Make no mistake about it, writing about how and what you or your service does can be among the most time-consuming, nit-picky aspects of the entire website-building process. Instead of agonizing over copy, many people are choosing a more straight-forward, visual way to explain what they do: screenshots and screencasts. No more writing out commands, no more step-by-step guides that go on for pages and pages – just a short and simple video that instantly illustrates your how’s, what’s, and why’s.
Screenshots and screencasts are also a helpful way to remember or hold onto information during the website-building process. With the right tools, collaborators can mark up and provide feedback on screenshots of a website’s new layout, removing the need for confusing email correspondence and “…wait which page/image/paragraph do you mean?” conversations between collaborators.
Here, we’ll walk you through the best free tools when it comes to grabbing the screenshot or screencast you want.
The Best Free Screenshot Apps
Grab.appcomes free with all Mac OS X systems, and is the simplest way for Mac users to instantly take a screenshot with a simple key command (“command+shift+3” for a full-screen screenshot, and “command+shift+4” to select an area of your screen). Screenshots with Grab.app will usually download as .png files in 72 dpi, the standard screen resolution.
LightShot is Mac and Windows compatible, and comes with a powerful image editor to play with your screenshots after you’ve taken them. LightShot also comes with a “similar image search” function – which allows you to search for similar images online – and an easy social media sharing function that allows you to instantly show your screenshots to friends on Twitter and Facebook.
Snagit is a forum favorite for its versatility and reliability, and is available for Mac, Windows, and most importantly, Chrome. Snagit is brilliant as a collaboration tool, allowing colleagues to take screenshots, add pointers and comments, then allow for others to provide feedback in the same way Google Drive lets you do so. When working on a long-distance web design project, this kind of instant, visual communication is crucial. Snagit is compatible with Google Drive for Chrome users, meaning that your screenshots stay organized along with all your other cloud-based documents.
Best Free Video Screencasting Apps
More and more, video tutorials and “sneak-peeks” into apps and services are moving front and centre on websites, as they have become the simplest and most visual way to explain an idea, product, or service. More than simply being “told” about what an app does before they download, potential users want to see how it works first. Video screen capture apps provide exactly this service.
Screenflow for Mac is hands-down the most advanced screen capture app out there today, with a powerful editor and simultaneous audio and webcam recording. While the full version of screenflow costs a pretty penny (at about $100 USD), a free trial is available to play around with for a limited period of time. Screenflow comes packed with all kinds of enticing goodies, like magnifying and spotlighting mouse movements to help viewers best see what you’re showing them; multi-channel editing so that you can combine imported audio, video, or other files into your screencast; subtitle and transition options; and picture-in-picture editing capabilities to show multiple videos at the same time. In short, if you’re willing to shell out some dough for the best of the best, Screenflow is your mark.
Screenr got rave reviews when it came out for its utter simplicity: No downloads, mobile ready, and free are its major selling points. Screenr is incredibly easy to take screencasts with, but it also makes embedding and sharing your videos simple as well.
Jing is a joint screenshot/screencast app, with both “free” and “pro” options. At the free level, Jing allows you to record and share screencast videos instantly, although the video format is limited to SWF. As an added bonus, though, Jing lets you record audio along side the video if you have a built-in microphone, making it easy to narrate your videos as you go. Like Screenr, Jing is built for social media sharing, making it easy to show others what you’re doing.
Screenflow: http://www.flickr.com/photos/macewan/4475420032/ Flickr creative commons user Robert MacEwan: http://www.flickr.com/photos/macewan/