All about the Windows Snipping Tool

The Windows Snipping Tool was introduced in Vista and lives strong through the Windows 7 and 8 product editions.  It’s a great way to capture (snip) anything on the screen so you can markup, save and share it.

Before the Snipping Tool stepped on the scene, Windows users had to purchase third-party screenshoot tools such as TechSmith’s SnagIt.

SnagIt is everything you could ask for in a screenshot program and more.  It let’s you paste in stamps, center the canvas, zoom around and create error free callouts with built in spell-checking.  It even includes integrated video recording features but also costs a stratospheric $50 dollars.  I don’t know about you, but my screenshots aren’t worth that much to me especially when all I want to do is take a screenshot.

But the best things in life don’t always have to cost so much.

PicPic is a really good free alternative to Snagit.  Not only does it let you take full screen and regional screenshots but it also includes an image editor, color picker and pixel ruler for pixel perfect accuracy.  There’s a magnifier, protractor and full featured effects for cropping, blurring, and adjusting color balance.  You can even upload images to an FTP server after taking your snaps.  It’s not perfect but it’s pretty good for freeware.

But I don’t want to talk about SnagIt or PicPic here.  Because although the Snipping Tool is pretty basic, I actually think it beats its competitors because:

  1. You don’t have to install another program
  2. It’s limited options makes it easy to use
  3. Is really fast

Let me show you how easy it is to use:

Click Start, type:

snip

and press Enter.

Windows 7 Snipping Tool

Now look at the Snipping Tool: it’s not ostentatious.   It’s humble but don’t be fooled, this little program packs a lot of power beneath it’s austere appearance.

You can save screen snags in four formats:

  • JPG
  • GIF
  • PNG
  • MHT

And you can capture using four methods:

  • Free-form
  • Rectangular
  • Window
  • Full-screen

Let me show you how this works:

Toying with Snipping Tool Options

Click Options and you’ll see settings for the application and for the selection.

Let’s go through them quickly:

Windows 7 Snipping Tool Options

Hide instruction text hides the introduction text that appears on the main window.  You can click this box to trim the fat from the main window so it isn’t so bulky.  This is what the Snipping Tool looks like with this option enabled (it’s disabled by default).

Windows 7 Snipping Tool sans the fat

Nice and slender isn’t it?

Always copy snips to the Clipboard is good to leave enabled, that way every time you make a screen capture all you need to do is press Ctrl + v to paste it into an email or document.

Include URL below snips (HTML only) is only applicable when taking screenshots from within Internet Explorer that are saved as .MHTML or .MTT files.  The Snipping Tool appends the URL to the end of the web document.

MHTML files, also known as MHT documents, stand for MIME HTML.  It’s just an archive format that Internet Explorer uses to save web pages that includes all the external elements such as images and flash animations.

Since I have an affinity for my dream car, the Nissan GT-R, I’ve decided to flaunt the power of the Snipping Tool using this car in my examples.  The graphic below shows a .MHT file created by the Snipping Tool.

Notice the URL reference in the bottom of the browser window.

Windows 7 Snipping Tool MHTML documents with URL

Prompt to save snips before exiting won’t let you close the program before bugging you to save your screen capture.  It’s a good idea to keep this on so you don’t unwittingly lose your snips.

Show screen overlay when Snipping Tool is active is a fancy way of saying, “Keep the Snipping Tool in the foreground during the screen capture but don’t capture the Snipping Tool itself”.  You’ll want to keep this enabled because it makes it easy to review the results after the capture completes.

Under the Selection section, if you click Show selection ink after snips are captured the final product will have a thin border that outlines the snip in the ink color you specified.  You can choose from 16 different ink colors: Black, Maroon, Green, Olive, Navy, Purple, Teal, Gray, Silver, Red (the default), Lime, Yellow, Blue, Fuchsia (basically Pink), Aqua and White.

Fun with Selection Types

The Snipping Tool gives you the freedom to create four different selection types.

Windows 7 Snipping Tool Selection Tool

Free-form

When you want maximum selection freedom, pick Free-form.  Clicking Free-form transforms the cursor into a little scissor.  Now you can click down and drag the mouse around your selection.  After you close the selection loop, the snipping tool displays your image.

I changed my ink color to Black to make the outline more prominent but in most cases I suggest disabling Show selection ink after snips are captured because it tends to make the selection look less professional.

Windows 7 Snipping Tool Free Form

Rectangular

This is my favorite selection type.  Anything you draw the box over will be included in the screen snip.

Windows 7 Snipping Tool Rectangular Selection

Window

Window captures the active Window.

The window that has the focus in the foreground gets sent off to the snipping tool.  When you click it, the screen dims and as you glide your mouse across the screen, different window elements jump to life.  To select that Window, just click it and it’ll show up in the Snipping Tool.

Windows 7 Snipping Tool Window Selection

Full-screen

Full-screen captures everything on the screen.  If you have multiple monitors it captures both as a single image.

Windows 7 Snipping Tool Full Screen Selection

Whatever selection type you choose, you’ll always see the edit screen after making your selection.

Editing and sharing your Snips

Let me preface this section by saying that you’re not going to get even a fraction of the detail Photoshop offers here.  But this isn’t a liability of the Snipping Tool when you realize it was never designed to really edit screen snaps.  It’s primary role is just to capture the screen.  That being said, let’s explorer the basic editing and sharing options you have:

Click the pen icon to draw on the screen, the highlighter to underscore something interesting or use the eraser to clean up your mistakes.  When you’ve got your screenshot just the way you want it click the blue disk icon in the toolbar to save it as a PNG, JPEG, GIF or MHTML file.

PNG’s are the best quality but also have the largest file sizes while JPEGs are better suited for photographs.  GIFs are ideal for logos and MHTMLs are apt for screenshots taking from within Internet Explorer.

Windows 7 Snipping Tool Toolbar

If you click the little down arrow to the right of the  black pen graphic you can choose a red, blue or black pen.  You can even customize it and pick from one of the 16 colors I mentioned earlier.  Change the thickness from thick, to medium or fine and modify the tip so it’s round or chiseled.

Windows 7 Snipping Tool Custom Pen

The yellow highlighter icon between the pen and eraser is good for highlighting text in text screenshots but I haven’t found much value in using it with images.

If you click the down arrow to the right of the little envelope icon (it’s immediately to the left of the pen tool), it’ll open your default email program with the image in the body or as an attachment.   If you were looking to share via Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, Imgur or Reddit then you’re in wrong place.  The Snipping Tool isn’t that sophisticated.  It’s sole purpose in life is really just to take screenshots.

The Bottom Line

The Snipping Tool is a great little application for capturing screen objects.  Sure you can also press the PrtSc button on your keyboard but the Snipping Tool gives you more options without having to install new software.  It’s a lightweight, no-frills screenshot tool that starts to get addictive once you take a few screenshots.  Sure, it’s limited but I think it’s the lack of features that makes it so snappy and responsive.  Also it’s simplicity makes it easy to use and in a word of programs with dozens of features, it’s nice to know there’s one out there with just one primary feature:  take screenshots.

So the next time you’re thinking about screenshot software, play with the Snipping Tool for a few minutes before you consider expensive alternatives.  Hope this helps!

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