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Get more out of Windows' Snipping Tool

The screen-capture utility built into Vista--and available for XP--has a couple of useful tricks up its sleeve.

For many Windows users, the only screen-capture tools they'll ever need are the Print Screen key (in conjunction with the Alt key when they want to capture only the active window) and Windows' own Paint utility.

Others need the industrial-strength features of a commercial screen-grab utility such as TechSmith's $50 SnagIt (30-day free trial available).

The rest of us can make do just fine with the Snipping Tool that comes with Vista and is available in XP via the Microsoft Experience Pack for Tablet PC. (Note that the program runs on all versions of XP, not just tablets.)

In Vista, you can open the utility by pressing the Windows key, typing snipping tool, and pressing Enter. There's also a Snipping Tool shortcut under Accessories on the Start > All Programs menu.

If you can't find the program, press the Windows key, type programs and features, and press Enter to open the Programs and Features Control Panel applet. Click "Turn Windows features on or off" in the left pane and click through the User Account Control dialog box, if necessary. Check Tablet PC Optional Components, click OK, and close the Programs and Features applet.

Windows Vista's "Turn Windows features on or off" dialog box
Check Tablet PC Optional Components to install Vista's Snipping Tool screen-capture utility. Microsoft

When you open the Snipping Tool, you're asked if you want to put a shortcut to the program on your Quick Launch toolbar. This is a convenient place to activate it, but you can also right-click any shortcut to the program, choose Properties, click in the "Shortcut key" text box under the Shortcut tab, enter your chosen key combination (Ctrl-Alt-P is popular), and click OK.

The miniature Snipping Tool window lets you choose one of four capture methods (hand-drawn, rectangle, active window, or full screen). After you make your choice and grab your screen, the resulting capture is shown in a pop-up window.

Annotations in Windows's Snipping Tool screen-capture utility
Windows' Snipping Tool offers basic annotation capabilities. Microsoft

Snipping Tool Trick #1: To capture a drop-down menu or other item that disappears when the window loses focus, press the Esc key before you start your screen grab, open the menu or other on-screen element, press Ctrl-Print Screen, choose your snip type, and make the selection.

You can save the capture as a GIF, bitmap, jpeg, or .mht (single-copy HTML) file. You can also copy it to the clipboard, send it via e-mail (in the body of a message or as an attachment), and annotate it using either a "pen" or a highlighter. There's also an eraser if you go a little nuts on your notes.

Snipping Tool Trick #2: It can be tough to see through the white overlay that the program places over the screen as you make your selection. To get rid of it, click Options when the tool first opens, uncheck "Show screen overlay when Snipping Tool is active," and click OK.