Multiple Ways To Capture Or Print What You See On Your Screen

Print Screen is a term that lost its original meaning decades ago. Back in the MS-DOS era, before computers had graphical user interfaces, the Print Screen key would indeed send the contents of the current screen to the printer. Today, the Print Screen button triggers a screenshot, meaning it captures a still of your screen and temporarily stores it in the clipboard.

Actually printing a screenshot takes a few more steps. In return, this offers opportunities for editing and optimizing the image. Combine that with shortcuts and third party software and you have a powerful tool of the 21st century at your fingertips.

Printing The Current Screen

The easiest way to send a document or the content of a window directly to a printer, is using the keyboard shortcut CTRL + P. This requires an installed printer and that the respective window offers a print option under said shortcut. All this in place, you should see a preview of the print job, be able to select a printer, and adjust settings.


Note that in Windows 8, printing has changed. Modern apps don’t have a file menu. Instead, printers are found under Devices, which can be accessed via the charms bar.

Windows 8 Print

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Sometimes, the preview won’t contain the information you actually meant to print. For example, if you tried to print a question on MakeUseOf Answers, you might find that the comments are missing (hopefully, we’ll fix that soon).

Print Answers Question

Other times, the preview will contain way more information than you need, for example sidebars or ads. In that case, you’d be better off looking into tools that print only what you want, like the adequatly named website PrintWhatYouLike (bookmarklet). This tool will let you print to a PDF or directly to your printer. You could also use a PDF printer to always print to a PDF file, rather than taking a screenshot, which equals an image file.

Taking A Screenshot

If you want to print or capture all of the content you see on your screen, take a screenshot. This is where the Prnt Scrn or PrtSc button, aka print screen or screenshot comes in. The button is typically found in the top right of the keyboard; on full sized keyboards, you’ll find it in the small set of keys between the main keyboard and the NUM Pad. On laptops, you might have to click the Function (Fn) key in combination with the PRNT SCRN key to take a screenshot.

Laptop Keyboard

Generally, this won’t actually print your screen, but rather save the image to your clipboard, Windows’ temporary storage location. From there you can paste it into a document or image editing tool, edit, and finally print it. We’ll get to the details in a moment. Note that by itself, this key will capture your entire screen, which might not be what you intended.

Using The Windows Snipping Tool To Take A Screenshot

Microsoft added a screenshot utility to its Accessories; it’s called Windows Snipping Tool. In Windows 7, you’ll find it under > Start > All Programs > Accessories. In Windows 8, search for Snipping Tool from the charms bar to find it. It offers four screenshot modes: free-form snip, rectangular snip, window snip, or full-screen snip. I have covered the tool in more detail in my article on how to take awesome screenshots in Windows 7.

Windows Snipping Tool

Capturing Only The Active Window Or Menu With A Print Screen

A small trick allows you to take a snapshot only of the active window; it’s pressing the ALT key while taking a screenshot using the Print Screen button. Sometimes, this also works for taking a screenshot of menus. Most times, you will notice that the menu disappears as soon as you hit the ALT key; that’s because ALT + F triggers opening and closing of the file menu.

Occasionally, opening the menu using ALT + F, not releasing the ALT key, but clicking the Print Screen button is a workaround. Usually, it doesn’t work, especially for submenus. In that case, either do a regular screenshot and crop the resulting image, or use a third party screenshot tool.

Saving From Clipboard To File

You can transfer a screenshot from your clipboard by pasting it into a document or an image tool like IrfanView (our review). If you’d prefer to use a default Microsoft tool, use Paint to edit and enhance your screenshots. Simply open the desired document or tool and click CTRL + V. At this point you can edit the image, for example crop it, and save it to a file or print it directly from within the respective software using CTRL + P as described above.

IrfanView Screenshot

Saving A Screenshot Directly To A File In Windows 8

In Windows 8, you can save a print screen directly to a file using the key combination Windows + Print Screen. The image will save to the Screenshots folder under My Pictures. Chris has compiled more Windows 8 specific shortcuts.

Sending A Screenshot Directly To The Printer

I cannot imagine many situations in which you would really want to do this, but if you have to, your best bet is to configure a third party tool for this task. Most print screen utilities allow you to almost do this, with just one intermediate step; I highly recommend allowing this step for editing a screenshot over a setup that potentially just wastes paper.


Printing or taking a screenshot is a simple task with many possible modifications. If you take many screenshots, it’s worth looking into third party tools, setting up hotkeys, and optimizing your workflow. For the occasional screenshot, whether or not you actually need to print it, keyboard shortcuts and Windows default tools will do the job just fine.

What do you use to print online content or take screenshots?

Image Credit: Laptop Keyboard by bigpresh via Flickr

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