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Best screen capture software 2021

Best Screen Capture Software 2021
(Image credit: Bongkarn Thanyakij on Pexels)

The best screen capture software is any app that lets you snap a picture or video of your computer desktop, recording what’s going on. Modern computer operating systems - like Windows 10 and MacOS - have these tools built in, at least for still images, but if you want more than just a rectangular jpeg at the end of it, you need to look into getting some screen capture software.

By using third party screen capture software, you increase your flexibility. You’re not limited to still images (though video capture is its own whole section of the software world, and we have recommendations for the best video capture software too), you’re able to add a custom delay before the image is taken, you can even record a narration track over the top to explain what you’re doing - useful if you’re creating a tutorial video. You can capture a whole scrolling web page, or the output of multiple monitors. Or maybe zoom in on the smallest area of one.

And while you’ll get some editing capability, don’t expect the tools to be as sophisticated as those in the best photo editing apps. If it’s just a little crop and straighten you need, however, you’ll find the tools in the best video capture software perfectly good for your needs. You can even paint or write directly onto the image, useful if you want to highlight something in an image.

These apps often start up with your home computer and sit in the background, as an icon in your system tray, waiting for you to press the keyboard shortcut to invoke them. The best are lightweight, springing into action swiftly and not using up too much in the way of system resources while sitting doing nothing.


1. Snagit: Best screen capture software overall

Snagit: Best screen capture software overall

(Image credit: Techsmith)

Snagit

Balances value with features to be our best pick overall

More tools than other screen capture apps
Intuitive interface and tutorials
Can be used on Microsoft Office
Can’t export videos into WMV or AVI
Tough to master all features

Snagit has a full set of capture, recording, editing and exporting tools, so it’s far more than a simple screen capture program. You can use it not only to take and edit screenshots but also to make videos of what’s happening on your computer. Additionally, you can record video streams, computer games and virtually anything else that comes across your screen. Its editing tools are as comprehensive as you can get without buying a full-fledged editing program – you can trim, crop and rearrange captured footage and add your own images and annotations. You can also adjust picture settings such as hue, contrast and saturation.

This screen capture software is also very easy to use, no matter your computer experience level. Its tutorials are easy to follow and informative. All the features and tools are accessible from the program’s main window, and there is a toolbar that allows you to use the capture features in Microsoft Office applications without launching Snagit itself. You can even set up custom capture profiles so you don’t have to pick your settings every time you start a recording.


2. FastStone: Best value screen capture app

Faststone: Best value screen capture app

(Image credit: Faststone)

FastStone Capture

This has plenty of features and represents excellent value

Costs less than $20
Use it to capture video game footage
Creates small files
Only exports videos in WMV format.
Interface is antiquated

FastStone has a completely free unlicensed version for home use only, so if you're looking for something to use purely for non-commercial purposes, then the app is effectively free. Beyond that, it's less than $20 for a full license.

FastStone Capture has many of the tools we look for in screen capture software, including video capture, digital editing tools and video game recording. However, it’s missing some of the extra features that our top pick boasts. For example, it doesn’t have a social media sharing feature, auto-capture or tutorials. But the core features are more than enough to get the job done.

FastStone Capture also has fewer export file formats than the best screen capture programs we reviewed. You can create the most common image formats, such as JPG, PNG and GIF. Its native video format is mp4, but if you need to convert this to something else the app will download a conversion app called Prism that can convert a video file into just about any other format, including device-specific profiles for recent and legacy devices.


3. Ashampoo Snap: Easiest screen capture app to use

Ashampoo Snap: Easiest screen capture app to use

(Image credit: Ashampoo)

Ashampoo Snap

If you're looking for simplicity, Ashampoo Snap is perfect (and cheap)

Easiest screen capture app to use
Start capturing in seconds
Great value too
Limited export options
Limited video editing

If you’re new to the world of screen capture software, there’s no better program to start with than Ashampoo Snap. You can pick up this program for about $20, but don’t let the budget price fool you – it’s still a functional, useful application.

In our tests, this was the easiest software to learn, and it has all the tools we look for in screen capture applications, including video capture, editing tools and special effects. While you can export your snapshots to most of the popular file formats, you miss out on ones like GIF, which remains popular even though it’s quite old.

Ashampoo Snap is also frugal with system resources, so it won't slow your computer down. It has a very light footprint, so you likely won’t notice any lag in other programs while Ashampoo Snap runs. This software has a great array of editing tools that rivals that of our top pick. But it is missing a few features such as the ability to grab text out of images and a magic wand selector. But given its price, these are things you can go without.


4. Screenhunter Pro: Most capture options

Screenhunter Pro: Most capture options

(Image credit: Wisdom-Soft)

Screenhunter Pro

Has some fantastic capture options, but the interface is a little old

Loads of capture options
Newly redesigned interface
Limited editing options

ScreenHunter Pro is one of the best screen capture programs you can buy. Capturing your screen is a simple as one click. In addition to its image capturing tools, it has recording functionality, such as capturing video of what’s happening on your screen, you can also use your computer’s integrated webcam to get video of yourself, which is great if you’re making an instructional video, vlog, or another project where you are the star.

The app has had a recent facelift, throwing out a previously antiquated interface for something much more modern, its components sliding into place from the edges of the screen when you invoke it with a hot-key.


5. Debut Video Capture Pro: Good for audio, video, and screenshots

Debut Video Capture: Good for audio, video, and screenshots

(Image credit: NCH Software)

Debut Video Capture Pro

A good all rounder, especially if audio is an important part of your capture

Easy to use, and feature-packed
Great audio capture
Needs separate editing software for videos

Debut Video Capture is easy to use and lets you capture video either from your desktop, from streaming content, including Hulu and YouTube, or from footage you obtain with a webcam or DVD. You can record audio too, either using a microphone or by capturing what's streaming on your screen. One interesting feature is the scheduled recording option, where you choose what you want to record and its source, the sound source, date, and start and end times.

Debut is remarkably easy to use. The functions are clearly labelled, and the toolbar shows you what there is to work with. Unfortunately, there are no editing capabilities, but you can make up for that by downloading a companion program, Videopad, which is free, and using that to edit your video.

The result is a good video, but our testing showed minor flaws as pixelation and some shakiness in the video, so the final result – while quite watchable – is acceptable, but not flawless.


What to look out for with screen capture software

There are several things you need to know before you start installing screen capture software on your machine, especially if you’re going to pay for it. Firstly, fully explore the capabilities of your computer operating system. Windows 10/11 recently revamped its screenshotting abilities with Snip & Sketch, an app that captures a screenshot of the full screen, the active window, or a user-defined area, then opens it in a barebones editor for annotation. It also copies the image to your clipboard, so you don’t need to save the file before pasting it into an email or chat window.

There are several things you need to know before you start installing screen capture software on your machine, especially if you’re going to pay for it. Firstly, fully explore the capabilities of your computer operating system. Windows 10/11 recently revamped its screenshotting abilities with Snip & Sketch, an app that captures a screenshot of the full screen, the active window, or a user-defined area, then opens it in a barebones editor for annotation. It also copies the image to your clipboard, so you don’t need to save the file before pasting it into an email or chat window.

Cost
It doesn’t have to cost anything. But if you want more functionality, the apps we’ve reviewed cost anything up to $80. We probably wouldn't recommend investing in the top-level stuff unless you're using it all the time, for business, across multiple computers.

Do you need editing tools?
Ideally, at least the ability to crop out any bits of the image you don’t want to send to someone else, and maybe to annotate the image. There’s nothing wrong with taking your screenshot into another app, perhaps one of the best image editing apps, to do this, though it does slow the process down slightly.

Why look for software with a toolbar?
A floating toolbar offers quick access to an app’s tools and options. If you’re waiting for something to happen so you can capture it, it’s much faster to click a button on a toolbar that’s already available, than it is to input a keyboard shortcut to activate an app, before hitting another button once it’s loaded.

How important are export options?
Hugely, if you’re dealing with video. Most screen captures will be saved as a JPEG or PNG file, but video files can get large very quickly, and you don’t want to try to email hundreds of megabytes of footage to someone if you don’t have to. Export options allow you to change compression ratios and even resolutions, to make your files small enough to send quickly.

Can you monetize videos you capture?

With the lucrative popularity of video game streamers like Ninja, you might be thinking about capturing your own gaming sessions and posting them online. But what are the rules regarding gameplay monetization?

Copyright-wise, is it legal to post your gameplay videos online and earn money from them? As stated on CBC News, most video gaming companies "tacitly permit YouTubers to violate their copyrights, with creators and publishers turning a blind eye out of consideration of the promotional value of being featured on high-audience channels." So, for the most part, video game publishers see video game streaming as free advertising for their creations and will not take action against you. While you’re probably safe to post and earn money off your gameplay, this is somewhat of a gray area, and companies can still take action if they really want. Since this is a newer way to consume media, the rules are still being hammered out, and gaming companies might want to change things in the future.

But perhaps it isn’t the gaming companies that will push for change on uploading gameplay. According to Juniper Research Report, “a rapid rise in consumption of eSports and streamed games content will drive $3.5 billion in revenues by 2021, up from $1.8 billion in 2017.” With all this newfound attention to video game streaming, people’s eyes are being drawn away from video streaming services and sports. In fact, as stated on TechCrunch, Netflix says games like Fortnite are a much bigger competitor for viewers’ eyes than HBO and other video streaming services. As an example, when YouTube went down a few minutes in October, Netflix’s viewing and signup numbers spiked. So if changes to video game streaming copyright are enforced, the push might just come from video streaming services who want attention brought back to their own media offerings.

Ian has been a journalist for 20 years. He's written for magazines and websites on subjects such as video games, technology, PC hardware, popular (and unpopular) science, gardening and astronomy. In his spare time he has a pet tortoise and grows his own vegetables.