1. Technology
Screen Shot Tips & Tricks
How to get better screen shots for screen display

Here are five simple things you can do to make your screen shots look better on-screen. Use these tips when you need to make screen shots for the Web or other types of on-screen presentations.

Related: What is a screen shot? What software do I need to take a picture of my computer screen?

1. Save Application Windows as GIF format.
Screen shots almost always compress better and look better as GIFs. There is rarely a reason to save screen shots of application windows as JPEG files. The only exception is when the image contains continuous tone areas such as a photo or texture. Don't believe me? Just take a look at these examples:

GIF - 3,177 bytes
This example was reduced to 16 colors and saved as a GIF resulting in a file size of 3,177 bytes.
JPEG - 5,678 bytes
This example was saved as a JPEG with zero quality and resulted in a file size of 5,678 bytes. Even using 100% compression, the file size is still larger than the GIF example, but just look at it... Yuck!

2. Avoid reducing the pixel dimensions.
If possible, avoid reducing the size of your screen shots, particularly if they've already been saved to a paletted format like GIF. If your image is already in GIF format, convert the mode to RGB before resizing. Reducing the size of a screen shot also creates additional colors in the image which usually results in a larger GIF file. Usually you can get a smaller file size by using the full size image and reducing the color depth instead of the dimensions. Cropping out unnecessary elements also helps, especially if they add more colors to the image.

The original actual-size screen shot is a 64-color GIF with a file size of 7,613 bytes.

Now take a look at the two examples of resizing the image to 50%, both with and without changing the color mode....

64-color GIF 7,613 bytes

This example was reduced to 50% without converting the color mode to RGB. Since the image consists of a limited color palette, and because pixels are being thrown out by reducing, the resized image is not readable at all. This image is 2,567 bytes.

16 colors - 2,567 bytes

This example was reduced to 50% after converting the color mode to RGB. It's a bit better than the example above, but take a look at the file size... it shot way up to 11,205 bytes. The resampling also caused the colors to increase to 256. It's still not very readable, so in this instance resizing was not even worth the effort. 256 colors - 11,205 bytes

3. Avoid interpolation when increasing pixel dimensions.
When increasing the size of the screen shot, in most cases you should not use a resampling method that results in blending pixels or anti-aliased edges. Both Bilinear and Bicubic methods in Photoshop blend pixels, which results in blurry screen shots that don't compress well. Instead, you should choose Nearest Neighbor in the resampling menu of the image size dialog to resize without blending.

8 colors, 263 bytes
Original image
8 colors,
263 bytes.
8 colors, 569 bytes
Resized to 200% using "nearest neighbor" setting.
8 colors, 569 bytes.
256 colors, 3,238 bytes
Resized to 200% using "bicubic" setting... yuck!
256 colors, 3,238 bytes.

4. Disable color gradients in Windows title bars.
On Windows systems, the default appearance for title bars includes a gradient color transition. This increases the number of colors in the image and significantly increases the file size. When producing screen shots for the Web, be sure to change the title bar appearance to a solid color, or crop the title bar out of the image. You can change the appearance by right clicking the desktop and choosing properties, then going to the Appearance tab. In Windows XP, you can simplify the window appearance by using the "Windows Classic style" rather than the XP style themes.

16-color GIF, 2,633 bytes
With gradient: 16-color GIF, 2,633 bytes

16-color GIF, 1,562 bytes
Without gradient: 16-color GIF, 1,562 bytes... which one looks better?

5. Cursor Tricks
If you want to include a cursor in your screen shot, but you forgot to include the cursor in your capture, you can save an image of a cursor with a transparent background and drop it into your screen capture anytime you need one. Better yet, download these cursors I've already created for you in transparent PSD and PNG formats.an animated screen shot created by moving the cursor.

The saved cursor is also useful for creating animated screen shots. By changing the location of the cursor and assembling a series of screen shots into an animated GIF, you can demonstrate movement. Don't overdo it, though, animated GIFs can become quite large.

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