As a freelance writer, I take a lot of screenshots. They’re one of the most effective tools for explaining the location of buttons and links on a website – especially buttons and links that are nested in drop-down menus.
The Windows operating system includes a built-in tool that’s reasonably useful for taking screenshots. It’s called Snipping Tool. However, there are free applications available that are just much more useful and user-friendly than Snipping Tool. And my personal favorite is a free, lightweight app called Jing.
Jing is a free application you can use to create short videos and pictures of sections of your computer monitor – a.k.a, screenshots. It’s a proprietary product, owned and developed by TechSmith.
At one time, Jing Pro was available with advanced features for a modest price tag. However, the premium features and product have been retired while the free version of Jing lives on.
While Jing can be used to capture both screenshots and screencap videos, I prefer another application, ScreenToGif, for screencap videos and gifs. However, Jing retains its position on my computer because it’s supremely useful for creating pixel-perfect screenshots.
Taking a Screenshot with Jing
The first thing you’ll need to do is download a free copy of Jing. Once you’ve downloaded a copy, locate jing.exe and run the installation script.
After installation, Jing will be added to your desktop as a small partially-hidden gold colored ball. When you move your mouse over the ball three icons will appear. You’ll want to get familiar with all three over time, but for now, just click the top icon.
This will add a set of crosshairs to your monitor which you can use to define the area you’d like to include in your screenshot. Simply hold down the left mouse button and drag the pointer until you’ve selected the area you wish to include in your screenshot. Jing will let you know the exact pixel dimensions of your screenshot window as you resize it – a very nice feature if you have very specific image size requirements.
Once you’ve selected the area you wish to capture, release the mouse button. This will freeze the selection window. At this point, you can still resize the selection window. Simply grab any side of the selection window and drag it into the position where you want it.
Once you’re happy with the window you’ve selected, select the first icon to capture the screenshot.
After capturing the screenshot you’ll be provided with four options:
- Share the image via screencast.com (an option I have never used).
- Save the image to your computer; perfect for images you need to upload to your blog and insert into an article.
- Copy the image to your clipboard; perfect for images you wish to share immediately via email.
- Cancel, and discard the screenshot.
A Visual Walkthrough
Let’s walk through the entire process from start to finish. The following gif shows the process of creating a 440-pixel wide screenshot of the header portion of my website. The captured screenshot is then saved to the desktop for easy retrieval.
3 Tips for Creating Perfect Screenshots
If you want your screenshots to look beautiful when rendered as part of a webpage, keep these three tips in mind:
- Create screenshots that are properly sized. If you know your screenshot is going to be rendered at a specific size, say 600 pixels by 300 pixels, make sure to capture a screenshot that size, or larger, with the exact same width-to-height ratio.
- Capture enough context to make your screenshot useful. For example, if you’re trying to capture the location of a button on a webpage, don’t just get the button in the screenshot. Capture enough of the webpage surrounding the button that the location of the button on the webpage is made clear.
- Leave empty space around the subject of your screenshot. If possible, avoid creating a screenshot where the subject of the screenshot extends all the way to the edge of the image.
Every freelance writer can expect to create many, many screenshots, and using the right tool for the job can allow you to create better screenshots faster. My personal favorite is a free lightweight application from TechSmith called Jing. With Jing, you can create pixel-perfect screenshots in seconds.