Take a screenshot like a pro: 5 insider tips

Minerva Studios/Shutterstock
Minerva Studios/Shutterstock
A picture may be worth a thousand words, but in a he-said, she-said customer service dispute, it might be even more valuable. A well-timed screenshot could score you a refund you deserve.

Consider how almost everyone who rents a car these days takes pictures before accepting the car and when returning it. A picture is pretty good evidence that those dents weren’t there when you brought back the vehicle.

Images also come in handy when you have a dispute with an online vendor. With a picture you can claim “That’s not what I typed” and you can prove it. How do you reply when the company rep says you made a mistake? And do you remember exactly what you typed? How many items you actually ordered? For what date? What did those terms and conditions actually state?

A picture shows exactly what you saw and what you typed. You can email it to the company — or us.

Since electronic displays don’t show up very well in photos, save the camera for your next auto rental. To take a picture of a computer display, you need a screen capture program. Fortunately, most computing devices come with the built-in ability to capture display screens. And if your device didn’t come with the capability, there are many free screen capture programs at the app stores.

Windows PC
On Windows, the easiest way to capture a display is to press the “print screen” button. Typically labeled as the PRT SC key (or something similar), this button has been on keyboards since before Windows. Just press the button and the entire display is captured to the memory buffer. Use the Windows paste capability (right-click Paste or [control] V) to add the screenshot to a file program, or an email.

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If you want to capture just the window in which you are working (the current window) instead of the entire screen, press the [alt] button and then the PRT SC key. Remember, the current window typically has a blue header bar.

Windows 8 users can press the WIndows key and the Print Screen button to save a picture directly to the photo library.

If you want even more flexibility, try the Windows Snipping Tool. Click the Windows Start button, and in the Search box type Snipping Tool. After the program box appears, click the arrow next to the New button, select the type of capture you want (Free-form, Rectangular, Window, or Full-screen), and then select the area of the screen that you want to capture. By default your selection (the snip) is automatically copied to the memory clipboard. You can also save the selection as an HTML, PNG, GIF, or JPEG file.

Apple Computers
Apple Macs also have the ability to capture screenshots to the memory buffer.
To capture the entire screen, press the Apple key ⌘ + Shift + 3 and then release all three keys. The screen image is captured to the buffer. You can right-click and paste the image to a file or program.

To capture a rectangular section of a screen, press the Apple key ⌘ + Shift + 4 and then release all three keys. The cursor changes to a + sign. Drag your mouse from one corner to an opposite corner, and you will see a rectangular border appear, indicating the area that will be captured.

To capture a specific application window, press the Apple key ⌘ + Shift + 4 all at the same time. The cursor changes to a + sign. Press the spacebar. The cursor changes to a camera. Click on the window you want to capture.

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iPhone and iPad
To take a picture of your iPhone or iPad display, press the power button and at the same time, for just a second, press the home button. The image is captured and stored as a JPEG file. Use the Photos app to access it.

Android phones and tablets
To take a picture of an Android display, simultaneously press the home key and the Power button until the message “Screenshot done” appears. The image is stored in the Android’s Gallery folder.

Freebies from the Internet
All the above screen capture functions come with the devices. There are also many free programs available online that enable you to add highlighting, text, and other objects, such as circles and arrows, to the image. Examples include “Awesome Screenshot”; “Gadwin Print screen”, and “getgreenshot”. There are also apps, such as “pdfcreator”, that to convert the image to a PDF. PDFs are generally smaller than picture formats, and easier to store or email.

If you want even more features, you can buy a business-level screen capture program, such as Snag-it or FullShot.

No matter how you take your screenshot, make sure you’re capturing the evidence of the transaction. Because without the digital proof, it’s just your word against the company’s.

Ed Lawrence is a consumer advocate based in Boston.

Have you used a screen capture program to capture an online transaction?

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Ed Lawrence

I'm a writer, public speaker, and aspiring career counselor, as well as a consumer advocate who assists the long-term unemployed. I love climbing mountains and cruising to exotic ports. If you meet me on a cruise, let's talk while we drink or play chess.

  • Richard

    Mostly I do it for my own records in case the conformation email doesn’t come through. To use the screen shots as evidence, the shots can very easily be altered (they are just jpg files), so in a court of law I’m not sure how well that would work.

    It’s better then nothing though.

  • Grueny

    Depending on your version of Android … it may also be [Power Button] + [Volume down]

  • LeSkoonk

    For windows, an even better way is to use the Problem Steps Recorder. This nifty tool records all screens within a sequence. Search for “psr”.



  • Steven Scholnick

    Apple key ⌘ + Shift + 3 (or 4) do not store the image in a buffer. A .png file is created on the Desktop.

  • Jim Daniel

    Neat Trick!

  • Michael__K

    There are various free screen recording tools if you want to record absolutely everything (and aren’t too concerned about diskspace).



  • Joe Reynolds

    Most of the time I use copy/paste and go to PrtScn when copy past will not work.

  • Helio

    If you are using Chrome, and you have something larger than a single screen (like a long chat), you can print (Ctrl-P) and select save as pdf.

    Or you can install a pdf printer in you computer, like CutePdf

  • GeoffDepew

    Macs also come with a program called ‘Grab’, which can be used to capture all sorts of things: an area of a screen, a full screen, a specific window, or the screen 10 number of seconds in the future. It saves them as .TIFF files but you can keep multiples on your screen if you want.

  • Cherity

    I use SnagIt. It is the best screenshot software on the market!

  • MarkKelling

    And if you are adventurous enough, you can alter that to store as any one of several different formats. I have mine set to do JPEG. But it takes diving into the terminal and doing some command line tricks.

  • I use CutePDF which is a free program. I just “print” the screen but instead of the printer select CutePDF. I then save the PDF. Easy!
    I will also transfer the documents to Goodreader on my smartphone. Them I have evidence as needed.

  • Zachary Adams

    Google Chrome is the way to go, there is an option when printing to safe as a PDF. (It’s one of the Destinations under the Print Dialog window). Now you can e-mail yourself a copy, or others — decently sized and re-printable the same way, every time.

  • Well spotted. I was about to point that out too.

    On the other hand, if you do want to capture the image to the clipboard (from which it can then be pasted into another program, such as Preview or Mail, without generating an image file on the Desktop), you can do this by adding the Control key to the keyboard command. In other words, Apple key ⌘ + Control + Shift + 3 (or 4).

    Yes, it’s kinda like playing Twister with your fingers.

  • Jaws

    Thanks for the tutorial, especially for iPhone & iPad.

  • Macs offer several ways to do the same thing. You may choose whichever you find more intuitive or convenient. Your choices include (but may not be limited to):

    (1) The keyboard command Apple key ⌘ + Shift + 3 (or 4)

    (2) The Grab program

    (3) From within the Preview program, select “Take Screen Shot” from the File menu

    (4) From the command line (in Terminal, X11, etc) invoke “screencapture”.

    Personally, I find (1) to be most convenient, because I don’t have to switch away from whatever window and program I’m using. However, I occasionally use (4) because it offers some options that the others don’t, including the possibility of choosing where to store the file and in what format. Try “man screencapture” to learn more…

  • Steven Scholnick

    I didn’t know about adding Shift in there to copy to the clipboard. Thanks for the info!

  • JewelEyed

    Simple screenshot techniques only work on certain Android devices. Other devices need to be rooted to take screenshots.

  • Caracal

    It has limited application. Generally, there is an option to save the invoice/receipt generated after submitting the form for a purchase.

    On rare occasion, there is no confirmation of what has been submitted, and I can’t see how a screenshot of an online form BEFORE it’s submitted would be of much help, as there’s no evidence that it hasn’t been changed after that. I can’t say I come accross many online companies that don’t provide receipts with detailed invoices, but perhaps I’m just lucky where I shop.

    Where this technique is helpful is to record online advice that may not be directly emailed – such as a company instant messaging service, which potentially could be deleted at a later date, or note saved in the first place. Those – for example, advice on securing a refund – are certainly worth capturing. That saves those ‘X told me to do this’ and being advised ‘we have no record of that’ later on. I have also used screen capture to prove that an online payment system was not operational before the deadline (and subsequent penalties) for paying professional fees.

  • canadeeana

    yep, on my samsung android this worked great … thx ….

  • darlene

    there’s a program that i’ve used for a long time that i love, aviary … free download, you can also tweak it … it saves as a .png, but that’s completely convertable to a .jpg, etc on your desktop with no probs …. i use this for just about everything i purchase online … everything from fabric to airline tickets … valuable tool …

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