Both Windows 10 and macOS have basic screen capture tools built-in, but while it can be useful to capture the occasional screenshot, you’ll get much more in the way of flexibility and control by using some of the best screen capture software.
These applications elevate taking screenshots to an artform, and allow you to record video of what you’re doing too. They take into account multi-screen setups, and allow you to capture a long, scrolling website if you need to. You can also expect editing tools (though not as many as in the best photo editing software) and enhanced sharing abilities. After all, there’s no point taking screenshots displaying a problem or something you’re particularly proud of, if you have no way of showing other people. Perhaps you could use some photo slideshow software to show it off.
All good screen capture apps are easy to use, but the best integrate themselves seamlessly into your computing workflow. They run in the background, instantly accessible from an icon in the system tray or from a web browser’s plugin section, a single click being all it takes to begin the process.
What you do next is up to you. Your screen captures can be included in presentations, emailed to tech support, shared via instant messaging or a million other things. The art of taking the screenshot in the first place, however, is something you shouldn’t worry about.
1. Snagit: Best screen capture software overall
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.
- Read our full Snagit review
2. FastStone: Best value screen capture app
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.
- Read our full FastStone Capture review
3. Ashampoo Snap: Easiest screen capture app to use
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.
- Read our full Ashampoo Snap review
4. Screenhunter Pro: Most capture 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 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.
- Read our full Debut Video Capture Pro review
How much does screen capture software cost?
There are some screen capture programs that you can download online for free. However, they don’t have the functionality of the paid programs we reviewed. When we tested, we took a price range from $20 to $80. However, we feel that $50 is the absolute maximum you should spend.
Do you need editing tools?
Some of the top features to look for include menu, scroll, video game and scheduled captures. Menu and scroll capturing are great for creating software tutorial documents because you can capture an entire page, even if most of the content is off screen and requires scrolling to view. If you plan to capture some video game footage, but don’t want to use this software primarily for gaming, choose software that can record games or DirectX applications in general. Finally, scheduled capturing allows you to record your screen at set moments in time, so you don’t have to be at your computer to capture images and video.
One of the biggest differences between for-purchase screen capture software and freeware is the former lets you edit your captured images and videos. Consider programs that allow you to add comments and bubble captions and draw shapes. These tools help you create step-by-step instructions, notes or highlights, which can be incredibly helpful.
Why look for software with a toolbar?
Look for a program that includes a quick-to-access toolbar. This feature allows you to record what’s on your screen without opening the screen capture software separately. Rather, you can simply click a record button on a small toolbar on the side of the screen.
You should also consider whether you can share your captured images or videos on social media sites, like Facebook and Photobucket, directly from the program. This is a great way to reach family, friends, coworkers or followers quickly. Software with this function allows you to share your content at the push of a button.
How important are export options?
If you want to create videos and share them online, you need a program that can create files in formats that are optimal for the web, such as MP4s. It’s also important to choose software that can create high-quality small images if you plan to post them online. You may also want a program that can support scanner or camera imports, allowing you to pull images directly from these devices.
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.