What’s the best replacement for the Windows 10 Snipping Tool?

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Jane has read that Microsoft is removing the screen-capture utility in Windows 10 and would like a free alternative

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‘The next Windows 10 update will remove the Snipping Tool, and I wonder if there is an alternative free tool you would recommend.’
Photograph: Samuel Gibbs for the Guardian

The next Windows 10 update will remove the Snipping Tool, and I wonder if there is an alternative free tool you would recommend. Apparently the workaround is to use OneNote, but not for me. Jane

Taking screen grabs is now such an important part of personal computer use that Microsoft is certain to provide a good alternative. In fact, you will get to keep Snipping Tool alongside its replacement while Microsoft analyses the telemetry data that it uses to track mass (not individual) behaviour.

So, Snipping Tool has been reprieved, at least temporarily. On 27 June, in a note on a preview version of the next release (1809 AKA Redstone 5), Microsoft said: “Currently, we are not planning to remove the Snipping Tool in the next update to Windows 10 and the consolidation work underway will be a feedback and data-driven decision.”

The Snip & Sketch app is the intended replacement, and if you don’t have this month’s updated version of Windows, it’s available from the Windows Store. You should try it as soon as possible. If it doesn’t do what you want, you can suggest improvements, while looking for a suitable alternative.

However, there are more than 100 screen capture programs of various sorts, and there isn’t one that’s best for everyone. You may need to try a few to find one that meets your needs.

From Win32 to WinRT

The problem with Snipping Tool is that it’s a traditional desktop application: it dates back to the launch of Windows XP tablets in 2002, and was included in Vista in 2006. Microsoft is in the process of replacing old Win32 programs with apps written to a new programming interface called Windows Runtime, which was introduced with Windows 8 in 2012.

Windows Runtime apps have lots of advantages. They are downloaded and maintained from the Windows Store, which is safer than trying to figure out which download button to click on a website, and apps don’t come with unwanted additions. Apps are sandboxed so they can’t do bad things to your PC, which makes them safer to run. They are touch-friendly and work well on smartphones and tablets. They also run on ARM chips as well as Intel processors.

If it’s not obvious, this is the same approach as the Apple iOS and Google Play app stores.

In the long term, Microsoft wants casual and home users to be able to do everything they need using modern Windows Store apps. This will make Windows more secure, more reliable, and easier to maintain for inexpert users.

Using Windows

People often forget that Windows has several ways to take screen grabs without using an app. Indeed, the Print Screen function, where hitting a dedicated key dumped the screen to a printer, predates Windows.

Today, pressing the Print Screen key usually saves a copy of the current screen image to the clipboard. From there you can paste it (Ctrl-V) into an email or Word document etc. If you want to save it, paste it into a graphics program such as Paint 3D or Paint.net and save it from there.

Hitting the Windows key and Print Screen (WinKey+PrntScr) not only copies the current screen to the clipboard, it also saves a file of the image in the Pictures folder under Screenshots.

Often you will want a screen grab of the “active window” – usually a page in a web browser, but it could be in any program. In this case, pressing Alt+PrntScr copies it to the clipboard.

Finally, you may be able to capture a selected rectangle by using WinKey+Shift+S (and if that doesn’t work, it will soon). You may have to paste it into another program to save or share it.

Don’t underestimate the power of hitting WinKey+PrntScr. One simple easy-to-remember action saves a copy of the whole screen, including the time shown on the task bar. It’s a great way to record the price and description of something you’re about to buy online, or to document a technical problem. You can always go to the Screenshots folder later, and delete the ones you no longer need.

Extra features

PicPick-stamps for windows

PicPick-stamps for windows Photograph: Microsoft

You should now have Snipping Tool (SnippingTool.exe), Snip & Sketch and a few ways to take screen grabs using Print Screen, but you may need other features. This is where alternative programs come in handy.

For example, I used to look for programs that could save web images in PNG format – because they look sharper than JPegs – when this wasn’t common. Some people wanted auto-scrolling, where the screen grab captures a full-length web page, not just the part currently on screen. Some wanted to capture movements or changes in gif images. Some now want screen grabbers with built-in editing and labelling functions, and the ability to share the results online.

Make a list of the features you need: this will reduce the number of programs you have to consider. However, programs with more features are often more complicated. You may be better off not having features you will never use.

Possible options

The best-known screen capture programs include ShareX, Greenshot, Snagit, PicPick, FastStone Capture, LightShot and Screenshot Captor. Most are free or donationware, though Snagit, PicPick and FastStone Capture are commercial programs.

ShareX is powerful: it can take lots of different types of screen shot and share them at many places online. It’s overkill for most users, but the app version – from the Windows Store – takes up 13.3MB whereas the traditional desktop program needs 72.5MB.

Greenshot (2.8MB) is much simpler than ShareX and much more powerful than Snipping Tool, which makes it a good compromise. Having captured part of the screen you can save it or send it to various places: the menu options include the clipboard, a printer, an image editor, a Microsoft Office program, and so on. You can also have Greenshot save files automatically, or send them to a printer without saving them.

Greenshot’s useful extras include custom time delays, a text highlighter/obfuscation tool (to highlight or blur text, as required), and the ability to enlarge or shrink and rotate an image to fit a paper size.

PicPick is a $29.99 “all-in-one design tool” that is free for personal use, but only in a non-commercial environment. It’s really more of an image editing program. It lets you add effects such as drop shadows, motion blur, watermarks, and “rubber stamps” such as arrows etc. But it does have a full range of screen-capture facilities including scrolling windows and freehand. If you want a curvy screen cap instead of a rectangular one, PicPick can do that.

PicPick has plenty of icons for sharing images. The options include cloud services, Facebook, Twitter, Skype, email, Microsoft Office programs and FTP file servers. If you want to grab images, annotate them and post them from the same program, PicPick may be the best pick. It’s over-featured for most home users, but I still recommend it because it’s dead easy to use.

Anyone still using DuckLink Software’s DuckCapture – not updated since 2011, but still available from MajorGeeks – should consider upgrading to PicPick. If you have to pay for it, it’s worth $30.

Have you got a question? Email it to Ask.Jack@theguardian.com

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