Most software categories have their share of free and commercial, good and bad samplings. Screen capture applications, which are more powerful and specific than a PC's native Print Screen function, and which seem like they should be straightforward, are also a varied bunch.
I captured every pixel of my display a few times over while testing four screenshot products--FullShot, SnagIt, Gadwin PrintScreen, and ScreenHunter Free. Because we evaluators just love criteria, I looked at image quality, editing features, and ease of access--the quickest, most natural way to get from screen to a shareable image. Ready for some findings?
FullShot is a commercial offering ($50) that arranges its five capture settings into the mnemonic SWORD, which reflects the full Screen, Window, Object, Region, and Document capture modes. While there is a main program window, FullShot affixes the SWORD buttons on every application window, so users can initiate screen grabs without opening the program. Strangely, none of my windows ever surfaced the "D," not even Word, Notepad, or TextPad documents. While the method works, I found the SWORD buttons more of a visual distraction than anything else. I take a lot of screen shots throughout the day, but hardly enough to warrant this always-on reminder.
After the screen grab, which makes a camera-clicking noise that actually sounds like crumpling paper, FullShot drops your image into color-coded tabs, a feature I liked, and names it by the SWORD capture type, a feature I found irrelevant. FullShot's rich features include basic image editing capabilities like resizing, smudging, annotating images, and also capture effects, such as adding a drop shadow, albeit with confusing value settings. Each image change auto-opens a new tab. That's good if you need to recover a mistake; bad if you're prone to getting lost.
FullShot's images save in the proprietary FSD file type by default, but can be changed to save in BMP, GIF, and JPEG formats.
At $10 less than FullShot, the better-known SnagIt (about $40) is a worthier investment. Press the keyboard "Print Screen" button to launch SnagIt's quick capture window, which I set to select a region defined by clicking and dragging the mouse (SnagIt can also be set to capture windows, screens, a scrolling window, and Web page.) The application helpfully shows you a close-up of your borders and gets out of your cursor's way if the zoom-in lands where you need to be. Release the mouse and the image pops up in SnagIt's fairly full-featured image editor. Or, in the main window, set the image to output to your printer, e-mail, or favorite editor, alone or in combination. Tough beans if your hand slips during a capture; you'll need to close or "Esc" out of the editor and reinitiate the grab.
SnagIt has a troupe of extra settings, the most impressive of which are the video and (sporadic) text modes that complement the image-capture function. As a time-saver, you can automate certain profiles; for example, video capture with certain file type, input and output, and extra settings. It's by far the most advanced of the screen capture programs for serious users.
But maybe you don't need all of SnagIt's finery, or its price tag. Gadwin PrintScreen does a mighty fine job offering many of SnagIt's best features for free, and with an attractive interface to boot. Not a fan of the default preferences, I spent a little loving time and attention adjusting them; for example, changing the shortcut key association (also "Print Screen" by default, but that disabled SnagIt) and setting the capture from full window to a click 'n' drag region selector.
Unlike SnagIt, Gadwin PrintScreen lets you adjust the boundaries of the region after inscribing it. Make your slight tweaks, and double-click anywhere in the quadrilateral to commit. There's no built-in image editor here, but Gadwin PrintScreen also lets you choose multiple outputs, opening the image in e-mail, for example, or your favorite editor. To keep operations truly free, try FastStone Image Viewer or Paint.NET. Power Downloader, CNET Download.com's favorite superhero, loves this application too.
ScreenHunter Free is another freebie, albeit a much older-looking, simpler offering than Gadwin PrintScreen. Of course there is a professional version available (about $30), but for balance, I'm limiting my review to the freeware edition.
The program window is a gigantic space-filler with little real content. It is intuitive, and the large buttons and text may be a bonus for the optically challenged. You can change the hot key, choose to include or exclude the mouse in a capture, and select from three capture options. Advanced controls are minimal. There are three available file extensions for saving captures, and the opportunity to set naming details and which folder you'll save to. Pressing "Standby" minimizes the window, but like all these programs, ScreenHunter Free is still accessible as a task tray icon.
As far as the image capture itself, ScreenHunter Free uses a less sophisticated, but still serviceable, version of the crosshairs for capturing regions. It's a loss that there's no preview window. There's only a confirmation notice that displays the folder where the image is stored and its automatically generated name (also customizable) before making you click "OK." With no obvious option for auto-outputting the image to an external, or even internal, viewer or editor, ScreenHunter makes it hard to determine if the screenshot's quality and proportions will suffice. While the boundaries you set may not be quite right on your first try, the crisp quality won't disappoint.