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What is a Screen Grab?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 16, 2024
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A screen grab is a still image of whatever is displayed on a computer monitor. There are a number of uses for these images, ranging from product promotion to software troubleshooting, and most computers have the capability to quickly generate a screen grab, making it easy for their users.

Most operating systems allow users to take a screen grab by pressing the command key and another key or two on the keyboard. When the grab is taken, the computer captures the image displayed on the monitor at that moment, preserving every visible detail. The resulting image is typically the same size as the monitor; users can size the images down to make them more usable, should they need to do so.

One of the most common uses of the screen grab is in promotional materials for software. Many computer games, for example, advertise with screen grabs which showcase the image quality and display of the game, trying to get users interested in the look and feel. You can also see grabs advertising other types of software, showing off the functionality and appearance of the software. Many companies also use these images in their user manuals, visually showing users how to do things.

Another common use of screen grabs is in troubleshooting. When a user encounters an error or problem with a program, he or she can take a screen shot to illustrate the situation. People sometimes also use screen shots to record other things, like the steps they took to perform a task. It is also not uncommon for people to pass humorous grabs which illustrate amusing situations or events around.

There are many other uses for these images. Bloggers, for example, sometimes use screen grabs when they link to other sites, to draw people in with interesting visual content. People may also take a screen grab of plagiarized or stolen content, so that they have proof even if the content is later taken down. Web designers also sometimes use this method to take note of visually interesting or intriguing pages online so that they can reference them later.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a EasyTechJunkie researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By OeKc05 — On Jun 10, 2012

My coworker fooled me once with a screen grab. I had gone to lunch, and he decided to play a prank on me.

He knew that whenever I had computer trouble, I would ask him for help, so he wasn’t worried about me going to the boss with the problem. He took a picture of my desktop and posted it to a document. He maximized it to fill the screen, so it seemed that I was looking at my actual desktop.

I got back from lunch and tried to click on an icon, but nothing would happen. The screen appeared to be frozen, yet the mouse would move around somehow.

I asked my friend to help me, and he burst out in giggles. Then he showed me the trick. I appreciated being let in on the joke, and we did this to several other people afterward.

By StarJo — On Jun 10, 2012

For those of you with MAC computers, to do a screen grab, you just hold down Command-Shift-3. That will take a shot of the entire screen.

If all you want is a portion of the screen, then hit Command-Shift-4. A cursor will appear, and you drag it to cover the area you want to shoot.

I learned this trick while working at a newspaper. We sometimes had to use photos that we found online for car ads, and if we didn’t have the capability of downloading them, we would just do screen grabs.

By kylee07drg — On Jun 10, 2012

@seag47 - You were right about using the Print Screen key. There is another step to it, though.

After you press this button, you have the screen grab on the clipboard of your computer. This means that you have to copy and paste it to a document in a program that will let you see it.

You can open a blank document in a photo editing program, or if you don’t have one, you can use a simple paint program. When you have a new file open, you can either hit the ‘V’ key to paste the image or go to ‘Edit’ on the menu and choose ‘Paste.’

I understand you not wanting to print the screen grab. It is a lot more handy just to have it onscreen, and you save paper and ink this way, too.

By seag47 — On Jun 09, 2012

Can anyone tell me how to take a screen grab on a PC? There are certain things online that I need to use as reference material, and I would much rather have a file saved on my computer than a bunch of printed papers lying around.

I thought all I had to do was push the Print Screen button on my keyboard, but when I do this, nothing happens. I thought it would save the screen grab to my desktop or somewhere, but I’m not seeing anything.

What am I doing wrong? It’s so frustrating, because I really needed to know how to do this last week.

By anon12097 — On Apr 30, 2008

In tft monitor we get different visual effects on different visual angle in respect to crt. How this can removed?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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