as big as 5 to 7MB. If you'd rather the Mac save in JPG or some other format, change the settings. You need to open a terminal window on the Mac in question and type:
defaults write com.apple.screencapture type jpg
If you're asked for your password, enter it. Restart your system and future screenshots should be in JPG format. Change it back by typing the same, but replace "jpg" with "png."
Prefer an app that will take care of screenshots? Apple still includes Grab in its Applications > Utilities folders (search with Spotlight to find it quickly). Grab's effectiveness is limited in that it only captures images in TIFF format, but it can take a shot of the whole screen, a window, or a selected section, and it has a timer so you can capture items like drop-down menus. The shortcuts to do so are the same as you'd use for the OS itself, so really, don't bother with Grab unless you only work with a mouse.
Remember, Macs can also take advantage of free, third-party utilities for screenshots, including Jing, Skitch, LightShot, and others. If you feel it's better to pay, the venerable, award-winning SnapzProX is an option that costs a jaw-dropping $69.
There are almost as many ways to take a screenshot in Linux as there are flavors of Linux. Let's take a look at Ubuntu in particular.
You can go right to Applications > Accessories > Take Screenshot to start.
PrtScn works—hit the button on the keyboard and it'll shoot the entire screen. Hit Alt-PrtScn to grab just the active window.
True Linux heads will appreciate the ability to take a screenshot from that most un-screenshot-worthy window: the terminal.
Maybe the best thing to do is take a screenshot from within a program where you can edit the screenshot after, and there's no better candidate than GNU Image Manipulation Program or GIMP. Within the program select File > Acquire > Screen Shot. You'll get a few options, such as taking the entire screen, a window, or using a time delay. The captured image is then opened up in GIMP for editing.
Screenshots in Web Browsers
Many Web browsers, in particular Google Chrome and Mozilla Firefox, support add-ons that extend the usability of the browsers. Here are a few such extensions that put screen-capture utilities right into the browser.
LightShot (Free; Chrome, Firefox, IE, Opera): It's available for Mac and Windows desktops, but also on almost every browser across all operating systems.
FireShot ($39.95; Firefox, Chrome, IE, SeaMonkey, Thunderbird, Opera): Beyond the browser, FireShot even works with mail programs. It will capture and allow instant edits, allow sharing via social media or instant saves to the computer, and send images to Microsoft OneNote.
Awesome Screenshot (Free; Chrome, Firefox, Safari): Capture a whole page or a section and then quickly annotate it (or blur out the naughty bits) before sharing instantly.