If you asked me what one tool I couldn’t live without in my job as a learning technologist, there’s an easy answer – Snagit by Techsmith.
Snagit is a software programme designed to to help you do two things: take screenshots of your computer screen and annotate/edit them to insert into a guide or manual. This is something I need to do a lot in my job. Either I’m writing structured guides for software or online tools such as Mendeley or Blackboard or I need to dash off a quick email to a colleague and insert a picture showing how to access something or do something on their computer.
Snagit is exceptional for this. To start with, it offers a range of options for actually taking a screenshot. You can do it through a small icon that sits at the top or the side of the screen. Or you can do it through a keyboard shortcut. The keyboard shortcut is particularly useful as it allows you to take shots of things such as drop down menus. There are many other free screenshot tools out there but many stumble when you need to capture a menu or pop out window because they automatically close it when you try to take the screenshot. This happens, for example, with the Snipping Tool on Windows.
Once you’ve clicked to take a screenshot, you can then adjust the window of the area you want to snap. You also have the option to do a time delayed shot if you wish.
The screenshot then goes automatically to the Snagit editor and this is where the programme really comes into its own. Now I know there are some free annotation tools out there such as Skitch or various browser extensions that allow you to take screenshots and do some basic annotation such as text, shapes and arrows. But none of them have quite the range of tools that Snagit does. Along with the obvious ones you might expect in software like this such as cropping, inserting shapes and text boxes, it has some very specific features that set it apart:
The edges tool
With this you can give a torn paper effect to selected sides of the screenshot. I find this particularly useful to help orient the viewer to which part of the screen the guide is referring.
The numbering tool
When writing visual guides, it’s helpful to be able to number steps quickly and easily. With Snagit, you can effortlessly add numbers to the page in variety of colour and shape styles and it automatically knows which number you need based on what the previous one you created was.
The Merge Tool
Often I’ll take two separate screenshots but need to merge them into one picture. So for example I’ll need to show a button to click and then the pop-up box that appears after you’ve clicked it. In Snagit you can drag one picture onto another and it will automatically adjust the canvas to accommodate the new picture.
The cutout tool
Not sure if this is the right name for this but it’s an incredibly useful tool nonetheless. Basically if you take a screenshot and there’s a lot of white or dead space on it – for example you want to show how you click a button near the top of the screen and then another near the bottom – you can remove that middle space and either show it’s been removed through torn edges or just merge the space so it makes the screenshot smaller. This is not easy to explain but you can see it in the photos below.
This shows you the options for how you want to cut out the screen…
If you have a screen with a lot of empty space in like the one below..
You can use the cutout tool to remove the centre and indicate it with torn edges…
Or you can cut it out in a way that makes it look seamless
The Blur tool
Sometimes you need to hide sensitive data or information in screenshot such as phone numbers or email addresses. This tool lets you drawn round that area and it blurs anything underneath.
All these additional clever features make Snagit the perfect tool for creating visual guides. Now, it’s not free software, but it’s also not crazy expensive like some photo editing tools out there. If you get the education pricing – I’m assuming you’ll need a university/school email address to quality – it only costs £23. And even if you don’t have that, it’s still only £39. So, it won’t break the bank and maybe you can even persuade your organisation to buy it for you…
And it doesn’t only take screenshots, it also has the ability to record the screen for simple screencasts. This has limited functionality and editing options – Techsmith make another product called Camtasia that does this properly – but it’s very handy if you want to quickly record the screen to demonstrate something.
If you go to the Techsmith website, you can download a free trial of Snagit to play with some of its features. I bought it about 3 years and have probably used it 5 or 6 times a week since then. I’ve got no affiliations with the company by the way, I’ve bought their products with my own money and this review was written off my own back. It’s just been a product that has served me so well and I think it’s so useful for anyone involved in training teachers or students to use technology.