Take a screenshot like a pro: 5 insider tips

Minerva Studios/Shutterstock
Minerva Studios/Shutterstock
A picture may be worth a thousand words, but in a he-said, she-said customer service dispute, it might be even more valuable. A well-timed screenshot could score you a refund you deserve.

Consider how almost everyone who rents a car these days takes pictures before accepting the car and when returning it. A picture is pretty good evidence that those dents weren’t there when you brought back the vehicle.

Images also come in handy when you have a dispute with an online vendor. With a picture you can claim “That’s not what I typed” and you can prove it. How do you reply when the company rep says you made a mistake? And do you remember exactly what you typed? How many items you actually ordered? For what date? What did those terms and conditions actually state?

A picture shows exactly what you saw and what you typed. You can email it to the company — or us.

Since electronic displays don’t show up very well in photos, save the camera for your next auto rental. To take a picture of a computer display, you need a screen capture program. Fortunately, most computing devices come with the built-in ability to capture display screens. And if your device didn’t come with the capability, there are many free screen capture programs at the app stores.

Windows PC
On Windows, the easiest way to capture a display is to press the “print screen” button. Typically labeled as the PRT SC key (or something similar), this button has been on keyboards since before Windows. Just press the button and the entire display is captured to the memory buffer. Use the Windows paste capability (right-click Paste or [control] V) to add the screenshot to a file program, or an email.

If you want to capture just the window in which you are working (the current window) instead of the entire screen, press the [alt] button and then the PRT SC key. Remember, the current window typically has a blue header bar.

Windows 8 users can press the WIndows key and the Print Screen button to save a picture directly to the photo library.

If you want even more flexibility, try the Windows Snipping Tool. Click the Windows Start button, and in the Search box type Snipping Tool. After the program box appears, click the arrow next to the New button, select the type of capture you want (Free-form, Rectangular, Window, or Full-screen), and then select the area of the screen that you want to capture. By default your selection (the snip) is automatically copied to the memory clipboard. You can also save the selection as an HTML, PNG, GIF, or JPEG file.

Apple Computers
Apple Macs also have the ability to capture screenshots to the memory buffer.
To capture the entire screen, press the Apple key ⌘ + Shift + 3 and then release all three keys. The screen image is captured to the buffer. You can right-click and paste the image to a file or program.

To capture a rectangular section of a screen, press the Apple key ⌘ + Shift + 4 and then release all three keys. The cursor changes to a + sign. Drag your mouse from one corner to an opposite corner, and you will see a rectangular border appear, indicating the area that will be captured.

To capture a specific application window, press the Apple key ⌘ + Shift + 4 all at the same time. The cursor changes to a + sign. Press the spacebar. The cursor changes to a camera. Click on the window you want to capture.

iPhone and iPad
To take a picture of your iPhone or iPad display, press the power button and at the same time, for just a second, press the home button. The image is captured and stored as a JPEG file. Use the Photos app to access it.

Android phones and tablets
To take a picture of an Android display, simultaneously press the home key and the Power button until the message “Screenshot done” appears. The image is stored in the Android’s Gallery folder.

Freebies from the Internet
All the above screen capture functions come with the devices. There are also many free programs available online that enable you to add highlighting, text, and other objects, such as circles and arrows, to the image. Examples include “Awesome Screenshot”; “Gadwin Print screen”, and “getgreenshot”. There are also apps, such as “pdfcreator”, that to convert the image to a PDF. PDFs are generally smaller than picture formats, and easier to store or email.

If you want even more features, you can buy a business-level screen capture program, such as Snag-it or FullShot.

No matter how you take your screenshot, make sure you’re capturing the evidence of the transaction. Because without the digital proof, it’s just your word against the company’s.

Ed Lawrence is a consumer advocate based in Boston.

Have you used a screen capture program to capture an online transaction?

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