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What is Screen Capture?

By Dorothy Distefano
Updated May 16, 2024
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A screen capture is an image of the visible items on a monitor or screen. It is also sometimes known as a screen dump or a screenshot. These images may be generated by software within the operating system, or by a camera recording the image output. A screen capture may be used to display the screen contents for various uses, to demonstrate a procedure or program, or to illustrate a problem.

Screen captures are frequently featured on videogame packages. These images can demonstrate the quality of the graphics used in the game. They also may reveal the characters and settings that are presented during gameplay.

A video game screen capture may also be used in guides designed to assist users. The images may illustrate a technique, or route, that will help with advancement or accomplishment through the game. Screenshots are also sometimes used on websites that review or sell videogames.

Entertainment-based screen captures are prevalent online. A fan of a television show or movie may use a screen capture to create an icon for use in an Internet forum or website. These images may also be integrated into fanart. Fanart is artwork that generally uses images from various entertainment-based, visual media sources. This may take the form of desktop wallpapers, banners, or other creative projects.

Some programs have a built-in ability to create a screen capture. Both Apple&reg's Mac OS X and Microsoft&reg Windows&reg allow users to easily copy images of what is on screen. In Mac OS X, command + shift + 3 takes a screenshot of the entire screen. Windows users may achieve the same purpose by pressing the Print Screen key. The resulting image is placed on the computer's clipboard and may be edited using photo editing software.

The iPhone&reg and iPod&reg Touch devices also have screen capture capabilities. By pressing and holding the Home and Sleep/Wake buttons simultaneously, a .png image of the current screen will be created and saved to the device. These pictures can then be transferred by email or computer synchronization.

Diagnostically, screen captures can be useful when troubleshooting a problem with an electronic device. When referring to a specific screen or a part of a program, a screenshot will usually clarify the issue to customer service personnel. The pictures are also helpful for providing clear instructions for a particular software or device in a guide or other supporting documents.

A big question related to the use of screen captures is copyright infringement. Some companies may object to screenshots of their products, shows, or software being manipulated and used by someone other than the owner. In general, it is thought that the screen capture is protected by the fair use clause in United States copyright law.

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