Friday, November 23, 2012

Taking Screenshots in OS X

For screenshots, I've been a long-time user of Skitch. It fits very well into my workflow, making it easy to get screenshots on my desktop to drag and drop into Shareist or Basecamp, or to publish in a public location on the web so I can share it with someone via email or chat.

What was also great about skitch was its annotation tools. It was a pretty powerful image editor, perfect for doing quick annotations.

But when Evernote bought Skitch and redesigned it, they dumbed it down too much, and it's not nearly as useful. They also removed the familiar toolbar interface, which had Skitch always there waiting when needed.

So I embarked on search to find a replacement screenshot tool and process.

Here's what I found.

OS X Screenshot Apps

A quick search through the OS X App store produces many screen capture solutions, some of them very pricey.

TechSmith, the developer of Snagit knows their screen capture as they're also the developer of the crowd-favorite Camtasia screen recording app. Snagit has both image and video screen capture built in, with all the bells and whistles. You can share and upload to many services.
Price: $49.99
Clarify is a high-end screen capture app that helps you create an entire document with several screen captures. and capabilities to insert titles and text between the images. This is a great tool for people who are documenting websites and online processes. Sharing is to a free website.
Price: $29.99
I forget why I stopped using LittleSnapper. Maybe it was something silly like the formatting of the text wasn't to my liking. Or maybe it's the name. It puts text on gray bubbles rather than the LOLcats white-haloed text. Looking at my screenshot history in there, the last time I used it was in July 2011. Little snapper does have some great annotation features, including numbered callouts. And you can configure uploads to your own FTP service (i.e. your self-hosted website) and to flickr. I'll have to give LittleSnapper another look, in spite of the name.
Price: $39.99

Snagit and Clarify are both heavy apps better suited for people who spend a lot of time in the app where they're doing screen captures.

I prefer apps that stay out of the way and have minimal desktop presence until I need it. And that make it easy for me to get and share the images themselves once I've captured them, not having to then wrestle them out of their own hosting service.

Save the image, and give it to me in a straight URL that I can either share or insert into a web page via a hotlink or an image upload that uses URLs (like Shareist).

This simple app allows sharing to your own servers as well as built-in sharing to IMGUR, which seems to be the big selling point for many. It supports annotations, but a glaring omission is a way to overlay text. Forget this app for your LOLCATS and FAILblog contributions.
Price: $2.99
Jing is a free app, developed also by TechSmith, sort of Snagit's baby brother. It has a silly interface, a sun that stays in the upper right of the screen, but you can change that to be a simple menu bar. You can upload files to Techsmith's or configure other services to share to, like flickr and even your own FTP server. A solid, free, solution.

...and of course there's still Skitch.

As I mentioned above, Skitch has taken a turn for the worst as Evernote redesigned it. However, they are making improvements, and actually as I write this, they just released version 2.0.2 which solves a major issue for me, which is a helper in the Menubar, and a helper with hotkey support that runs even when Skitch isn't running. You can't beat the price, and if you're an Evernote user, there is integration.
Price: Free

I still have hope for Skitch. Evernote does continue to make improvements, and getting it into the menu bar in the latest version was a big step.

I'm angry at them and Evernote for fixing something that wasn't broken, and forcing me to spend more than $50 evaluating alternatives.

In the end, I think I'll be going back to Skitch, but only because of this latest update.

And I can't stay mad.

Sometimes the Best Option is Right Under Your Nose

My search kept showing me something that I already knew. You can do screenshots right in OS X. Somehow I had in my mind that it wasn't good enough.

Annotating: In order to annotate a screenshot with arrows, callouts, and text, you need to use a third-party tool. But at some point recently, the Preview app got some annotation functionality.

Sharing: The built in screen capture in OS X is limited in what you can do with image for sharing, but with some geekery, you can set up automators and apple scripts to publish the content somewhere for sharing. More on that later.

Recently the Preview app has grown up a bit in this regard and allows you to do simple annotations. Speech bubbles, text, arrows, shapes. The screenshot below of preview is made with preview.

But you don't need to use Preview to take the screenshots. You can also use built-in OS X hotkeys to capture images and save them either to the desktop or to the clipboard.

At first, I was missing the timed capture feature of many third party apps, but it's not really necessary since you can set the screen up and just use the hotkeys.

The timed capture feature is mostly needed because you need to set up drop menus and screen elements that go away after triggering the third party capture app.

Below are the hotkeys.

Mac OS X Screen Capture Hotkeys

Save to Desktop

  • Command-Shift-3: Take a screenshot of the screen.
  • Command-Shift-4, then select an area: Take a screenshot of an area
  • Command-Shift-4, then space, then click a window: Take a screenshot of a window

Save to Clipboard

To save to the clipboard instead of a file on the desktop, add in the control key.

  • Command-Control-Shift-3: Take a screenshot of the screen
  • Command-Control-Shift-4, then select an area: Take a screenshot of an area
  • Command-Control-Shift-4, then space, then click a window: Take a screenshot of a window

More options

In Leopard and later, the following keys can be held down while selecting an area (via Command-Shift-4 or Command-Control-Shift-4):

  • Space, to lock the size of the selected region and instead move it when the mouse moves
  • Shift, to resize only one edge of the selected region
  • Option, to resize the selected region with its center as the anchor point

...But Sharing is Limited

You can very easily capture images on your desktop with the built-in OS X commands, but to get the images hosted somewhere, you are left to your own devices.

A google search produces lots of help on this, as you can automate this part with automator and applescripts, an exercise that I'll leave to the reader. Particularly since I haven't tackled this myself yet.

Though when I do, I'll update this with a follow up.

by Scott Jangro

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